Adaptogens: Ashwagandha, Chaga, Tulsi, these are just a few powerhouse adaptogens that are getting a lot of hype these days. Have you heard they are good for you? Do they live up to the hype? I only briefly mentioned them in last week's blog, so let’s take a deep dive this week and find out just how incredible they really are.
When I first learned about adaptogens back in 2014 I was baffled as to how so many (including me) hadn’t heard of them, and why we didn’t all use them regularly. I want to help you understand the potent power of adaptogens, and how they can support you in living your most vibrant, healthy life.
First Off, What Are Adaptogens?
They are herbs that:
- help the body handle stress better
- support normal metabolic processes
- restore balance
Um (raising my hand high), yes please. I want help with ALL of the above. You too?
Adaptogenic plants have been around (and used) for millennia, but the term adaptogen was only recently defined, in 1968. The Russians were the ones who initiated research into them as a way to help their Olympic athletes. So, how are adaptogens defined?
- Nontoxic in normal therapeutic doses
- Produce a nonspecific state of resistance to stress, allowing the body to more effectively resist a wide range of stressors including physical, biological, chemical, emotional and environmental.
- Normalizing influence (modulating) on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms.
In 1999 the definition was updated to additionally include that adaptogens also work by re-regulating two master control systems in the body, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the sympathoadrenal system (SAS).
The HPA Axis
Affects and regulates most endocrine function, significant aspects of the nervous system, the immune, cardiovascular and digestive systems, as well as our response to chronic stress. Additionally the HPA axis affects the hypothalamic-pituitary gonadal (HPG) axis, which regulates sex hormones and sexual functioning.
Mediates our response to external stimuli and is responsible for our fight or flight response to acute or intense stress.
Basically, the HPA and SAS directly influence nearly all of our bodily functions.
Over the last decade research has discovered that adaptogens not only work via the HPA and SAS, but also work on a cellular level. Adaptogens act as eustressors (good stressors), which have an effect similar to a “stress vaccine.” Meaning regular mild stress creates an immunity to more intense stress that may be experienced later in life. It is important to note that this effect carries no memory function, so daily use of adaptogens is necessary to maintain this enhanced adaptive state.
Initially in my learning about adaptogens I thought that they cumulatively built up their “medicine” in the body, and that was why consistent use was needed, but now we see that science shows differently. I have no issue saying I was incorrect, and that I too am always trying to learn and am grateful for the discoveries that research allows.
Ready to Find Your Adaptogen(s)?
So, which adaptogen(s) are right for you? Like all plants, and really all people or things, each adaptogen has its own energetics, magic and affinities for different systems and chakras of the body. So, they’re not a one size fits all solution. There’s nuance and bio-individuality to take into account, BUT there are basics that can be really helpful when choosing which one(s) to start with.
Some Of My Favorite Adaptogens
Astragalus - affinity for immune and respiratory systems, root chakra
Nettles - affinity for the immune, respiratory, endocrine and digestive systems, root, solar plexus, and heart chakra
Tulsi (Holy Basil) - affinity for the nervous system, 3rd eye and crown chakra
Schisandra - affinity for ALL systems and chakras of the body (wait, what?!)
Ashwagandha - affinity for endocrine and nervous systems, root and solar plexus chakras
This is a super short list, and there are many, many more adaptogens. Do some research (there’s a great book I recommend at the bottom of this post) and see which ones “jump out” at you. Think back to which ones you’ve heard about, or google adaptogens and look at pictures of them. These are all good places to start. You can always ask me too (email@example.com).
How To Take Them
I love to make an infusion and drink them. This process gives me a direct connection with the plant, allowing me to touch it, see it, smell it, and pray into it. Some people prefer taking a pill or adding the powdered herb to a latte or smoothie. Honestly, do what is easiest for you. The important part is the doing.
Adaptogens can help us all!
Want to know more? I highly recommend: Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston with Steven Maimes