If you are an avid reader of health blogs, you know that there’s buzz around all things adaptogenic, and “adaptogen” is a hot new buzzword in health – but what are they and why should you care? Here’s why.
Adaptogens are plant medicines – but not just any old plant medicines.
Adaptogens are a broad family of herbs and plant medicines that have been used for thousands of years throughout the world. To be labeled an adaptogen, a plant medicine has to fullfill at least three specific criteria:
- They are generally safe (for just about everyone).
- They help you handle stress.
- They work to balance your hormones.
How adaptogens work
Stress and hormone pathways are connected – your body’s stress system, the sympathetic nervous system, controls hundreds of pathways that are responsible for inflammation, and when inflammation gets out of control, this can lead to hormonal problems like adrenal fatigue, low sex drive, and thyroid dysfunction. Adaptogens help to regulate the sympathetic nervous system so everything downstream works better. And because chronic inflammation is linked to many of the common health problems we see today, the medical literature has found adaptogens to have far-reaching health benefits like:
- lowering cortisol levels
- regenerating brain cells
- alleviating depression and anxiety
- protecting heart health
- protecting the liver
- preventing and fighting cancer
- protecting against radiation
- balancing the immune system
- decreasing fatigue
They all mediate stress, fight inflammation, and bring balance to your hormonal system but each adaptogen also has its own special set of skills. Here are the 12 most popular adaptogens and what you should know about each:
- Ginseng: The pick-me-up
Ginseng varieties, including Asian White, Asian Red, and American White, are great for those seeking an extra boost of energy without the jitters that can come from caffeine.
- Pearl: The beauty secret
Crushed-up pearl powder is a great source of amino acids and will nourish skin, hair, and nails.
- Rhodiola: The stress calmer
Rhodiola rosea is good for people struggling with adrenal fatigue and fibromyalgia, but it can have a stimulating effect on the extra-sensitive, so take it before noon or it could keep you up at night.
- Schisandra: The adrenal supporter
Another super adrenal supporter, this berry is one to use on a regular basis if you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue.
- Shilajit: The sex hormone igniter
People with low libido or sex hormone imbalance can benefit from shilajit. This Ayurvedic herb’s name translates as “conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness.”
- Ashwagandha: The thyroid + mood master
A superstar adaptogen, this popular herb is a great tool in supporting optimal thyroid function. If you tend to get mood swings, ashwagandha may also be all the remedy you need. Just watch out – ashwagandha is a nightshade, which may aggravate symptoms (such as joint pain) in some people with autoimmune conditions.
- Maca: The energizer
Maca both boosts energy and calms anxiety. It’s also a rich source of vitamin C, making it an immunity enhancer. There are three types of maca powders: Red, yellow, and black. Red maca is the sweetest and mildest tasting. Yellow maca is the least sweet, and black maca is somewhere in between the two.
- Holy Basil (Tulsi): The memory booster
Holy basil is recommended to those who complain of brain fog because it gently increases cognitive function. As a bonus, it’s also great for bloating and gas.
- Ho Shou Wu: The libido pumper-upper
Another great tool for people with a low sex drive, this herb has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine.
- Mucuna pruriens: Nature’s chill pill
This adaptogenic bean extract is jam-packed with L-DOPA, the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. You can take this daily as it helps with focus and calming during a busy day.
- Eleuthero: The battery pack
If you are dragging through the day, this herb is another great one for optimizing energy levels. Extra stressful week? Eleuthero is your go-to.
Because each adaptogen offers its own unique benefit, experiment using blends in elixirs and smoothies.
Adapted from Dr. Will Cole’s writing
- Pearl: The beauty secret