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What Are Adaptogens and How Can They Help Me Manage Stress?

Sophie O'Kelly
What Are Adaptogens and How Can They Help Me Manage Stress?

Regardless of the amount of stress we’re under, our responsive, intelligent bodies generally learn to adapt. For the good or bad of our health, most of us can ‘power through’, switching from flight to fight mode to counteract everyday aggressors. But this is a short-term solution. This pressure pile-up will eventually take its toll—from a never-ending sniffle to a sudden ache and pain, the body keeps the score with burnout probably closer than you think. 

To supplement a busy lifestyle and maintain an ingrained sense of balance, experts are recommending adaptogens. And what are adaptogens, you might ask? Though currently unregulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), adaptogens are a unique blend of herbal ingredients that work to support your body’s hormonal response to stress. 

Gathered from different corners of the globe, adaptogenic herbs or the ‘super-herbs’ are so-called because they can adapt to the state your body is in. Smart!

How do adaptogens work?

Having been used and trusted in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine practices for years, the various adaptogenic herbs sense when your adrenal gland is over or under-stimulated. They work to counteract this hormonal imbalance, utilize oxygen with more clarity, help you access more energy, and combat any unwanted side effects of the metabolic process. 

With stress, tiredness, and overworking hitting us as a constant societal strain, adaptogens are giving the western world a source of strength they can hold onto. 

So, how do we get our hands on them?

If you’ve been scrolling through Instagram recently, you’ll have undoubtedly seen an abundance of brightly coloured smoothies, juices, and matcha lattes laced with an adaptogen variant. Adaptogenic herbs are starting to make their way into skincare products too! Moisturizers and toners can all feature an assortment of adaptogens to help tackle the frustrating, unsightly effects of stress. 

Usually found in powder or capsule form, adaptogenic herbs can be bought in most health food stores and added to edible concoctions. To take a direct hit, steep your chosen herb in some tea or combine with water. Pre-mixed powder can also be added to salads and soups to perk up mealtimes. 

Which adaptogens should you try?

With an assortment of adaptogens in different offerings available for you to try, we’ve researched and rounded up some of our favourites.

1. Ashwagandha

As one of the essential herbs in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years to improve concentration, relieve stress, and increase energy levels. With its powerful ability to increase strength, Ashwagandha in Sanskrit means “the smell of a horse”, which will seem appropriate when you get a whiff of its unique (but not totally unpleasant) scent!

Studies into the adaptogenic herb have found it can help lower blood sugar levels for healthy humans and those with diabetes. Ashwagandha can also help lower cortisol levels, which makes it a great option if you’re suffering from extreme stress. It’s also been suggested that this super herb can help relieve the crippling symptoms of depression and help soothe various thyroid issues.

2. Asian Ginseng

Ginseng is one of the most well-known and widely available adaptogens. Often famed for its high price point, it can help reduce inflammation around the body and increase energy. It’s the perfect herb if you’re experiencing a period of brain fog, and can be easily added to food and drinks.

If you or your man is suffering from erectile dysfunction, it could be worth adding a little ginseng to your diet before choosing to fall back on “the little blue pill” (a.k.a. Viagra). And if your immune system has taken a battering, ginseng could also help maintain a healthy immune response and support healthy cell growth.

3. Rhodiola Rosea

Found in the Arctic, this herb is one to look out for if you’re hoping to minimize stress-induced flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. Also found in the coldest regions of Europe and Asia, Rhodiola Rosea’s root contains more than 140 active ingredients. People in Scandinavia and Russia have been using Rhodiola to help relieve anxiety and depression for centuries. 

This potent adaptogenic herb can also ease chronic fatigue symptoms as it helps increase energy levels, enhances mental performance, and increases stamina. Rhodiola is also thought to help boost athletic performance, making it the perfect supplement for those with an active or demanding lifestyle.

4. Eleuthero or Siberian Ginseng

First used in China as a medicinal herb over 2,000 years ago, Eleuthero is a lesser-know adaptogen, but with robust benefits. In addition to reducing the effects of stress, Eleuthero contains compounds that burn fat and combat fatigue, thereby helping increase energy. A 2010 study published in the Chinese Journal of Physiology found that taking Eleuthero every day improved athletic performance and elevated cardiovascular function by 23%. 

Traditionally used to help tackle muscle spasms and joint issues, Eleuthero can help the body repair itself when taken regularly. It’s important to note that although it’s safe to use in small doses, Eleuthero has been known to cause palpitations, agitation, and insomnia for some patients with cardiovascular issues. 

As with any change you make to your health routine, it’s always worth consulting with a professional to make sure you’re making the safest choices. 

Adaptogens aren’t suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, but they have given a great deal of satisfaction and comfort to many people across the globe. Sprinkle them over your salad, add them to your smoothie, and watch out for some of the energy-boosting, mood-enhancing benefits.

Sophie O'Kelly
Writer, yoga teacher (and student) and trainee psychotherapist.