Adaptogens are defined as “any natural substance in herbal medicine used to bring back balance to the systems of the body”. Lately, they’ve received quite a bit of interest – mainly because they are so useful at managing stress.
Holistic health coach Katrine Van Wyk is the author of Super Powders. Her new book is full of wellnessy drinks and recipes we love – most of them made with adaptogens. We asked Katrine to tell us everything we should know about using adaptogens for a variety of needs…
Where To Begin With Adaptogens
The wonderful thing about adaptogens is that they adapt to your needs. And because these adaptogens will meet you where you are in this moment in time, it may require some trial and error to find your personal favorites.
Many adaptogens can seem almost identical in their benefit descriptions. There is certainly a lot of overlap, but each adaptogen has its own unique spirit and personality. For example, even though two different adaptogens are helpful for sleep, one might work better for you than the other.
When you’re getting started, stick to one adaptogen at a time. Slowly add it to your diet and noticing how it works with your body. Just because an adaptogen worked well for your partner, BFF or its online enthusiasts does not necessarily mean it will be the best fit for you.
If you’re dealing with burnout, make sure to start with a very low dose of the gentlest adaptogens. Build your strength by eating lots of nourishing food, regulating your blood sugar and getting plenty of sleep and active rest. Once you get some energy back, you can branch out and try others, but carefully monitor how they make you feel.
Identify the challenges you have, imbalances you feel or goals you’d like to achieve. Do want to calm down your nervous system? Boost stamina and strength for workouts? Improve erratic sleep? Lift your mood? Feel sharper and more focused at work?
Start with a small dose of one powder at a time so you can monitor how each makes you feel. It may take weeks before you really see the benefits.
Stimulating Adaptogens: Red Asian ginseng, white Asian ginseng, rhodiola
Calming Adaptogens: Ashwagandha, cordyceps, reishi, Schisandra
Best Suited for Youth and/or Healthy People: Eleuthero, holy basil, rhodiola
Best Suited for Exhausted and Tired People: American and Asian ginsengs, cordyceps, shilajit
Although many people experience instant effects after taking certain adaptogens, it may take a while before you experience any changes. It’s worthwhile to stick with one adaptogen for at least a couple of weeks before ditching it and moving to another. Of course, if you’re experiencing any discomfort (such as insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea or overstimulation) it may be a sign that you and that particular adaptogen are not the best fit for each other.
Listen to your body, pay attention and tune in. Trust your gut and intuition, but consult a medical doctor if the symptoms persist. If you align your needs and cravings with the right adaptogen, it can be a powerful tool on your wellness journey.
The Ultimate Guide To Using Adaptogens
Once you’ve identified what you’re trying to improve, review the below suggestions for the super adaptogen powders that will give you some of the desired benefits.
For the Always Sick:
+ Cordyceps is known as a lung strengthener and has been traditionally used by people with asthma.
+ Astragalus, when taken over a period time, can help build the body’s resistance to colds and flus.
+ He Shou Wu supports immune function and is believed to help the body resist colds.
For the Worried Warrior:
+ Reishi is celebrated for its immunity supporting benefits as well as enhancement of longevity. It also provides stress relief and promotes calmness and centered feelings.
+ Ashwagandha is one of the few adaptogens that are calming — it is amazing during trying and stressful times. It has traditionally been used for people experiencing anxiety, nervousness and insomnia.
For the One Who’s Got the Blues:
+ Holy basil is a soothing adaptogen that can help balance the nervous system and bring a feeling of harmony.
+ Asian ginseng has an uplifting effect, is lightly stimulating and energizing, and may be just what’s needed to get out of a rut.
+ Pine pollen contains DHEA, a hormone that can help boost overall mood.
+ Rhodiola can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increase production of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
+ He Shou Wu is the adaptogen for promoting youthful hair. It helps to prevent hair loss and fights off gray.
+ Amla is a hair strengthener that helps strengthen the roots and supports overall hair growth.
+ Goji berries are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C and beta- carotene, which help protect the skin from premature aging.
For the Insomniac/Up-All-Nighter:
+ Ashwagandha is calming and supports good sleep.
+ Schisandra has been shown to help overcome insomnia.
+ Eleuthero improves the overall quality of sleep and can promote sleeping through the night.
For the Gym Rat:
+ Eleuthero increases endurance and stamina and helps with recovery by aiding in the metabolism of lactic and pyruvic acids. Lactic acid build-up is what gives you the uncomfortable heavy and sore muscles after a hard workout, so anything that can help prevent or minimize this build-up is a great benefit. It also supports weight loss by causing the body to use fat for energy.
For the [Ladder] Climber:
+ Schisandra enhances work performance. It promotes focus and stamina while also having a calming effect. It may help fight off anxiety so that people focus on their goals and avoid feeling down due to fears and worries.
For the Generally Exhausted:
+ Rhodiola has been found to increase the activity of the mitochondria (the cellular energy centers).
+ Eleuthero supports stamina and endurance and increases energy.
+ Astragalus can provide an immunity boost to people who are feeling run down.
For the Student:
+ Rhodiola: brain-supporting adaptogen can help with memory retention, mental clarity and improved learning.
+ Cordyceps can help boost your mental power.
+ Lion’s mane supports brain function, increasing concentration and focus.
For the New Mom: (Note: Adaptogens are not considered safe during pregnancy, but are generally safe while breastfeeding. Check with your pediatrician to be sure.)
+ Ashwagandha: in the Ayurvedic tradition ashwagandha has long been used by nursing moms to support breastfeeding. A great stress reliever that is good to take both morning and night.
+ Shatavari: known to increase milk supply in nursing women. Also celebrated for being able to increase vitality and fertility.
For the Traveler:
+ Both Asian and American ginseng can help with symptoms of jet lag.
+ Amla may help protect the cells from damage from radiation — a great benefit for those who do a lot of air travel.
For the Aphrodisiac Seeker:
+ Schisandra helps support the sexual organs. For men, that means increased stamina and sex drive, and for women, an increase in sensitivity and circulation.
+ Ashwagandha has long been believed to help increase sexual desire in both men and women. It has been used by women in India for centuries to help support sex drive.
+ Maca has been shown to improve libido and sexual function and is a great overall hormone balancer.
+ Pine pollen is a potent aphrodisiac and hormonal balancer and can help increase libido.
For the Seasonal Sneezer:
+ American ginseng strengthens the immune system. It increases the body’s ability to handle allergens.
+ Licorice can help with allergies, especially sensitivities to animal dander and allergic asthma.
Living for adaptogen powders? Discover plenty more fascinating info here.
Tulsi is a good one.
I’m fairly new to adaptogens and appreciate all the suggestions on this list for stress, depression, and insomnia! Thank you! Also, I agree with Edwina that Tulsi is good. (I like to sip Organic India Tulsi Sweet Rose tea and it helps take the edge off of stress.)
This article is great!