In India and China, soldiers have used adaptogens for centuries to handle the stress of combat, recover faster, and increase their energy. Today, you can use adaptogens for – you guessed it – their adaptogenic properties: they help your body adapt to biological and psychological stress by making it easier for you to balance your hormonal systems. What does that mean, exactly? Adaptogens help you cope with common symptoms of living in the modern world, including fatigue, impotence, and infertility. In other words, adaptogens make you more resilient in all facets of life, giving you energy, focus, strength and a better overall mood.
Even though these adaptogenic herbs have worked for thousands of years, scientific research is only beginning to reveal to the West the potential that adaptogens have to upgrade your stress response and energy levels.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are unique plants or herbs that support your adrenal system. They help balance your hormones, so you can manage your stress response on a day to day basis. They adapt to what your body needs and have the ability to regulate your system up or down depending on the need in the moment.
How do adaptogens work?
Think of it like this. If you’ve ever driven a sports car, when you step on the gas, it very quickly moves forward, and when you let off, it slows down quickly. In contrast, in your grandmother’s car, you can pin the accelerator to the floor, but you have to wait two seconds for the car to lurch forward. When you release the gas, it kind of coasts.
Your adrenals are the same way. You want them to make stress hormones quickly when needed, then to stop making the hormones as soon as you’re done. That’s what adaptogens do – they make your adrenals react more quickly, so you spend less time and energy making stress hormones.
Different adaptogens work for different people. That’s why we have functional medicine docs, Ayurveda, herbalists, and even shamanic practitioners who work with herbs.
Ashwagandha, one of the most common adaptogens, translates to ‘smell of horse,’ — it is used in Ayurvedic practices for all kinds of things, most notably for reducing stress. (Remember that stress comes from exercise, diet, infection, fear of stuff, and even your mother-in-law…and your body doesn’t care about the source.)
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Decreases anxiety and stress: Several human studies show that ashwagandha decreases anxiety, stress, c-reactive protein and cortisol. The decrease in cortisol is worth talking about, especially when you compare the effects of ashwagandha to those of other stress-reducing supplements. Studies show ashwagandha decreased stress 14.5-27.9% in healthy but stressed people.
Improves memory: Another cool thing about ashwagandha is that it shows promise in improving memory formation. This could be important in research for treating Alzheimer’s patients. More large human studies are needed to show how and why this adaptogen might be effective, but there is research to suggest that ashwagandha could reverse the effects of neurological toxins associated with neurodegenerative diseases.
Ashwagandha is best for
Astragalus is a fundamental adaptogenic herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is primarily used for longevity, to fight inflammation, and for kidney support. It can also reduce levels of c-reactive protein, one of the inflammation markers that you can drive down. Astragalus has 126 useful components, mostly flavonoids, saponins and polysaccharides.
Benefits of Astragalus
Lengthens telomeres (and lifespan): Astragalus is particularly interesting in that it’s the only natural substance that contains cycloastragenol, a molecule that can lengthen telomeres by activating telomerase production by 2-3x. Telomeres are structures on the end of chromosomes that, the shorter they become, the closer that cell is to dying. By lengthening telomeres, you could essentially delay cell death and slow down aging. The length of your telomeres is related to your lifespan, which is why protecting your telomeres may be key to aging gracefully.
Boosts immune system: Astragalus also has immune-boosting properties and can activate T-cells even more than echinacea.
Astragalus is best for
Chaga mushrooms can be found growing in the forest on birch trees resembling a large clump of dirt. But the benefits of this fungus are astounding. Those who live in Russia and Siberia have used this adaptogenic mushroom for thousands of years. Known as a folk medicine in the past, it is now being recognized in research and has shown its power in supporting cellular health. Well-sourced, high-quality medicinal mushrooms serve a purpose as supplement.
Benefits of Chaga
Suppresses tumor growth: Chaga is rich in antioxidants and has shown to support apoptosis (cell death). A study performed on mice in 2016 showed that using an extract of Chaga reduced tumor size by 60%. It also showed a decrease in temperature after implantation of the tumor. The decreased temperature could explain the reason Chaga suppresses cancer growth by regulating energy metabolism. Multiple studies performed on mice have shown that Chaga suppresses tumor growth in liver cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer. It can even support the immune system during chemotherapy.
