Introduction to Adaptogens

Adaptogens have become the new buzz word thrown around in the health and wellness bloggersphere of late. But I’m sure many of you may have no idea what an Adaptogen is or perhaps just understand them to be some kind of herbal potion with a high ticket price that you see health food bloggers blend into their morning elixirs on Instagram stories. Whatever brought you here and regardless of the knowledge you may or may not already have I’m going to dig a little deeper and give you an understanding of Adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms and why I feel everyone should be adding them to their morning coffee, matcha or smoothie. 

What are Adaptogens?

Put simply – Adaptogens are naturally derived herbs/mushrooms that help your body ‘adapt’ to mental and physical stress. These powerful substances can help your body recover from physical and mental illness, surgery, hormonal imbalances and a number of heart, lung and digestive problems. The stress hormone is one that gets a lot of abuse, we expect a lot from our adrenals (which produce the stress hormone ‘cortisol’). Even if you don’t lead a “high stress life’, as humans we are always going to experience some kind of stress. Mental stress can be something as trivial as peak hour traffic, or having to study for your final and physical stress could be experiencing a heat wave in the middle of summer with no AC or even something as trivial as eating a diet of non organic foods.

How do they work?

Adaptogens bind to receptor sites on cells in the gut, which then triggers the release of chemicals that stimulate and balance the hormonal, immune and nervous systems. This, then improves the health of your adrenal system, (your adrenals are in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress.)  When your adrenals are burnt out, it can reek all kinds of havoc on your body and a myriad of health problems can follow. Adaptogens work to support your hormones and increases the activity of immune cells which make it easier for your body to combat disease, bacteria and viruses.  All in all healing your body more quickly and efficiently. 

Which ones should I take?

This obviously depends on what your motivations are for taking Adaptogens as they each work in powerful yet different ways. Everyone in this world is different and our bodies need different things to thrive. So what works for one person might not necessarily work for another. But here is my top list of Adaptogens with their benefits so you can decide for yourselves what might work best for you.

1. Ashwaganda (Indian Ginseng) 

This is my go to every day ayurvedic herb. The taste is something to be desired however I worked up my palate and tolerance and it’s now added into my smoothie/morning matcha at least 4 days a week. This is one of the most popular herbs, due to it’s potent mental, emotional and physical healing properties. It improves symptoms of alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety as well as supporting optimal thyroid function. It’s high concentration of withanolides, have been shown to fight inflammation and tumor growth! 

Benefits

  • Tonify the Immune System 
  • Inspires Vigor and Strength 
  • Relieves Mental, Emotional & Physical stress 
  • Balances thyroid function 
  • Supports the adrenals 
  • Anti Cancer properties

2. Chaga

This fungal herb is among the most recommended by health professionals because of it’s high mineral content that helps boost mental health. It’s a little different to other herbs as it doesn’t grow out of the ground but on trees that are at least 40 years old and aren’t extracted until the tree has been dead for 3-4 years! This herb also contains polysaccharides which provide energy, support cardiovascular health, intestinal and liver health, and healthy blood sugar levels.

Benefits

  • Relieves anxiety and calms nerves 
  • Helps boost a low mood, improving mental health 
  • Promotes healthy blood sugar levels 
  • Immune boosting properties helps support intestinal health 
  • High in antioxidants

3. Astragalus

Also known as milk vetch, this plant comes from the beans/legumes family and has been used in Chinese Medicine practices for thousands of years. Astragalus is one of the most powerful immune-building plants on the planet! It pumps up your immune system, slows or prevents the growth of tumors and has also been known to relieve insulin resistance, fighting diabetes naturally! There are a tonne of different species of this plant however only 2 of them are used medicinally from the roots alone. 

Benefits

  • Fights free radical damage and prevents oxidative stress. 
  • Antiviral properties help prevent disease and illness 
  • Anti-inflammatory properties helps heal wounds internally and on the skin 
  • Can slow or prevent the growth or tumors 
  • Can help relieve insulin resistance, helping fight diabetes 
  • Has anti-aging benefits at a cellular level 

4. Schizandra Berry

This potent adaptogenic berry actually have contradictory effects – it helps wake your mind up AND is great to take before bed to calm you down. Either way, as an adaptogen, Schizandra will redirect you from any extreme to an ideal, balanced state. Schizandra although a berry, should not be considered in the same realm as goji or golden berries. This is a medicinal berry and is actually one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs in China, where it is taken to beautify the skin, strengthen the sex organs, and promote mental function. It’s also named the ‘five flavored berry’ due to the fact that it is all at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.

