Adaptogenic herbs for the modern world
Our bodies are constantly under stress from our jobs, lifestyles, dietary habits and the environment we live in. Chronic stress can cause an inflammatory cascade, increase levels of stress hormones, cause blood sugar imbalances, digestive problems and further long term health issues. We are presently living in very stressful times, and need to do all we can to support and nourish ourselves through this period with well-balanced diets, good quality sleep, spending time outside, stress relieving activities and we can use restorative adaptogenic herbs for a little extra support.
Adaptogens are a group of plants which possess adaptive properties, meaning in nature they respond and adapt well to harsh conditions, and they support us in a similar way. Adaptogenic herbs help to balance, restore and protect the body, supporting our hormonal health, energy levels, immune system and more. There are around 20 plants that qualify as adaptogens, a term coined in 1947 by a Russian pharmacologist who was investigating the stress-busting and energy-enhancing herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries.
These are some of our favourite adaptogens for the modern world:
Rhodiola is one of the true adaptogens. It has been well studied and was used by athletes in the Eastern bloc to support performance. In Russia it has been consumed for generations for its nervous system benefits, and as a way to increase stamina and support immunity during harsh winters. Rhodiola defends the body against stress and protects general health, as well as supporting energy levels, and endurance. Numerous studies on its effects have found that it has anti-fatigue, anti-stress, anti-hypoxic and anti-oxidant qualities. It is a classic adaptogen and helps the body adapt to stress by decreasing or preventing hormonal changes tied to prolonged stress: helping to lower cortisol levels, support brain function, energy levels and physical performance, while reducing mental and physical fatigue.
Holy basil is another excellent adaptogenic herb, known for its benefits for stress reduction and supporting relaxation. It is also known as Tulsi and is one of the most sacred plants in India. Traditionally, Holy Basil has been used for anxiety and stress and is considered a tonic for mind, body and spirit. It contains compounds that that can help us to balance stress hormones and support our nervous and immune systems. Studies have found it decreases stress hormone levels, in particular corticosterone, and that it contains compounds called ocimumosides and ocimarin which have anti-stress properties. It also contains eugenol, which is an aromatic compound that is said to elevate both mood and spirit, combating stress and supporting mental clarity. It is rich in antioxidants to defend the body, and protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from environmental toxins as well as physical stress. In a 2017 systematic review, authors concluded Holy Basil may be an effective adaptogen to counter the stresses of modern living.
Ashwagandha is a highly revered adaptogenic herb in Ayurvedic medicine. Traditionally used for its restorative properties. It helps to support the adrenal glands and evidence supports its ability to reduce anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol levels and mimicking the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. It is useful in supporting adrenal function, our adrenals can become overtaxed due to chronic stress which can disrupt other hormones and cause many symptoms and health issues. Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, helping the body to cope when under stress and bringing it back into balance. It has benefits for many body systems, including the immune, neurological, endocrine and reproductive systems. It’s valued for its thyroid-modulating, neuroprotective, anti-anxiety, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cordyceps is highly regarded for its energizing effects and ability to reduce fatigue as well as support the adrenal glands. Researchers found that Cordyceps acts like an adaptogen, helping people struggling with fatigue increase their levels of energy and endurance. It’s not a stimulant, but instead an adaptogenic mushroom which supports your adrenal glands and helps the body produce and maintain consistent energy levels.
Known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’, Reishi has been used for over 4,000 years in China and Japan. It has traditionally been used as an adaptogen, to balance and support the endocrine system, and to promote healthy sleep. Reishi helps the body to cope and adapt to the challenges it may be facing, and brings the body and it’s systems back into balance with its wide-ranging effects, including supporting stress response, immunity and protecting against inflammation. Reishi is considered to be calming, and relaxing, helping us to unwind and supporting deeper restful sleep which can be hard to come by when chronically stressed.
Remember the goal isn’t to avoid all stress, but rather to manage the harmful chronic kind that can impact our well-being. A little herbal support goes a long way and adding these nourishing adaptogens can improve our resilience to the damaging effects of chronic stress and restore balance to our bodies, leaving us better able to cope in the modern world that we live in.