Modern life is full of stress and pressures, both mental and physical. From work deadlines to wedding planning, relationship problems to environmental pollutants - all kinds of things can impact your body’s ability to cope and have serious consequences for your sleep, immunity, energy levels, and state of mind.
A 2018 study found that 74% of UK adults were so stressed at some point over the previous 12 months that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. So this is pretty serious; something needs to change.
As much as we’d like to, it’s impossible to rid the world of stressful events and situations. But what we can do is share some natural health expertise to help you build resilience and support your body’s response to stressful times.
Our first port of call when it comes to battling stress is a group of powerful herbs called adaptogens.
In this blog we're going to be answering some common questions about adaptogens, including:
- What are adaptogens?
- How do adaptogenic herbs work?
- What effects do adaptogenic herbs have on the mind and body?
- Which adaptogens do herbalists recommend?
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens, or adaptogenic herbs, do exactly what you’d expect: they help the body adapt. Your hormones and neurochemicals are in a constant state of flux depending on your emotional and physical surroundings. Adaptogens help you find equilibrium and maintain balance. In times of stress, herbs with these properties can dampen your ‘Fight or Flight’ response and modulate the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Whether you want clarity or calm, these substances improve your physiological resilience.
The term adaptogen was coined by a Russian toxicologist named Nikolay Lazarev. He defined adaptogens as substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance to stress. He also put forward criteria for adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are…
- Nourishing - They provide nutritive strength
- Non-specific - They impact multiple parts of the body, rather than just one
- Normalising - They raise what is low and lower what is high - it’s useful to think of this process in regards to energy and stress
- Non-toxic - They are safe to incorporate into your daily life and for extended periods
How Do Adaptogenic Herbs Work?
Adaptogens balance the body’s response to stressors by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands.
Adaptogens are biological response modifiers (BRMs) that support your natural immune function. Immunity is a complicated concept. But we know that it’s both proactive and reactive in nature. Adaptogens are therefore preventative, protective, and work actively when your adrenal system needs support.
“We cannot escape stress. By acting directly to modify the endocrine system’s response to stress, adaptogens can help prevent the symptoms associated with it (anxiety, insomnia, palpitations, inflammation). This group of herbs provides a solution at the deeper underlying hormonal level, rather than simply providing symptomatic relief. Adaptogens work on the underlying dysfunction of the body’s hormonal axis to restore balance.” - Sara Hennessy, Lead Herbalist, Zen Maitri.
What do Adaptogenic Herbs Do?
These immune-supporting herbs regulate the stress response, replenish, and rejuvenate. Studies have linked adaptogens to benefits including:
- Improved overall wellbeing
- Improved blood sugar levels
- Optimised protein synthesis
- Reduced inflammatory cortisol levels
- Improved cholesterol ratios
- Better hormonal balance
- Increased energy
- Optimised organ function
- Reduced stress response
Clinical trials have confirmed that several herbal preparations with adaptogens reduce stress-induced endocrine and immune impairments. There are also studies that suggest these compounds boost attention and endurance while fighting fatigue.
Which Adaptogens Do Herbalists Recommend?
There are too many adaptogens to list in this article, but well-researched hers with adaptogenic properties include:
Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a warming herb that’s rich in volatile oil constituents including eugenol, camphor, carvacrol, and rosmarinic acid.
Holy basil has been linked to a reduction in the formation of COX-2 inflammatory enzymes. These proteins are in turn responsible for maintaining inflammation and the production of cortisol - the fight or flight hormone we mentioned earlier. Tulsi has an active chemical component called triterpenoid acid. These acids breakdown excess cortisol and balance blood sugar.
The presence of cortisol in the body goes hand in hand with your physical and psychological experience of stress. Holy Basil brings calm and clarity when you need it most.
What to try: Our Defend Tea contains tulsi, among other things!
Ginseng is a stimulating adaptogenic herb that supports immune resilience and energy levels. It contains compounds called tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins, which have been linked to anti-stress, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-hypertensive, and anti-diabetic activities. Ginseng is also high in zinc, copper and iron.
This powerful combination of vitamins and minerals has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Ashwagandha is a popular adaptogenic herb and a cornerstone of Ayurvedic medicine. It’s been used to combat and reduce stress and support general wellbeing for thousands of years.
