Recently, it seems as though the word “adaptogens” has been buzzing around on social media, the grocery stores and even in your favorite coffee. Do you know what they really are and how to use them to affect positive change in your stress hormone levels, energy, moods, and immune system?
What makes adaptogens so unique is they help modulate your stress response. For one person that may mean they help to relax and unwind, while for someone else who is low on energy, they may have the opposite effect and give them a boost in energy. This magnificent power to create customized balance in the individual is what makes adaptogens “super-herbs”.
Today’s Food as Medicine TV episode brings you our favorite four adaptogens and explains what each does and who they are for in plain English.
There is a specific adaptogen for those who tend toward anxiety, adrenal, and nervous system issues, while another is the holy grail for your immune system, and another best choice for depression, while the fourth is the best choice for boosting low energy. And if you need a total rehab boost, you can safely combine all four!
I really loved filming this for you and sharing all the powerful clinical studies on each of them.
Adaptogens were first discovered in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and work with each body individually, helping them adapt to stress, almost like a thermostat.
They are able to keep your body’s stress response at a desirable level, much like a thermostat keeps the temperature of a room from rising too high or dropping too low. They are known to support both our hypothalamus and adrenal glands as well as our thyroid, brain, and central nervous system. When we have harmony between the brain, the thyroid, the adrenals, and the nervous system, we are then able to have healthy moods, metabolism and stress levels which leads to a better life.
If the adrenals become overly stressed (this happens frequently to us sensitive souls), this can lead to hormone problems as well as adrenal fatigue.
When we are continuously connected to our phone and computer 24/7, and our to-do list and responsibilities seem endless, we can often find ourselves developing even greater symptoms of burnout.
This does not always look the same for each person.
For some, this may be fatigue, irritability, and exhaustion.
For others, it means insomnia, panic, anxiety and being consistently in that “fight or flight or freeze” mode, unable to relax and trust themselves, or the process of life.
Then there are those who lose their memory and mental alertness. Concentration seems elusive.
And the last group gets hit in their immune system, becoming susceptible to catching every bug that’s going around.
Soon after, for all of these types of people, digestive troubles, weight gain or loss, unshakeable fatigue, and hormone imbalances ensue, driving the dysfunction deeper into the system.
Understanding how to use adaptogens throughout life and during times of stress, as well as the power of adaptogens to create harmony and healing within the body, can be a total game changer for many of us, myself included.
While adaptogens help support our stress response, they all have unique qualities which vary between each other; some have more soothing and calming properties, while others are more stimulating. They are great to take on a routine basis or during times of high stress.
If you are taking them on a long-term basis (longer than three months), it’s important to cycle off them for three weeks and then restart again.
Starting with the lowest dose is often recommended, and then increase it every five days until you feel the desired results.
Adaptogens should not be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding—as an alternative, we love L-Theanine, Magnesium Glycinate and Chamomile tea.
Holy Basil – Ocimum sanctum, or otherwise known as Tulsi, is a member of the mint family. Holy basil is rich in calcium, iron, vitamin C and phosphorus, and is fantastic at supporting healthy blood sugar levels and reducing stress and anxiety, as it helps the body cope with the stress (mental, emotional or physical), which burdens our bodies and weakens our immune system.
Holy basil is extra-special because it was initially used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat bacterial infections. It has been the subject of many studies in which the results showed a stronger and more vibrant immune system as well as reduced oxidative stress. Due to its antimicrobial activity, it has been used as a hand sanitizer, mouthwash, and water purifier!
Best for: Low immune system, anxiety, high-stress, and autoimmune support. A dose between 150-300 mg 1-3 times daily is often recommended, reaching the upper limit during high-stress times. We love the tea or capsules by Organic India and Gaia Herbs liquid capsules.
Rhodiola Rosea – Also known as golden root or Arctic root, Rhodiola rosea is a native to Asia and Russia. Due to its ability to increase resistance to multiple types of stressors, this botanical has been well studied and widely used to support the nervous system, regulate mood (especially to assist with depression) and provide greater mental clarity.
This adaptogenic botanical has also been shown in clinical studies to help sustain levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. For this reason, Rhodiola is amazing to help with depression, but should not be taken concurrently with an SSRI unless you are working with a practitioner.
We love using Rhodiola in place of stimulants like coffee, to boost mental performance. Rhodiola is more of a stimulating adaptogen when compared to other adaptogens so it shouldn’t be taken after 1 pm.
Best for: Fatigue, burnout, low mood and/or depression. The recommended dose of Rhodiola varies and can be unique, we recommend 100 mg, taken 2-3 times daily. Our favorite brand of Rhodiola is made by Thorne.
Ashwagandha Root – Also referred to as Indian Ginseng, this is one of our favorites and best for sensitive souls. Ashwagandha hails from India and has potent adaptogenic properties, and provides multiple benefits for individuals who have compromised health due to extreme stress exposure that has hit their central nervous system. It has been shown in clinical studies to work as well, if not better than anti-anxiety medication within three weeks time.
Research proves its benefits to both the adrenals and the thyroid simultaneously. Ashwagandha gently regulates mood and restores a sense of calmness, even under times of high-stress due to reducing our stress hormone, cortisol.
Ginseng – Also called Panax Ginseng, ginseng is native to China and Korea and has been a staple for over 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to support brain function, including memory and mental clarity. The active ingredient in Ginseng is the root of the plant, which has been shown in studies to also assist with physical stamina as well as immune function in addition to brain function.
Ginseng is still used today because brain health is so important. When we are stressed, our brain is usually affected first. Ginseng has also been shown to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s (it should be combined with a heavy metal detox program that pulls heavy metals out of the brain).
One thing about ginseng is that it has been shown to have a blood sugar effect, so those who have low blood sugar issues, should use it with caution, while it can be an excellent choice for those who tend to have higher blood sugar readings and stress levels.
Adaptogens can be very healing, however, we suggest finding one that fits your constitution.
We recommend you try one first rather than taking multiple different adaptogens at their therapeutic dose, as that can be too much on the system.
If you have a low immune system or tend to catch a cold quickly, we recommend checking out Holy Basil.
If you struggle with low energy and/or depression, Rhodiola is a great pick, however, please do not take with an SSRI unless working with a practitioner.
If your adrenals or thyroid need some extra love, ashwagandha should be your go-to.
If brain health or healthy blood sugar balance is important for you, Asian Ginseng can be very nourishing. Remember not to take it if you tend toward low blood sugar (aka – you get “hungry” if you don’t eat every three hours).
We hope this information was supportive to you in a way that helps you to thrive.