In the face of a widespread mental health crisis, self-care around stress has never been more important. Our “fight or flight” evolutionary response to stressors is still playing catch up with the relentless pace of our ‘always on’ modern society. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t easily distinguish between the daily stresses of our lives, and the more life-threatening stress of having to escape a predator.
Increasingly, we are turning to natural remedies and traditional healing modalities for answers. Adaptogens are a group of herbs that have attracted attention for their ability to work intuitively with the body to ease stress and restore vitality. Could they be the support you’ve been looking for? Read on to find out.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are natural compounds believed to regulate your body’s natural stress response and promote feelings of calm and focus. Adaptogenic plants such as Ashwagandha, Maca, and Reishi have been used in the Ayurvedic tradition and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. Modern scientific support for these natural remedies is just beginning to catch up.
What are the benefits of adaptogens?
Jump ahead to
1. Stress reduction
Ashwagandha has been used as a natural anxiety reliever for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Some clinical trials suggest that Ashwagandha is helpful for improving stress and anxiety symptoms. It has also been suggested that Ashwagandha may be beneficial for male fertility and cognition, although this research is still in its infancy.
Schisandra is another adaptogenic plant that may offer stress reduction benefits. A native of China and Russia, Schisandra berries are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a variety of ailments. Small human studies indicate that Schisandra may improve attention and concentration, and ease depression and anxiety symptoms.
2. Fight fatigue and low sex drive
Maca comes from Peru and maca root has long been used as an Andean remedy for fatigue and sexual dysfunction. It’s typically grown at high altitudes, and is part of the Brassica family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage. Preliminary evidence suggests that Maca may improve energy levels, as well as enhance male fertility, and reduce sexual dysfunction in women.
3. Improve concentration and memory
Bacopa or ‘brahmi’ is one of the more well-researched adaptogenic plants, and is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s a perennial herb with white flowers, often found in aquariums because it can grow in water. Bacopa has been shown to be helpful for memory, verbal learning, attention and mood. Additionally, cell and animal studies indicate that Bacopa has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pain-fighting properties.
Gotu Kola may also be helpful for brain power, in addition to wound healing. Some studies suggest that Gotu Kola boosts memory, and lowers the biomarkers for stress.
4. Boost immunity
Stress (and it’s follow-on effects) make our immune systems more susceptible to attack, and certain adaptogens seem to be especially useful for immune support.
Chaga, a fungus grown on hardwood trees in Finland, Russia, and Canada, appears to be particularly adept at fortifying the immune system. Animal and cell studies show that Chaga helps fight bacteria and viruses, and combat inflammation.
Reishi may also be beneficial for immune function. Reishi has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years for everything from immunity to longevity. With over 400 bioactive components, preliminary studies suggest that Reishi helps fight oxidative stress and modulate the immune response.
The bottom line
There’s a growing body of evidence to support adaptogens for stress management, however, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Adaptogens are not a magic pill or a standalone strategy for easing stress. A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate rest and other stress management techniques should still be part of your holistic self-care regime.
In addition, adaptogens may not be right for you if you’ve been diagnosed with a mood or psychological disorder, and/or are taking medication. In these cases, consult your doctor first before adding adaptogens.
Interested in trying adaptogens? Take a moment to fill out our consultation quiz, and tell us about your needs.