How adaptogens can reduce stress and increase energy

Adaptogens help us by resisting the stress response.

I opened my social media at the turn of the new year, to a very interested new years phenomenon. It might be my age and stage (mid-30s, working mum-of-two), but many of my friend group were posting rather intriguing new year resolutions.

It wasn’t the typical onslaught of weight-loss, get fit, travel more, let go of people or things who weigh you down, or get a new job goals.

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Instead it was about feeling better in oneself. People noted that they wanted to take more time for themselves, appreciated the little things in their lives, feel more in the moment, be present to take advantage of what life was offering then and there, and be connected with the people around them.

In other words, they wanted less hustle, bustle, and stress, and more energy to enjoy things that matter.

But other than vowing to avoid Christmas with your in-laws this year, posting your kids to their grandparents’ for the school holidays, or stocking up on caffeine…how will you actually reduce stress this year, and just as importantly get a boost in your energy levels?

Adaptogens might be the natural protection you are looking for. In clinical research this little known group of herbs has been shown to reduce stress, and more on from this, fight fatigue even in the face of adversity.

What are adaptogens?

In a second we will name a few for you, but to start with it is good to understand what they do. Adaptogens do as their name suggests – they help us to adapt to adversity.

Generally when we are stressed we go through an alert – fight or flight – stage. We then move to resistance where we try to work through the issue, not quite as heightened as fight or flight, but still using more energy than usual. Unsurprisingly this pushes us into the third stage – exhaustion.

When we reach exhaustion, we are physically and mentally fatigued. We display our emotions more readily, such as anger, frustration, sadness, and hostility. We are also more likely to become sick.

In this state of exhaustion, we are no use to ourselves, or to anyone else.

Adaptogens help us by keeping us in the resistance state longer. This gives us the opportunity to allocate more time and resources to logically work through our stressor. Thus giving us more chance of reaching an outcome reducing the risk of exhaustion setting in and derailing us.

Alright already – tell me where I can find these adaptogens!

Some of the more well known adaptogens which you may have already heard of include;

–         Turmeric

–         Ashwagandha (read more about this here)

–         Rhodiola rosea

–         Goji Berry

–         American ginseng 

However there are more, perhaps some lesser known ones to add to your repertoire. These include;

–         Cordyceps

–         Eluethero root

–         Astragalus

–         Holy basil

–         Jiaogulan

–         Schisandra berry/Magnolia berry 

What might you need to know about taking adaptogens?

Here are 5 little tips I have for adding adaptogens into your health plan this year.

  1.     As with anything, the results from research are typically at a population level, meaning they are general, and not translatable to everyone. This is why you need to try different adaptogens and find the one, or ones, which work best for your system. You can figure out what works for you by rotating each one in our list on a six week cycle. Try Jiaogulan in smoothies, or as a capsule, for six weeks, then switch to Turmeric (for example).
  2.     Only take the dose recommended on your supplement. It might be tempting to think of these as just herbs and harmless in higher quantities. But just the same as any other drug or supplement there are side effects, and the potential for them to react with other medications. It is important to speak with your family doctor regarding any current health conditions or prescription medication to make sure there will be no negative interactions.
  3.     Although all adaptogens work to reduce stress, how they do this, and any additional benefits mean you do need to be careful about what time of day you are taking them. As an example, Eluethero root or Astragalus are both good for fighting fatigue and improving endurance. This means they are better taken in the morning, rather than right before you want to sleep. Others such as American ginseng are calming and, although not a sedative, would be better to have at night.
  4.     You can mix with other adaptogens within reason. Once you’ve tried a few different adaptogens for 6 weeks each, you may have found more than one which makes a difference for you. If this is the case you may wish to combine them in a smoothie cocktail type mix, or if better taken at different times of the day you can space them out accordingly. As with number  two in this list, it is always important that you check with your medical health provider before taking any supplement.
  5.     Lastly, remember that this does not give you a licence to pile on the stressors, and not address the root cause of your problems. It is about giving you a way to address areas of your life causing stress with additional calm and resilience. Adaptogens may work to enable you some space so that you can work through any tools or techniques to help strengthen neural networks of resilience.

With this new decade upon us, and the stress in our world only growing, have a think about what steps you will need to combat this in your own life.

Constructive de-stressing tools, a supportive community, and a boost from natural supplements such as adaptogens, may be just the thing to get your next decade off to a life-changing start.

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