Reduces blood sugar levels: Many mice studies have observed a positive effect of Chaga on diabetes. Not only does Chaga lower blood glucose levels, but also cholesterol and triglycerides.
Prevents DNA damage: Stress causes a substantial amount of harm to the body leading to many different diseases. Chaga has been shown to reduce oxidative stress by almost 55%. Not only is it believed to support digestive issues, it could be a beneficial supplement to reduce oxidative stress in general.
Chaga is best for
4. Holy Basil
Holy basil, or Tulsi, is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine and is traditionally used as an adaptogen, aphrodisiac, and liver supporter. It’s also used for longevity!
Benefits of Holy Basil
Protects liver: Studies show that this herb can be an effective liver protector, and is especially potent when paired with milk thistle, another liver supporter.
Lowers stress and anxiety: Other practices include using holy basil as a stress reducer, antioxidant, and anti-anxiety supplement.
Increases muscle mass: Holy basil is high in ursolic acid, a compound also found in apple peels, that may affect body composition by increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat.
Boosts libido: Holy basil is also known to be both an anti-fertility agent and libido enhancer, so this could be a fun herb for couples not ready to conceive. Holy basil is one of the only aphrodisiac and testosterone boosting-supplements, while also being reducing fertility in men, and researchers aren’t entirely sure why. Some animal studies suggest that it could also be tied to its high ursolic acid content. The ursolic acid could prevent spermatogenesis.
Holy basil is best for
Maca is a Peruvian root that grows in the Andes and is becoming known for its abilities to support sex drive and boost fertility, which can go down in times of stress.
Benefits of Maca
Boosts libido: In multiple studies with men and women, Maca has been shown to increase libido and the desire for sex. From antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction to erectile dysfunction, Maca can boost the libido and get you in the mood.
Increases fertility: Maca has also been shown to increase fertility in both men and women. For men, Maca improves sperm count and motility (their ability to move through the woman’s reproductive system). For women, Maca encourages overall hormone balance, which can support regulation of the woman’s cycle.
Maca is best for
Traditional healers have used Siberian ginseng to fight fatigue, maximize physical performance, and improve overall immunity and longevity. Research backs their practices.
Benefits of Ginseng
Improves brain power and focus: Studies show that ginseng is effective when used to improve cognition and focus. The improvement in cognition is most likely a result of a decrease in fatigue (kind of like coffee). In studies where individuals were not already experiencing fatigue, they did not see an increase in cognition.
Increases sense of well-being: There’s conflicting evidence when it comes to using ginseng as a mood-booster, with ginseng having the same effects on mood as the placebo. Other studies, however, do show that in healthy people, ginseng does have a mood-boosting effect and can increase calm and improve memory and performance.
Boosts libido and sexual performance: Research shows that taking ginseng improves the quality of erections in men suffering from erectile dysfunction It also stimulates sexual behavior in animal studies. Other research in post-menopausal women found that Korean red ginseng improved their sexual arousal.
Lowers blood sugar: There’s also some evidence that ginseng can lower blood glucose levels, although it doesn’t appear to have any effect on people that don’t have an existing condition like diabetes or hypertension, for example. Large human studies are lacking though and there’s conflicting results in the studies that do exist.
Ginseng is best for
Reishi mushroom has been used for over 2,000 years in China with documented scripts of their many benefits. From boosting the immune system and reducing blood sugar to supporting the liver and fighting cancer, this mushroom is one to keep on hand, assuming you’re using high-quality, medicinal-grade mushrooms — and not taking it every day.
Benefits of Reishi
Boosts the immune system: Reishi contains antioxidants which protect cells from oxidative damage. With this protection comes the ability to be more resilient and respond to threats properly.
Detoxes your system: A study of 300 one-day-old male broiler chickens fed a contaminated diet of aflatoxin (poisonous carcinogens produced by mold) showed that when Reishi was introduced to the diet, it counteracted the negative effects of the aflatoxin. This suggests that reishi is protective of the immune function and helps detox the system – especially useful when you’ve been exposed to allergens or toxins.
Fights cancer: Studies on different types of cancer show the possibilities of Reishi as an antitumor and cancer preventative. Human prostate cancer cell lines were used to observe the effect on prostate cancer. Results showed that the cells were sensitive to Reishi, causing a 45% to 55% decrease in cells. A study of reishi on inflammatory breast cancer also showed anticancer properties with a reduced tumor growth and weight.
Reishi is best for
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