What exactly are adaptogens?
Adaptogens come in the form of various plants and herbs, many of which have been proven to help rebalance the body’s stress responses. They’re effective at helping the body adapt to all kinds of stress, whether it’s an approaching deadline, the changing of the seasons (which can take its toll on the immune system) or emotional triggers. They work by supporting adrenal function, rebalancing hormones (especially cortisol, the stress hormone) and counteracting the adverse effects of stress – they can calm you and boost energy simultaneously, depending what your body needs.
How do you know if you need them?
Researchers agree our bodies are existing in a prolonged state of stress. In addition to the kind of anxiety that comes with deadlines, hectic diaries and burning the candle at both ends, there’s also stress at a physiological level. Stressors like sleep deprivation, sedentary office jobs, and overexposure to toxins can have a huge impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. As Zoe Lind Van’t Hof, co-founder of Wunder Workshop and adaptogen guru, explains, “Today’s modern lifestyles leave many of us susceptible to fatigue, low energy and a weakened immune system. Adaptogens are for anyone looking to improve their overall health.” While seemingly ideal for stressed-out urbanites, adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, so they’re backed by ancient methodology, as well as recent studies, too.
Which adaptogens should you take?
With dozens of adaptogen products on the shelves, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Zoe offers this guide to find the right one for you…
- BEST FOR STRESS - ASHWAGANDHA: “Renowned for its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, ashwagandha is particularly useful for treating anxiety and stress-related issues such as depression.”
- BEST FOR SLEEP – HOLY BASIL: “Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil is brilliant for calming busy minds, and helps to balance mood and energy.”
- BEST FOR FITNESS – CORDYCEPS: “This special type of mushroom has been shown to help boost endurance and has helped Olympians over the years too.”
- BEST FOR FATIGUE – MACA: “A Peruvian adaptogen, maca is great for boosting energy levels. Siberian ginseng is also worth a try as it can support concentration and keep the mind sharp.”
- BEST FOR IMMUNITY – REISHI: “Reishi mushrooms are celebrated for their immunity-supporting benefits as well as providing stress relief, promoting calm and balance.”
How should you take them?
Look in your local health food shop and you’ll find adaptogenic powders, teas, tinctures and pills, but not all are created equal. “Studies have suggested powders are better absorbed than tablets, which rely on the stomach to be broken down,” says Lind Van’t Hof. She also advises blending your powder in a hot drink, which can increase the rate of absorption. Consider taking your adaptogen alongside high-fibre foods, or coffee and honey, which can also supercharge absorption. Her other golden rule? “If you’re buying a powder, keep an eye out for the word ‘extract’ on the packaging. This is a sign of quality and how the supplement has been produced. A ratio such as 10:1 tells you that ten parts herb have been used to produce one part powder,” she says.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t take them?
As with all supplements, it’s always a good idea to run them past your GP if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or to ensure they won’t affect any medication you may be taking.
Should you expect instant results?
Some people experience instant effects after taking certain adaptogens, but it can take weeks before you notice any real changes. For this reason, health experts recommend sticking to one adaptogen for at least a couple of weeks before ditching it and trying another.
It’s worth noting that adaptogens shouldn’t be taken on a long-term basis, explains naturopathic nutritionist Vanessa Rohmig. “Take a break from your adaptogen after taking it for six months as the body can build up resistance,” she explains. “The whole point of an adaptogen is to bring our bodies back to homeostasis so it can take on stress well enough on its own – the end goal isn’t to become dependent, but restore balance to the body.”
Shop our edit of the best hormone-balancing adaptogens – from powders to capsules, there’s something for everyone…