Top 10 Adaptogens
What is an Adaptogen?
Adaptogens are natural substances that can adapt to the genetic structure of a living organism, assisting in balancing and regulating the necessary hormones and most notably, the ability to deal with stress within the body. In short, they have the ability to work with the individuals body and help to restore its natural balance. They have a huge impact on the endocrine system which controls the release of hormones via the adrenal glands and digestion. Imbalanced hormone levels contribute to a number of modern day symptoms including insomnia, weight gain, sexual disfunction, chronic fatigue and mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. Many people believe that hormones are only vital in our sexual behaviours but in fact they are essential for mood, appetite, sleep, energy and motivation too.
Hormone levels play a huge role in our overall health and these issues are not addressed properly by western health care, where often pharmaceutical drugs will be given which in turn will cause more problems in the long term, and often causing further imbalances. Of course adaptogens do not have the ability to erase stressful situations from our daily lives, but they will help our bodies to handle these stresses (both mental and physical) easier.
The term 'adaptogen' was first coined by a Russian toxicologist named Nikolay Lazarev in 1957. He used the term to describe, "substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance" to stress.
Adaptogens can be found in many roots and herbs from all over the world and have many potential health benefits. The uses of adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in ancient medicinal cultures including Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Many of the herbs and roots used in these ancient practices are still used to treat illnesses, discomforts and disease to this day, and their healing properties and therapeutic uses are now being discovered by the west (although not used in western allopathic medicine). Several adaptogens are now household names in the western world and their popularity is growing steadily. Tulsi (holy basil), turmeric, ashwagandha, ginseng and many types of medicinal mushrooms including chaga, lion's mane and reishi are all adaptogens.
Many of these plants are crushed and made into powders which can be digested in several different ways. For example, they can be drank in a tea or tincture, taken in a capsule or added to a smoothie. Some may be added to food as seasoning (such as turmeric and ginger) but others would be too bitter to add to food so would be best ingested another way. Many adaptogens are now available in supplement form which is the most common way to take them.
Adaptogens can perform many positive functions and therapeutic effects such as triggering the production of hormones, allowing for better sleep, giving an energy boost or increasing sex drive, but they can also alter the body’s response to various stresses. Stresses are not limited to emotional, but also for internal physical stress caused by consumption of toxins, injury or illness. These qualities help to maintain optimal bodily function, from cognitive to digestive and everything in between. The magic of an adaptogen is that it will treat every person differently, adapting to the requirements of the DNA structure and rebuilding as necessary.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
So what counts as an adaptogen?
To be classed as an adaptogen, a herb must be non-toxic to the physiological functions of the body, offering support and equilibrium. It must include the "Four N's":
- Nourishing - supply body with nutrients
- Normalising - restore balance within the body
- Non-Specific - ability to act on multiple areas simultaneously
- Non-Toxic - safe to take for extended periods of time without side effects
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