What is an adaptogen?
If you read my blog, ‘8 food trends not to be missed in 2018’ then you’ll remember that I mentioned adaptogens, a group of herbs and roots that can help your body to deal better with stress. This specific food group is starting to make a name for itself so I thought I’d go into a little more depth here about adaptogens, including a few of my personal favourites!
The term ‘adaptogen’ was introduced by Russian toxicologist Nikoly Lazarev in the middle of the 20th century and it’s now come to refer to a group of ingredients that are capable of supporting your adrenal system and able to enhance your body’s reaction to stress, adapting their function depending on your body’s needs.1
However, despite their reputation of being able to adapt, specific adaptogens are thought to be more beneficial for some problems than for others. That’s why I’m going to go through 5 of my favourite adaptogens, what you can use them for and how you can incorporate them into your diet!
1 – Maca
What is it used for: Libido, fertility and energy
Maca is an ancient Peruvian root that has become a household name in recent years. There are three specific types of maca – black, yellow and red, which all have very similar influences. Sometimes known as ‘Peruvian ginseng’, maca is a rich source of nutrients, including 20 different amino acids and a variety of antioxidants that can help to reduce oxidative stress.
Traditionally, though, maca is primarily associated with energy and fertility, helping to maintain healthy energy levels, with many theorising that the root can help to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. Some studies have even demonstrated that the root might have some positive benefits for memory2, although further studies are still needed.
When it comes to sexual health, maca comes into its own, helping to improve libido and sexual function in both men and women. It also helps to balance female sex hormones such as oestrogen, which is why our menopause expert Eileen sometimes recommends it for menopausal women. A 2008 study even found that maca can help to diminish menopause-associated depression!3
How best to take maca: Maca powder is widely available in most health food stores and boasts an earthy flavour that can easily be incorporated into smoothies and other baked goods.
2 – Ashwagandha
What is it used for: Stress, anxiety and inflammation
The health benefits of ashwagandha might be news for us in the West, but in India, this potent herb has been used for centuries, helping with everything from your blood sugar to your stress levels.
When it comes to stress, ashwagandha has one particular advantage – it’s been proven to lower your cortisol levels!4 Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by your adrenal gland and is often released in response to stress or climbing blood sugar levels. Your body needs cortisol however, if cortisol is repeatedly released, it can have a number of unhappy consequences – your adrenal glands will become fatigued, your stress levels will elevate and your body will become more vulnerable to inflammation.
If your production of cortisol is lowered, it will have a positive effect on your stress levels, helping to reduce symptoms. In one study, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, participants were split into two groups, one taking a placebo and one ashwagandha. The results showed that the ashwagandha group had 28% lower cortisol levels than the placebo group –impressive!5
How best to take ashwagandha: You can often find ashwagandha in powder and tablet form, or sometimes even as a tea. If you do opt for ashwagandha powder, you can incorporate it into smoothies – just make sure you use vibrant ingredients as ashwagandha can sometimes have a bitter flavour.
3 – Tulsi
What is it used for: Immunity, premature ageing, skincare and stress
Tulsi, often known as ‘Holy basil’, is another adaptogenic that owes its roots to Ayurvedic medicine, being widely used in India for possibly thousands of years.
It has natural anti-viral and anti-fungal properties and, because it’s rich in vitamins A & C, it’s considered a master at combatting the free radical molecules responsible for premature ageing! Tulsi also contains the elusive vitamin K, which plays a key role in supporting your bones and heart.
Traditionally, tulsi is used to protect the immune system and can help to reduce stress due to its immune-boosting qualities. It also contains phytochemical compounds that may lower your blood corticosterone levels. Not bad!
How best to take tulsi: Tulsi can come in a variety of forms from oils to tablets but my favourite form is definitely tea.
4 – Acai berries
What is it used for: cleansing, anti-ageing, immunity and heart health
Move over goji berries – acai berries are here to knock you off your antioxidant perch! Indigenous to the Amazon, this little fruit packs a big punch when it comes to free-radical damage, being extremely rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and dietary fibre.
Acai berries are thought to help cleanse the liver and kidneys and, due to their content of fibre, they can help to cleanse your digestive system too! The anti-inflammatory properties of acai berries also make them useful for supporting your heart, with studies even showing that drinking acai berry juice can positively influence your blood lipid levels!6
However, these anti-inflammatory benefits aren’t just limited to your heart – your brain can also benefit too! That’s because acai berries contain a variety of brain-boosting nutrients, including anthocyanins, quercetin and cyanidan!
How best to take acai berries: Acai berries can be expensive and difficult to get a hold of from most ordinary supermarkets which is why many who enjoy the fruit have turned to acai berry powders – the rich taste of the berries goes well with supercharged smoothies and other baked goods!
5 – Siberian ginseng
What is it used for: energy and stress
When it comes to adaptogens, Siberian ginseng is often overlooked in favour of its more famous cousins, Asian ginseng and American ginseng. However, Siberian ginseng, often referred to as ’Eleuthero’, is actually very different from other ginseng and contains other active chemical components.
It’s packed full of incredible health benefits, helping to enhance your energy levels in the long-term whilst raising your blood oxygen levels.7 Siberian ginseng can also be useful for normalising the adrenal glands, increasing mental alertness and supporting your immune system. One study even found that, after taking Siberian ginseng for 4 weeks, participants had more T-cells!8
How best to take Siberian ginseng: Siberian ginseng can be taken in tablet or powder form but I would personally opt for a tincture. Tinctures tend to be better absorbed, meaning you get all the goodness out of your product rather than a fraction!
You could try our Siberian Ginseng tincture, however, if you’re looking to maintain healthy energy levels in the face of stress, I’d opt for our Ginsavena. Prepared using extracts of Siberian ginseng and Avena sativa, Ginsavena is a gentle remedy for busy people under pressure, helping you to adapt and cope in the face of adversity!