Benefits

  • Improves mental performance 
  • Enhances physical performance 
  • Natural aphrodisiac, helps with healthy sexual function 
  • Lowers inflammation 
  • Possible protection against cancer 
  • Combats stress 
  • Enhanes the immune system 
  • Assist in the digestion of fatty foods 
  • Helps soothe cases of insomnia, stress or dizziness
  • Known as an anti aging herb that fights free radical damage

5. Reishi

Red Reishi, is know for it’s miraculous health benefits and has been seen as the single most important herb for Chinese longevity. Dubbed “mushroom of immortality” and the ” medicine of kings”, when taken regularly this adaptogenic mushroom can restore the body to its natural state, enabling all organs to function normally. Although it assists the whole body Reishi mushroom benefits the Liver and Heart organs first and foremost.

Benefits

  • Regulates and fine tunes the immune system 
  • Helps alleviate common allergies by inhibiting histamine release 
  • Improves blood circulation 
  • Helps balance hormones
  • Fights against diabetes 
  • Helps defend against tumor growth and cancer 
  • Improves liver function and detoxification 
  • Slows the aging process 
  • And so much more!

6. Pine Pollen

Collected form various Pine Tree species, Pine Pollen has over 200 bioactive nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in high concentrations, and is easily one of the most important and beneficial herbal medicines on the planet. This extract is especially beneficial for both Men and Women between 40-50 with unbalanced hormones as it help raise the testosterone levels in the blood and balances the ratio of sex hormones, androgens and estrogen.

Pine Pollen is available as both a powdered supplement and tinctured extract. However there is a bit of a difference between the two. The powder contains less androgenic substances but more of the other nutritive whole food qualities like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Pine pollen tinctures are significantly higher in androgens, like testosterone. This may be particularly relevant depending on your age or current health goals. Both are very beneficial but in different ways.

Benefits:

  • Helps reduce sensitivity to pain 
  • Natural testosterone booster 
  • Aids with recovery time in exercise and helps build muscle mass 
  • Anti-Aging benefits 
  • Help maintain a healthy libido 
  • Helps speed up metabolism 
  • Balances hormones 
  • Increases braun function ad attention span
  • Plus soo much more. 

7. Cordyceps

Cordyceps although classed as a fungus, also have adaptogenic properties. For years it was thought to be a living worm rather than a mushroom and was nicknamed the caterpillar fungus. This herbal mushroom is known to increase oxygen capacity and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels in the body. ATP’s are what your body uses for energy once the mitochondria (what your cells are made up of) have converted your nutrients into fuel. SO putting it simply – Cordyceps optimizes the production of energy and nutrients from your food intake allowing a surplus of ATP which in turn gives you an overall energy boost. Although the energy boost is physical, this also refers to cellular energy. For optimal function of your vital organs and systems your body needs enough energy (ATP) to deal with emotional stress, sickness, diseases etc.

Benefits:

  • Improves the immune system 
  • Increases energy levels 
  • Improved cardiovascular systems 
  • Detoxes the body 
  • Helps manage blood sugar levels 
  • Increases libido 
  • Decreases tumor growth in specific types of cancer including lymphoma, melanoma, prostate, breast, liver, and colorectal 
  • Supports adrenal fatigue

8. Lions Mane

Also known as hedgehog mushroom, I take Lions Mane for optimal brain function. Whenever my brain needs some love or if I have something I need to study for or focus extra hard on that day, this is the go to shroom. Lion’s Mane looks much different to other mushrooms as it grows in globular masses and has long flowing spores. This adaptogen has nothing to do with an actual Lion, it gets it’s name from the white cascading tendrils that resemble that of a Lions Mane.

This mushroom has been studied to be extremely effective at stimulating Nerve Growth Factor in the brain and is especially beneficial for those with epilepsy or nerve cell injuries.

Benefits:

  • Supports long term cognitive function and concentration 
  • Improves anxiety and depression 
  • Helps fight against cancerous tumors 
  • Regulates blood by combating levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream 
  • Fights against free radical damage 
  • Support the digestive tract, helping with ailments such as gastritis or stomach ulcers

These are just a few of my top picks of adaptogens, there are so many more in this world and I could go into so much more depth on each of those, but this should hopefully give you enough information to spark up some interest and do some more research on what might work best for you and your specific needs.

**Please note that these adaptogens are not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing and if you are taking other medication please consult your physician before taking any of the herbs/mushrooms.

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