It contains iron, phytosterols and alkaloids including somniferin, aswagandhine and withanine. Our team recommends it for its wide-ranging health benefits, from fighting chronic fatigue and increasing immunity to raising libido. Despite its energising effects, ashwagandha has also been shown to increase the quality and duration of sleep.
Studies have shown ashwagandha root extract is beneficial in lowering cortisol and reducing stress and anxiety.
What to try: Our Energy Tea has ashwagandha for its rejuvinative effects.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen that grows in high altitude and cold climates across northern Europe and Asia. Its roots are rich in compounds that have been shown in several studies to reduce anxiety, fatigue, and depression - including rosavin and salidroside.
Animal studies suggest Rhodiola can also improve your cognitive ability - specifically tasks related to learning and memory. Rhodiola is a stimulating adaptogen best taken first thing in the morning.
What to try: Our Balance Supplements contain rhodiola and several of the adaptogens listed here.
Siberian Ginseng is another adaptogenic herb that’s ideal for fighting fatigue. Studies suggest its chemical properties aid the mind and body’s recovery from exercise and mental exertion.
Research into Siberian Ginseng has shown how it adapts the body’s immune response. Compounds found in Siberian Ginseng recharge exhausted adrenal glands. With evidence mounting that Siberian Ginseng enhances and supports immune system response, it’s becoming a popular natural alternative for assisting in the management of immune system disorders.
Due to its stimulative effects, Siberian Ginseng is another adaptogen that we recommend you take in the morning.
What to try: Our Energy Tincture is an easy way to get liquid herbs, including Siberian Ginseng, into your daily routine.
Don’t confuse Oat Straw with oatmeal. Oat Straw is the milky substance that comes from wild oats before they go to seed. It has several reported therapeutic benefits, and has been an important part of traditional medicine for centuries. Research suggests it has chemical properties that nourish the nervous system and calm stress-related skin imbalances.
Oat Straw is rich in minerals, including polyphenols, flavonoids and sterols. It has immune-stimulating properties and our team recommends it for those suffering from stress and low mood. It’s a restful adaptogen that can be used to treat insomnia. Oat Straw is best taken either as a powder, an overnight infusion, or a decoction (simmered in a saucepan in water for 20 minutes).
What to try: Our Night Time Bath Salts are infused with oat straw to give you a restful and relaxing end to the day.
Incorporating Adaptogens into Your Daily Routine
Although they all sit under the criteria described above, each adaptogen has different qualities.
Before choosing what to go for and how to incorporate them into your daily routine, there are a few things to consider:
Identify Your Stressors
If your daily stressors are psychological in nature - pressure at work would be one good example - home, or intellectual and/or emotional stress, then you might benefit from herbs that support the adrenal glands (by reducing cortisol levels) such as ashwagandha and eleuthero.
Think About Your Priorities
Whether it’s athletic performance, cognitive function, neuroplasticity, cortisol reduction, adrenal support, or immune system boosting, there’s an adaptogen that can help you achieve balance in that area.
Determine your Physical Constitution
Are you healthy enough to take adaptogens? Consider your lifestyle, activity level, state of health, current medications, and age before taking adaptogens. Apoptogenic herbs can be safely incorporated into most healthy people’s daily routines. If you are unsure if an adaptogen is safe for you to take, get in touch with our team of herbalists first.
Consider the Season
Adaptogens aren’t meant to be taken forever. There is a season for everything, and your body’s needs are always changing throughout the year. For example, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often referred to as the “winter blues,” might steer you towards energising, uplifting and warming adaptogens like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola.
If you want help with any of the above, you can sign up for a Natural Health Consultation with our team.
Ready to Get Into Adaptogens? We’re Here to Guide You
There are way more adaptogens than what we’ve mentioned here. Many have the general properties outlined above, but each one has its own traits and recommended usage.
Our team of herbalists have included adaptogens throughout our range of natural health products, particularly in our Balance Tea, Tincture, and Supplements. They’re also on hand to develop bespoke prescriptions to help you incorporate adaptogenic herbs in a way that suits you and your goals.
We believe adaptogens are a natural beacon of hope for our overstimulated, stressed-out world. Get started with our Balance range and give them a try.