The Magic of Adaptogens: How They Make You Resilient to Stress

Gerrity, Sarah. “Slay All Day.” 2021.

Josey Murray

Written by Josey Murray | Edited by Carol Coutinho

Have you heard of adaptogens?

You’ve probably vaguely heard of the term adaptogens in your natural health journeys or online attempts to find the solution to your anxiety during a pandemic. You’ve probably seen powders and adaptogenic teas and supplements. If you’re like me, you know everyone is talking about them and they seem really great, but what’s all the fuss about? What are adaptogens and why is everyone freaking out about them? Are they really the answer to all of your problems?

Soon you’ll know everything you need to know about these magical herbs and the wellness products that promise to change your life. You will discover which products to buy if you’re interested in consuming them, and explore insight from the founders of two adaptogen supplement companies.

Keep reading to the very end to see what adaptogens have to do with the Russian military and chess! Yes – chess as in Queen’s Gambit and Beth Harmon. Now wellness is officially interesting. 

As always, please consult your doctor before adding adaptogens into your wellness routine. Some supplements may have adverse interactions with medication you may be on. We want you to be happy and healthy.

What are Adaptogenic Herbs?

Adaptogens are… well let’s let the experts handle this one. 

“Adaptogens are herbs and plants with special properties that are naturally occurring in nature and can help the body resist emotional or physical stressors. They help heal stress and fatigue and work by targeting the body’s three stages of stress: Alarm, resistance, and exhaustion (which is what happens when the stress alarm stays on).” (1

Okay, so that’s easy enough adaptogens help you adapt to different types of stressors.

Adaptogens are Like Vaccines For Stress

Different adaptogens have different health benefits as all plants and herbs can offer us a unique blend of nourishment. However, all adaptogens however protect against stress. In one research paper outlining the history of study of adaptogens, researchers describe adaptogens as functioning as a vaccine for stress. 

“The key to understanding adaptogens is their role in establishing and maintaining adaptive homeostasis by building the body’s natural resistance to stressors, which may be physical, chemical, biological, and psychological in nature. Adaptogens function like stress vaccines to activate the body’s defense system and metabolic rate, reversing the negative physical effects of stress and restoring the body’s balance and health.” (2)

Adaptogens include:

Ashwagandha

American ginseng

Cordyceps Mushrooms 

Tulsi Holy Basil

Maca Root

Reishi Mushroom 

Turmeric 

Nettle Leaf

Licorice 

Goji Berry

Eleuthero Root

Jiaogulan

Rhodiola rosea

Schisandra / magnolia berry

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha - Adapotgen

Ashwagandha has been on my radar for quite some time, but it’s taken me until now to truly understand the amazing benefits of this herb.  Also known as Indian Ginseng and winter cherry, it has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha reduces stress and anxiety, can reduce symptoms of depression, reduces inflammation, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, and improves brain function and memory. Additionally, it reduces cortisol levels, which is what our adrenal glands release when we’re stressed. (3)

Health Benefits of Goji Berries

Goji berries are a fun bright red berry you might have tasted on top of an acai bowl. They are most often found dried and can easily be added to cereal, oatmeal, nut butter toast, salads, and anything else you can imagine. Also, a great easy snack. You can find them in supplements as well. Goji berries support your immune system and can promote eye health. (4). Furthermore, they can also boost energy, physical and mental performance, create a sense of calm, and can improve sleep. (5)

Goji Berries - Adaptogen

Health Benefits of Eleuthero Root

Eleuthero Root - Adaptogen

Eleuthero root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It improves focus and helps with mental fatigue. (5) Moreover, it can also enhance exercise, manage cancer, heal wounds and prevent ulcers, improve lymphatic function, and stabilize blood pressure. (6)

What are the Best Adaptogen Products?

GT’s Alive Adaptogenic Tea (with Reishi, Chaga, and Turkey Tail)

If you don’t know who GT Dave is, you should google him right now. (I’m connected with him on LinkedIn. nbd) GT Dave runs GT’s Kombucha which also has a line of other wellness elixirs including adaptogenic tea. I had the chance to try GT’s Alive Adaptogenic Tea – Cascara Spice, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The drink is lightly carbonated like their kombucha, with an earthy cherry flavor, kind of reminiscent of root beer. This makes it incredibly refreshing and a great way to ease into adaptogens.

GT's Adaptogenic Tea - Cascara Spice

Apothékary

Apothekary Adaptogen Products

Gerrity, Sarah. “Apothékary Products.” 2021.

Apothékary offers powdered adaptogen blends to help individuals deal with a variety of different issues and ailments. Shizu Okusa is the CEO and cofounder, but was a former Wall Street Banker and wellness entrepreneur. Now inspired by Ayurvedic and Kampo Medicine along with her traditional Japanese upbringing, she’s created Apothekary. On their website, you can find a quiz that identifies products for your specific needs.

Interview with Founder of Apothékary, Shizu Okusa

Shizu Okusa, Founder of Apothekary

How have adaptogens changed your life?

Plant-based medicine and adaptogens have changed my career and my way of life. When I left my job on Wall Street, I was completely burnt out. I was riddled with low energy, constantly bloated, and mentally exhausted. I was determined to learn more about natural remedies, the kinds I became familiar with throughout my childhood growing up in a Japanese household. My life path took me to Bali, where I became a certified yoga teacher and learned more about Ayurvedic medicine. I became acutely aware of Mother Nature’s power then, and was determined to help others find that sense of balance through herbs/adaptogens.

How have they helped with stress?

When taken regularly, adaptogens can help to create an equilibrium in the body. Our body’s natural reaction to stress is a bit primitive, meaning we biologically react to work stress the same way our ancestors reacted to dangerous-animal encounters in the wild. When our body encounters this stress, it goes through a series of phases: a dip in hormones, an increase in adrenaline, then a feeling of exhaustion. This repetitious feeling of stress creates a vicious loop of hormone disruption, leaving us to feel constantly burnt out. Adaptogens help foster balance and protect you from a chronic state of feeling stressed – which affects everything else in the body – mood, focus, energy, skin, digestion, everything!

For the visual learners, here’s a look at our stress levels with and without adaptogens:

Stress Response and Adaptogens

Image by We’re In This Together

How would you define wellness?

To me, wellness is mindfulness: being mindful of the things that you put into your body and the actions you take in your life to reach a state of balance. Meditating, doing a session of yoga, and thinking intuitively about the things you consume (both physically and mentally), can all help you find that sense of balance. You’re taking control and taking care of your body, your mind, and your life.

What’s your daily wellness routine?

I have been teaching yoga over Zoom to keep myself accountable and build a sense of community while in quarantine. Of course, I use my Apothékary blends throughout the day, like Lion’s Mane in the morning for energy, and Ashwagandha and Reishi mushroom for stress and balance, and our new sleep blend Do Not Disturb (launching Feb 23rd) before bedtime. My “routine” changes throughout the year, depending on what my body needs. Our Dosha, or Ayurvedic mind-body constitution, often changes season by season and depends on where you live. Wellness isn’t always a rigid routine, eating the same foods, doing the same exercises. Your body craves variety but what remains consistent is that you are moving, and you are consuming things that make you feel good!

Gerrity, Sarah. “Slay All Day.” 2021.

What product would you recommend of yours for someone new to adaptogens?

We actually have a quiz on our website that helps people figure out what products are best for them, as well as a full database of ingredients that can be sorted by health benefit. Think about why you’re interested in learning more about adaptogens in the first place, and look for which ingredients are best for that. But I would say, in general, our Slay All Day blend is great for beginners: it’s a creamy, supercharged Matcha blend that provides a jitter-free, long-lasting energy boost, while simultaneously detoxing and boosting your immune system.

Slay All Day - Apothekary

Gerrity, Sarah. “Slay All Day Latte.” 2021.

Do Adaptogens Really Work?

And here is where we enact our valuable critical thinking skills that tell us not to believe everything on the internet. I’m sure you are thinking if all of this fuss over adaptogens is warranted. Where are the studies? What does the science really say? There are plenty of naysayers out there, especially when it comes to natural medicine and traditional medicine practices in comparison to modern medicine and the overwhelming grasp of the pharmaceutical industry. Here at Cook & Culture, while we want to make sure that you have all of the information, we firmly believe in the power of food to serve as medicine and of nature’s incredible ability to heal us. And that’s why adaptogens are magic!

In a review of the benefits and history of adaptogens, Dr. Alexand Panossian and Dr. Hidebert Wagner discuss the existence of pseudoscience, but also the definite existence of research: “It is not easy to find true scientific information about adaptogens on the Internet, since original scientific data and articles are significantly diluted by the plethora of pseudo-scientific compilations, deliberately used by opponents of adaptogens in order to criticize and discredit the entire adaptogenic concept and the large body of research that has been conducted during last the 50 years.” (7)

What is the History of Adaptogens?

Now that we know the benefits of adaptogens, let’s dive into their origins. Nikolay Lazarev, a Russian toxicologist, coined the term adaptogens in 1957. He simply defined them as “substances that increase the ‘state of non-specific resistance’ in stress.” (7) So that definition doesn’t help me understand adaptogens much, but luckily, since then, the definition of the word has evolved. They now are substances that normalize body functions and strengthen systems defeated by stress, allowing organisms to adapt to “exceptional strain.” (7) That’s making a little more sense to me. It’s all about adapting to stress. 

So this Nikolay guy coined the term in the late fifties, but what happened after that?

Most of the research that I have read about adaptogens centered around  Russia. They actually explored these magical plants and herbs hoping to use them with their military. Classic. *eye roll* During World War II, Germany and the UK were using stimulants for their military to increase their attention and endurance, so the USSR wanted to get in on the use of stimulants. They investigated adaptogens and specifically S. Chinensis. These would have been more easily available as it was a natural stimulant and adaptogen. (2)

But what about chess?

Okay, I know. It’s almost the end of the article and I haven’t mentioned Beth Harmon yet. So the Russians’ research of and use of adaptogens didn’t stop with the military. By the early sixties, they were recognized by the official medicine of Russia. They determined that adaptogens would be useful in “Soviet space exploration program as well as Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, Olympic games, chess competitions, in the nuclear energy industry, and many other stressful situations and conditions in the former USSR.” (7)

Most important to me in this list is the mention of chess competitions. Watch out Beth Harmon, I’m coming for your 10-year-old self once I take my dose of daily adaptogens.

Chess

Conclusion

So we’ve made it from wellness culture trend all the way to Russian chess supplement. Adaptogens have quite the range. All in all, if you’re looking to get more involved in natural healing, using food as medicine, easing your stress, or simply enhancing your chess game, adaptogens are a great addition to a wellness routine and quite easy to add to your day once you know how. 

Interested in reading more about how to boost your brain?

Check out Best Brain Foods to Power Your Work-From-Home Day!

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