If you find yourself stressing about stress, sick of feeling tired and tired of feeling sick, you may take comfort from the fact that you are not alone. In fact 85% of adults in the UK experience stress regularly. There are many common ways of dealing with these negative states, such as meditation and regular exercise, however a not so well known solution is a family of powerful herbs, roots and fungi called adaptogens.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens have a unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function depending on the specific needs of the body, hence their name. They help the body resist different stressors, whether these are physical, chemical or biological. Although the term ‘adaptogen’ was coined in the 1950s, these herbs have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
Working at a molecular level by balancing the hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal glands, adaptogens work by hacking the stress response in the body. When the body experiences stress, it goes through a three-stage response called general adaptation syndrome (GAS), these three responses are alarm, resistance and exhaustion. These herbs allow the body to stay in the resistance stage longer, avoiding a crash in the midst of a stressful situation. Research suggests adaptogens are great all-rounders, as they help the body react to or recover from physical and mental stress, as well as boosting immunity and general wellbeing.
Some research suggests they also have other health benefits such as cardiovascular health and neurological disorders.
There are many different of adaptogenic herbs available, below are just a few and their benefits:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – contributes to optimal relaxation, as well as mental, emotional and physical balance and wellbeing.
Bacopa monnieri (Waterhyssop) -supports cognitive health including short- and long-term memory enhancing effects, increased concentration and intelligence.
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) – helps protect nerve cells and stimulates memory processes. Contributes to normal blood circulation, which is associated with mental performance and reactivity.
Rhodiola – helps to stimulate the nervous system, has a beneficial effect on fatigue and headaches induced by stress, beneficial for sleep difficulties, poor appetite, decline in work performance, helps to stimulate perception, improve state of mind and contributes to mental wellbeing.
Schisandra – a revered adaptogen used for medicinal purposes in Asia and Russia for centuries. In traditional Chinese medicine Schisandra is thought to benefit Qi – the energy behind all living things – and many aspects of health.
Cordyceps – a potent medicinal mushroom, famous for its use by athletes to substantially boost their performance by increasing energy levels. Cordyceps has also long been used for its immune boosting properties.
Gotu Kola – an ancient ingredient rooted in Ayurvedic medicine and is taken to boost overall vitality, energy and mental clarity.
Siberian Ginseng –boosts wellbeing and a healthy mind, supporting a “get up and go” mentality.
Panax Ginseng – helps to support stamina and endurance. It is also believed to support against symptoms of stress, improve thinking and enhance concentration.
Astragalus Membranaceus (Huang Qi) – a medicinal herb commonly used in many herbal formulations in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine including as a life-prolonging extract for over 2000 years.
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