Adaptogens: #TooBlessedToBeStressed

In March this year, CNBC reported that more than 60% of American workers are stressed 3+ workdays / week. That’s at least half a year of feeling kind of crappy about life...

We know the harmful effects of stress on our bodies (if you don’t, click here). And, most of us don’t have the liberty to quit our jobs to go on lifelong vacations. However, we equally have the opportunity to cope with stress better. Not only through exercise, meditation or whatever our hearts desire, but also through herbal supplements.

As of a few months ago, I started incorporating supplements, specifically adaptogens, to my daily routine in an effort to (1) preserve whatever I had left in terms of good health after years of pushing the boundaries of my stress levels and (2) protect my body from further impacts of stress because this world we live is a bit of a mess.

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are nontoxic plant extracts that:

  1. Protect the body from the harmful effects of stress like a “stress vaccine” and
  2. Help the body achieve higher levels of physiological allostasis
    (this is basically the regulation of your body’s systems & processes – aka prevention of going into over- or under-drive).

How did adaptogens come about?

Medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, Chinese and other East Asian medicine. For instance, the use of Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) has been recorded back to 6000 BCE.

The first records of scientific studies on medicinal plant effects were found in Soviet Union WWII military journals (WWII: 1939-45). These studies found that consuming certain plants helped promote stamina and endurance in suboptimal environments. In the 1950s and 60s, Russians were intrigued by this concept, commissioned studies and thus “adaptogens” was coined by a Russian toxicologist by the name Lazarev.

How do they work?

(Note: This is a bit scientific, but there is also a lot of work to be done on precisely understanding how adaptogens work.)

According to a published biomedicinal study, adaptogens seem to affect cells by:

  1. Inhibiting harm-causing proteins and enzymes that are usually activated by stress
  2. Maintaining normal functioning of energy production (ATP) thus preventing fatigue and exhaustion and
  3. Stimulating proteins that repair and provide longevity.

Which adaptogens do I take and why?

Ashwagandha ($36.99, 111g / 88 servings)
The most general adaptogen suitable for masses (not pregnant women or those with autoimmune conditions).

  • Lowers stress and anxiety
  • Regulates blood sugar
  • Decreases cortisol
  • Improves cognitive function (memory, learning)
  • Aids in sleep when stress is a contributing factor

Rhodiola ($55.00, 70g / 70 servings)

  • Improves memory and mental clarity
  • Improves endurance and stamina
  • Boosts mood and focus
  • Helps immune system
  • Tip: Consuming too much can cause sleepiness.

Reishi ($25, 2 oz, / 30-day supply)

  • Also known as the “Queen Healer”
  • Helps immune system
  • Lowers stress
  • Mild anti-depressant

Holy Basil ($14, 1 oz.)

  • Improves mental clarity
  • Aids in digestion
  • Reduces bloating
  • Mild anti-viral (great for onset of cold/flu or treatment during.)

Milk Thistle ($15, 1 oz.)

  • Cleanses and detoxes liver
    (from alcohol, pesticides in our food, metals in water, etc.)
  • Tip: Take this starting prior to any big seasons of alcohol consumption!

+Boost w/ Dandelion ($14.50, 1 oz.)

  • Aids digestion
  • Diuretic

NOTE: Speak to your healthcare provider about adding adaptogens to your routine, particularly if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have other health conditions.

What have they done for me?

My focus, alertness and energy levels have definitely improved. As far as stress, it still comes and goes mentally, but I'm able to power through the day without the sluggishness or spinning of circles in my head. I also haven't gotten sick in months despite all my travels & staying in public places (knock so hard on wood right now).

An interesting part of my journey with adaptogens is that I found these herbs have an intelligence to them. They induce what's needed in your body to achieve balance. For instance, sometimes I feel tired earlier in the day (think 6pm) than usual even though I took Rhodiola (which is for stamina). But that's likely because my body needed the sleep. Throughout the day before this point, however, I feel the heightened focus and mental clarity that help my performance.

What are other notable adaptogens?

These are ones that I learned about at an Herbs 101 class at The Alchemist's Kitchen but have not incorporated into my routine yet.

  • Asian Ginseng: Improves energy level and stamina, digestion and libido
  • Siberian Ginseng: Decreases allergic histamine response, improves athletic stamina and sexual function, helps cognitive function
  • Cordyceps: Balances immunity, beneficial for coughs/COPD/asthma/bronchitis, increases libido

Where do I buy them?

I've purchased them through Sun Potion, The Alchemist's Kitchen (local herbal store), Thrive Market and at my local natural foods store.

How do you take them and when will you feel a difference?

You can take them in powder, tinctures (like medicine droppers) or capsule pills. It really depends on your personal preference in taste and convenience.

  • Powder: You can mix in warm water, tea/coffee, smoothies and even baked goods.
    • Truth: Some of them taste like dirt, so beware if you're not crazy like me. I will do just about anything for the sake of good health.
  • Tinctures: You can mix in the same beverages as above but with a mild to no taste and more convenience (easy to carry in bags and for travel).
  • Capsules: No taste, convenient and quick.

Adaptogens can take up to a few weeks to notice. Patience is key!

Other sources you can use to learn more about adaptogens: