Adaptogenic herbs: traditional, ancient medicine is making a comeback and doing a bang-up job in improving our overall health! Incorporating adaptogenic herbs just might give you the boost you’ve been craving.
The more I practice Western medicine, the more I find myself drawn to natural medicine to treat chronic diseases, hormonal imbalances, stress, depression, anxiety, digestive issues, and skin problems. While I think Western medicine certainly has its place, I’ve lately been really drawn toward traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. In fact, I purchased this book just to learn more, and I’m even considering going back to school!
When I was in PA school, I thought natural medicine was hokey. I was convinced that modern medicine was the ultimate fix for everything. But the more I continue on my own health journey, the more my perspective changes (hey, 22-year-old me… you know nothing.).
I’ve been exploring the world of adaptogenic herbs lately and have incorporated some into my daily supplement routine with amazing benefits!
This, of course, is in conjunction with a real food diet. If you haven’t done that piece of it yet, check out my favorite recipes, like:
- One Pan Garam Masala Chicken & Rice
- Chicken & Mushroom Farro
- Coconut Lentil Dahl
- Chicken & Butternut Squash Enchiladas
What are adaptogens/adaptogenic herbs?
Adaptogens are a broad group of herbs that have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. By definition, adaptogenic herbs must be safe for the general population and be able to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).
The HPA-axis is what regulates your mood, hormones, metabolism, energy, and immune system. The sympathetic nervous system (“fight-or-flight”) also ties into that; it’s responsible for controlling body inflammation in response to stress. We deal with incredibly stressful situations every single day (aka “chronic stress”). There’s stress at work, pressure to answer emails, and meet crazy deadlines. We stress over money and bills, our family situations, getting dinner ready for the family, and making it to soccer practice on time. We’re in a constant state of stress, so our bodies’ natural response to this hectic, crazy life is fatigue, exhaustion, increased stress, hormonal imbalances, and total burn-out.
Here’s where adaptogenic herbs come in: they help regulate that stress for you! There are several adaptogens and each performs a different function, but as a group, they work to balance hormones and regulate stress in a natural way. This is great news because if we’re able to control our stress, then we’re better able to ward off bodily inflammation and help prevent chronic diseases. Of course, we can also fight inflammation through food (like this Spiced Chickpea Stew or Roasted Sweet Potato Zucchini Tacos!), but adaptogens are great for that little extra boost.
Which Adaptogens Are Right For You?
This is the fun part! Adaptogenic herbs can be combined in many different ways to meet your specific needs.
For brittle and dry hair, skin, and nails:
Pearl: a fantastic source of aminos to nourish hair, skin, and nails
Chaga: a mushroom that can help fight free radicals, protecting the body from aging
Cordyceps: another superfood mushroom with powerful antioxidants to protect the body from aging
Astaxanthin: while technically not an adaptogenic herb, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that gives salmon its bright orange color. It helps maintain skin’s integrity, reducing age spots and wrinkles
Ashwagandha: an extremely powerful adaptogen, ashwagandha has been shown to regulate levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and thyroid function. It also combats anxiety and depression.
Rhodiola: supports stress relief and a healthy mood; can also help post-workout recovery
Mucuna pruriens: packed with L-DOPA, the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine
Schisandra: helps support the adrenal glands and relieve adrenal fatigue
Ashwagandha: the ultimate adaptogen for balancing cortisol and thyroid hormones
Licorice root: helps balance cortisol and manage adrenal fatigue
Rhodiola: supports stress relief and a healthy mood, as well as improved energy levels
Ginseng: boosts energy without the jitteriness of caffeine
Maca: boosts vitality, energy, and stamina; helps support hormonal balance
Asian Ginseng: this antioxidant improves stamina and mental clarity; enhances immune function
Maca: packed with Vitamin C, maca boosts vitality, energy, and stamina; helps support hormonal balance.
Reishi: one the most powerful medicinal mushrooms; supports immune and cardiovascular function and assists the liver in detoxification. Reishi also helps balance blood sugar naturally!
Ashwagandha: aids in boosting the immune system after an illness
Astragalus: a powerful immune booster; helps restore immune functioning of people battling immune compromised states such as cancer or chronic disease
Anxiety and Depression:
Ashwagandha: enhances relaxation and reduces stress levels to balance mood; may reduce anxiety up to 40%!
Holy Basil: this herb has soothing properties and can help enhance your mood
Holy basil: a powerful anti-inflammatory and antifungal agent that helps the body fight fatigue and maintain proper digestion
Licorice Root: an anti-inflammatory that may help heal leaky gut syndrome
Josh and I have both added ashwagandha to our daily supplement intake, but I plan to incorporate rhodiola and possibly holy basil. I know my body has been super stressed recently, and I do think the ashwagandha has helped! I also have a strong family history of thyroid disease, and I’m looking forward to adaptogens being beneficial in that respect.
What are your thoughts about adaptogenic herbs? Do you take any and, if so, which ones? Leave me a comment!