As we make our way into a second lockdown, there’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and overwhelm. While it is crucial we take care of our immune system during this time, it is also crucial we take care of our mental health. Researchers agree that our bodies today are existing in a prolonged state of stress. Our emotions and thoughts impact our body’s immune response, making it less efficient. Stress also increases inflammation in the body, making it more susceptible to viruses and diseases.
In my practice, food is at the top of my list when supporting physical and mental health however, sometimes we need an extra support system to help us through more challenging times. It will be difficult to avoid stress in the modern world, what we need to be practicing is how to manage and better adapt to stress (I wrote a blog post about it here). This is where adaptogens come in. Seeing more and more people with stress and anxiety symptoms, adrenal dysfunction and sleep issues, as a Medical Herbalist, adaptogens are my go-to. Adaptogens are a special class of herbal medicines that have been used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines for centuries to promote a sense of well-being. Adaptogens help your body to cope more effectively with the demands of everyday life.
The term adaptogen was first described by the research scientist Dr. I. I. Brekhman in 1961, using a science-based understanding of what adaptogen is.
1. Adaptogens are botanicals and mushrooms that support the body’s natural ability to handle stress.
2. Adaptogens are nontoxic in appropriate doses.
3. They produce a non-specific state of resistance in the body to physical, emotional, or environmental stress. Meaning they help the body adapt to stress, regulating the stress response.
4. They regulate systems in the body, helping to restore normal function that has been affected by stress. This means if the immune response is low, adaptogens enhance the immune system. If the immune system is too reactive (like allergies) adaptogens help regulate the immune response, decreasing over-activity.
5. Adaptogens have profound antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that protect your cells from damage from a variety of chemical exposures.
Research has found that adaptogens work through two master control systems in the body, the HPA axis (hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal axis), responsible for connecting our brain to our hormone system which, in turn, impacts everything from mood and energy to metabolism, immunity, and sex drive. The other system is the SAS, or sympatho-adrenal system, which is our fight or flight response. Adaptogens stabilise your existing cortisol levels and regulate their production. Essentially, they help teach your body how to reach equilibrium again.
Some of their greatest power is their ability to affect multiple or an entire system, helping the body to balance itself and support a broad range of functions like cognition, mood, thyroid and adrenal health, memory, and stress relief.
Although all adaptogens work via the same systems in the body, they still have unique properties. Some are stimulating, some are calming, some are warming and some are cooling. They adapt to each person’s unique needs to help bring their body into balance, working bi-directionally to both help promote relaxation as well as provide more energy.
Adaptogens are not fast-acting but have a subtle effect, you need to wait at least three months to really know if you're addressing the core issue. It is best to work with a practitioner to find the herbs most suitable for you at correct doses. All herbs have their own pre-cautions and some might interact with prescription medications, so make sure you work with a practitioner.
What kind of adaptogen should you use?
Below are some of the most common adaptogens and ones I recommend the most. It is important to work with a practitioner when choosing the right adaptogen for you. Adaptogens should not replace other essential elements of health like eating well, managing stress and sleeping well. They are a tool and work best along with a balanced healthy lifestyle.
· Improves body’s response to stress
· Uplifts mood and can help with symptoms of depression
· support cellular energy metabolism and enhance brain function
· fights fatigue and improves insomnia. Helpful if you can’t get out of bed in the morning.
· Regulates cortisol levels
· Known for its calming benefits, redcues anxiety and promotes sleep
· Enhances endocrine function, especially in the thyroid and adrenals
· Treats anemia and blood deficiencies
· rejuvenative nervine, balances the nervous system
· promoting mental alertness, improves focus & concentration and a sound memory.
· beneficial dermatologic effects by supporting the connective tissue
· Impressive adaptogen, has a regulating, broad-spectrum action that maintain homeostasis.
· Antioxidant activity and support normal levels of inflammation.
· Nourishes the mind and elevate the spirit. For times of brain fog and low mood.
· Supports adrenal function and promotes healthy immune function
· High in antioxidants and reduces inflammation
· Balances sugar levels
· Supports healthy stamina and physical energy levels.
· Improves cognitive function
· Increases energy and stamina
· Enhances immunity and improves detoxification
· For chronic fatigue syndrome and convalescing after illness
If you're interested in hearing more about herbal medicine and how it can support you, please get in touch for a free consultation call.