5 stress-busting adaptogens to zen you out
Whether you are training for a marathon or have a marathon week at work ahead of you, your stress hormones are likely to be racing. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol may provide quick energy fixes, but when your cortisol levels are already high, these will only make them spike.
Effective long-term stress management requires a multi-pronged approach, but there is something we can ‘take’ to help, without any negative effects…
WHAT ARE ADAPTOGENS?
Hot property in wellness, adaptogens are plants that help your body to ‘adapt’ to daily stressors.
Historically known as rejuvenators, these herbs have been used in traditional medicines for centuries to balance the body. Criss-crossing the globe, but with a common thread (they grow in hard-to-reach places and harsh conditions) it’s thought that adapting to their climates is what gives them their unusual properties.
‘Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over-stimulating,’ says Dr Frank Lipman, a functional medicine doctor who combines use of Western and ‘alternative’ medicines in his practice. They may also reduce anxiety, help with sleep, support libido and strengthen the immune system.
Although all have a stabilising impact, some adaptogens can be energising, whereas others may be calming. So if you want to try one (or more), it can be helpful to know a bit about the differences.
All these adaptogens can be readily found in supplement form. Choose a brand you know and trust. It’s worth bearing in mind, that adaptogens may not have an immediate effect, so persevere. Unless you feel worse when taking it, stick with your chosen herb for at least a month to see if it’s helping.
Ashwagandha: One of the most widely used herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, this falls on the ‘calming’ end of the spectrum. It’s known for its anti-anxiety effects and can help you get a good night’s sleep, too, but doesn’t leave you feeling drowsy. May also have immune-supporting benefits.
Rhodiola rosea: Grown in cold, harsh climates, Rhodiola may be especially helpful for reducing fatigue. It can have a more stimulating effect than some of the other adaptogens, so could be a good choice if you’re feeling run down, but less helpful if you’re seeking relaxation.
Holy basil: Another Ayurvedic herb, holy basil reduces feelings of stress and aids sleep. It may be helpful for mental wellbeing, too. Sebastian Pole, herbalist and co-founder of Pukka Herbs, says: ‘Holy basil is key for supporting mood and helping to eliminate the blues.’
Shatavari: The primary ‘women’s herb’ in Ayurvedic medicine, its name can be translated as ‘she who possesses 100 husbands’! Traditional uses include supporting female fertility and libido, and helping to balance hormones, whether it’s PMS symptoms, fertility or menopause.
Panax or ‘red’ ginseng: Used in traditional Chinese medicine, this herb is most associated with improving energy and performance so, like rhodiola, could be a good choice if fatigue is your main symptom. Panax has been found to help with erectile dysfunction and act as an aphrodisiac.