Coffee and cupcake shops and popping up these days in juxtaposition – these are evidence that more and more people are using caffeine and sugar to fight stress and fatigue. While the idea is appealing, there is one problem: it’s not working. While it’s true that sugar and caffeine can give you a quick pick-me-up when you need it, the crash is never far behind. When that happens, it’s time to go back to Starbucks, the cycle begins once again, and in an instant, it turns your day into a rollercoaster of emotions. Good thing there are much healthier ways to help us get through the day despite the possible encounters with stress and fatigue – one of my favorites is called “adaptogens”. These are special herbs that help the body adapt to stress and combat fatigue. Here’s a guide:
What is an adaptogen?
Adaptogens help improve the health of your adrenal system that is responsible for managing your body’s hormonal response to stress. They are a distinct group of herbal ingredients and they help enhance the body’s ability to slowly but surely cope with anxiety and fight fatigue, without jolts or crashes. Their name, “adaptogens” come from their ability to “adapt” or adjust their function, according to what the specific needs of the body are. Although the effects are subtle at first and it takes time to make themselves felt, adaptogens are real and undeniable.
How long have they been around?
Adaptogens are not newbies in the industry, unlike big pharma drugs. The Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine have been using adaptogens for centuries, for that much needed energy boost and to provide their bodies resilience in the face of stress. Several studies found evidence to support what a lot of people in the field of sustainable wellness already knew : adaptogens offer positive benefits and are safe for long-term use. (You’re going down, big pharma!)
How do these adaptogens work?
Think of these adaptogens as thermostats. Once the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high it automatically brings it down and when the temperature is too low it brings it up. Just like a thermostat, adaptogens can calm you down and give you an energy boost without over stimulating. Body imbalances can be normalized by adaptogens. They can also counteract the adverse effects of stress by supporting adrenal function. The provide the body’s cells with easy access to more energy, help cells remove the toxic byproducts of the metabolic process, and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. Amazing, right?
Of all the adaptogens, which ones should I use?
Combinations of adaptogenic herb formulas and adaptogen herbs are the most important. These include Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero, Ashwaghanda and Rhodiola Rosea. The use of adaptogens depend on your needs and your body’s physical condition. It is advised that you consult your doctor before taking any herbs and see cautions below. You have the option to take these adaptogens individually, or in a combination formula (check out Be Well Adaptogens). If you decide to buy a combination formula, make sure that it has at least three of the above adaptogens and check if it has some Rhodiola in it. Do not forget to check with your doctor before you start.
Asian Ginseng is considered one of the most valued (and expensive) medicinal plant in the world for thousands of years. It influences metabolism within individual cells and it has been extensively studied for its ability to help the body withstand stress. For the Western herbalists, Asian Ginseng restores and strengthens the body’s immune response, promotes longevity, and enhances the growth of normal cells. Research shows that it promotes a sense of well-being and protects against certain kinds of cancer.
Dose: You can take 100-200 mg per day of a standardized extract. Most standardized ginseng extracts supply approximately 4-7% ginsenosides. You can also take 1-2 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, which is usually taken in gelatin capsules.
Caution: Asian Ginseng is generally safe at the recommended dose. At some point, one may experience agitation, palpitations or insomnia. There is a high risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset may occur when large amounts of caffeine are consumed with large amounts of Asian Ginseng. People with high blood pressure should have their blood pressure monitored while taking it. It is also not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Eleuthero is for muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia, and fatigue. In Germany however, it is used for chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and convalescing after illness. It is noted by Western herbalists that Eleuthero improves memory, feelings of well-being and it can lift mild depression.
Dose: 2-3 grams per day of the dried root. Caution: Eleuthero is generally safe, just like Asian Ginseng. However, it can occasionally be associated with agitation, palpitations or insomnia in patients with cardiovascular disorders. People with high blood pressure should have their blood pressure monitored when taking it. It is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, even if limited research has not shown evidence of harmful effects in the fetus.
For thousands of years, Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha’s benefits are similar to Asian Ginseng : it is used to help increase vitality, energy, endurance and stamina, promote longevity, and strengthen the immune system. It is often recommended by herbalists these days for people with high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and impotence linked to anxiety or exhaustion. Ashwagandha enhances endocrine function, most especially the thyroid and adrenals. It has been long prescribed by Ayurvedic healers to treat exhaustion brought on by both physical and mental strain.
Dose: 3–6 grams per day of the dried root Caution: It is important that pregnant women, those with severe gastric irritation or ulcer, and those who are taking sedatives avoid this. People who are sensitive to the nightshade group of plants should take this with caution.
Functioning like a hormone thermostat, Rhodiola Rosea pertains to cortisol, one of our main stress hormones. When we are stressed out and exhausted, cortisol (which is usually secreted in sync with the body’s circadian rhythm) is out of whack. This causes the cortisol levels to either too high when it’s needed to be low, and too low when it’s needed to be high. It is important to get the cortisol back in rhythm when we are under stress and that’s where Rhodiola Rosea comes in. It helps balance the cortisol levels in our body, raising or lowering it when needed. This herb is particularly useful for people who are stressed out. Furthermore, Rhodiola Rosea has shown a remarkable ability in supporting cellular energy metabolism. It has a positive effect on brain functions, depression, and heart health. Most patients who take Rhodiola Rosea begin to feel better within a few weeks to a month.
Dose: 200 to 600 mg per day of a standardized Rhodiola Rosea which contains 2-3% rosavins and 0.8-1% salidroside. You can also take 2-3 grams per day of the non-standardized root. Caution:If you have manic depression or bipolar disorder, avoid this. Rhodiola Rosea is also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. When taken at higher doses, it can als cause insomnia.