Getting enough sleep but feeling perpetually tired? Grabbing a coffee every couple of hours to stay focused? Feeling stressed out by just about everything? Sustained stress can zap your energy levels, leaving you feeling completely depleted. When this happens, it can be hard to get yourself out of the slump. Too often, we reach for caffeine or sugar to give us the jolt we need. But these remedies are only good for an immediate lift, and usually leave you feeling worse off than you were before. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to look for a healthy long-term alternative. This is where adaptogens come in. When it comes to handling stress, adaptogens are one of the best fixes.
What are Adaptogens?
Basically, adaptogens better equip you to deal with physical, emotional and mental stress. While adaptogens have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine to build the body’s stress response, they were first studied by Soviets when they were developing their space program. The Soviets discovered that these herbs help the body adapt to stress in non-specific ways. Adaptogens are intelligent plants; they will downregulate hormone levels if they are too high and upregulate hormone levels if they are too low. For example, if your cortisol levels have gotten high enough to invoke a ‘fight or flight’ response, an adaptogen will work to lower these levels. Taking adaptogens is like having a coach in your body—they won’t make the same move every time, but they will do what they need to restore your energy and improve your response to stress.
What Makes it an Adaptogen?
To be considered an adaptogen, herbs must meet the following criteria:
- Adaptogens in some way regulate the body’s stress response.
- Adaptogens do not work unidirectionally. In other words, these herbs respond to whatever is stressing your body; they do not target something specific like exhaustion or overworked muscles.
- Adaptogens work along the Hypothalamic Pituitary Axis—which connects the hypothalamus to the pituitary and adrenal glands—to moderate stress.
Adaptogen Benefits: Why are Adaptogens So Popular Now?
In reality, adaptogens have always been popular. We’re just catching up to something that herbalists have known about for thousands of years. However, there are some reasons people are more interested in the herbs today. Society today is under increasing amounts of stress, and people are looking beyond Western medicine for solutions. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which work unidirectionally, adaptogens are living and adaptive, giving your body just what it needs to stay energized in a healthy, natural way.
What are the Tangible Benefits of Taking Adaptogens?
While these herbs may seem complicated, their benefits are pretty simple. Taking the right adaptogens can give you more sustainable energy, not just a quick boost. They work slowly to increase your energy level and then keep you there. They help you develop a better stress response, making it so that things that normally might stress you out will become more regulated. For example, if you are consistently stressed at work, you can wear yourself out, making you more susceptible to sickness. Taking the right adaptogens will better help you to build up resistance to this type of stress so that you can stay healthy.
How do you use Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are soluble in alcohol, fat or water. In other words, they either must be infused into a tea or their roots must be cooked in water to make a decoction. The roots can be cooked in a fat like Coconut Oil or Ghee, or the herbs can be taken as a tincture. While all adaptogens meet the criteria outlined above, it might take some time to discover which adaptogens work best for you. A good place to start is with the adaptogens used in a selection of our teas, tinctures and fortified honeys:
The Oats you eat in your oatmeal do not count as an adaptogen; however, Oastraw does. Oatstraw is a milky substance that gets extracted from Wild Oats right before they go to seed and has therapeutic benefits. It was used in traditional folk medicine to nourish the nervous system and calm stress-related skin imbalances.
Studies suggest that biomarkers found in Schisandra Berry work by modulating both the immune and endocrine system to fight fatigue.
Used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years to promote vitality, Ashwagandha works synergistically to help increase the body's resistance to stress by modulating stress hormones such as cortisol that may play a role in sleep quality. This adaptogen is thought to be especially useful for anxiety which makes it particularly good for sleep.
An adaptogen that can work for everyone, the use of Reishi dates back 2,000 years to Traditional Chinese Medicine where it was thought to restore energy and build immune strength.
Do I need to take Adaptogens?
If you feel perpetually stressed out, you’re waking up tired and have no energy, it’s probably time to consider an adaptogen. These are all signs of adrenal fatigue—you’re spending energy that’s not there to a point where you just feel burned out or depleted.
Which Adaptogens should everyone have?
This question is difficult because these herbs adapt to the person taking them, not vice versa. However, everyone can benefit from medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake.
How do I know which Adaptogens are right for me?
We recommend speaking to an herbalist to learn the right blends for your particular needs as there are many types of stress and people are affected by it differently. If you’re in the NYC area, we offer Herbal Consultations Monday-Friday that can offer you customized guidance.