What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are natural substances, that are mostly derived from plants, that help the body counteract and adapt to stress. Adaptogens have been used to treat various illness in traditional medicines of Ayurveda and TCM.
The concept of adaptogens was introduced by the toxicologist Lazarev to describe compounds which could increase “the state of non-specific resistance” (innate immunity) in stress.
All adaptogens have three commonalities: they must be nontoxic at normal doses, they should help your ability to cope with stress and they should help the body return to a state of homeostasis.
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogens are herbs that help our bodies manage stress and maintain balance. Adaptogens promote strength and vitality, balance mood, and improve our focus. They increase your body’s ability to deal with stress. They also help to diminish the affects of stress on the body.
Pharmacological studies have discovered that, “the stress—protective activity of adaptogens was associated with regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action, which was linked with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the regulation of key mediators of stress response,”
Best adaptogens for stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha, also know as Withania somnifera has lately gained recognition in the western world as a herb that treats anxiety and depression. It is an ayurvedic herb that has been used as a broad spectrum remedy in India for various ailments. The herb is also classified as an adaptogen, indicating its ability to regulate normal biological processes and thereby stabilize the body’s response to stress. It exerts an anxiolytic (relieves anxiety) effect in animals and humans.
When you are stressed, the secretion of ACTH increases, which leads to an increase in cortisol levels. Ashwagandha helps to reduce the level of the stress hormone, thus reducing stress and anxiety. A number of human clinical trials, found that Ashwagandha can help reduce anxiety when compared to placebo quite significantly with out side effects. Additional research in larger samples and in more clinical contexts is essential to validate its therapeutic capabilities for widespread use.
How to make Ashwagandha tea for stress
- 1/2 tsp Ashwagandha root powder
- 1/8th tsp of grated ginger
- 2 cups of water
Boil the Ashwagandha root powder and ginger in 2 cups of water. Once it comes to a boil, simmer it till it reduces to 1 cup. Remove from stove and let it cool. Add honey to taste and drink. This tea relaxes your mind and reduces stress.
2. Holy Basil
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or Tulsi, is one of the most effective Ayurvedic herbs used to treat a range of ailments. The holy basil plant, from the leaves to the seeds, is considered a tonic for the mind and body. The herb is well-known for its ability to calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety.
Studies reveal that tulsi has a unique combination of pharmacological actions, which help the body and mind cope with a wide range of chemical, physical, infectious and emotional stresses and restore physiological and psychological function.
Three clinical studies “reported significant reduction in anxiety and stress levels with higher doses of tulsi given over a longer time period. The positive effect of tulsi on mood was demonstrated in three studies, with two studies reporting reductions of 31.6%–39% in overall stress-related symptoms in patients with psychosomatic problems compared to a control group.”
How to make tulsi tea
Brewing tulsi tea is very simple and easy to make. The steps are as follows:
- Take a 8-10 dried/fresh leaves, and put them in 1 cup of boiling water. You can also use tulsi powder made from dried leaves of tulsi. Use about 1/2 a tsp of the powder.
- Let it steep for 5-6 minutes.
- Strain the tea.
- Drink it. You can add honey to it.
Curcumin, the bioactive compound found in turmeric, has been linked to treating anxiety and depression. It has the ability to boost serotonin and dopamine levels. Curcumin has been found to possess antidepressant action in various animal models of depression.
Some studies suggest that “curcumin has anxiolytic-like effects on biochemical and behavioral symptoms associated with anxiety. Thus, curcumin may be a useful agent to alleviate or treat psychiatric disorders similar to those observed in patients with PTSD.”
How to make Turmeric milk
Add 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder to a cup of warm milk. Mix well. Drink this milk before going to bed. Try this remedy at least for a month or two to see results. Curcumin, in Turmeric has a strong anti-inflammatory property which may lower inflammation-induced depression.
Licorice root extract (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is one of the lesser known adaptogens. It acts as a catalyst for the adrenal gland, regulating the level of cortisol in the body. The glycyrrhizic acid in licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol and increases the amount of cortisol production, making it useful in adrenal fatigue. When the capacity of the adrenals to secrete enough hormones that can make the necessary physiological, and biochemical compensations for that level of stress cannot meet the requirements of continually excessive pressure, adrenal fatigue occurs. The adrenal gland continues to work under adrenal fatigue but cannot maintain normal homeostasis.
Licorice contains steroidal saponins credited with stimulating the adrenal glands and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. These saponins also protect the HPA from acute and long term stress.
- 2 cups of water.
- 2 crushed raw licorice roots.
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp tea leaves.
Place the licorice roots and grated ginger in a pan and pour 2 cups of water in it. Boil this on medium flame for 5 minutes. Strain and drink.
- 2g licorice powder
- 1 cup hot milk
Place the licorice powder in a cup and add hot milk to it and mix well. Let it steep for 10 minutes. Drink this milk.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is considered an adaptogenic herb, which helps increase your body’s ability to resist stress. Research suggests the Brahmi can improve your mood by lowering your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that creates stress, so lowering the cortisol levels can help lower the stress you feel.
Studies reveal that drinking Brahmi juice or taking supplements daily for 4 weeks reduces anxiety, palpitations, nervousness, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, stomach discomfort caused due to stress.
In Ayurveda, Brahmi is believed to bring about calmness in your mind. Two 12-week studies revealed that taking 300 mg of Brahmi daily significantly lowered anxiety and depression scores in adults.
How to add Brahmi to your diet
You can have Brahmi in the form of powder or decoction. To make a decoction, boil 1 tablespoon of Brahmi in 2 cups of water till it reduces to half a cup. Filter and drink this while still hot. You can have about 20-30 ml of the decoction in a day according to easyayurvea.com
You can also add Brahmi powder to your rice or any other recipe and consume.
Benefits of adaptogens
Adaptogens have been historically used for thousands of years, and now modern science is begining to study them and validate their uses. This makes them of very great use in integrative medicine.
A study on the ‘Effects of adaptogens on the Central Nervous system….’ revealed that, “adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, anti-depressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity. In addition, a number of clinical trials demonstrate that adaptogens exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly in tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention. “
Adaptogens take time but help the body’s internal systems to build resilience in the long run. It does not provide a quick fix where only the symptoms are taken care. Adaptogens help to slowly build up your body’s ability to fight fatigue, stress and anxiety.
While there is no evidence to show that adaptogens cause any side effects, you should talk to your doctor before adding adaptogens to your diet or routine. Some herbal supplements may react negatively with prescription medications.
All herbs have to be taken in the right quantity. They may produce adverse effects if taken for too long or in too high doses. Some people experience stomach upset from taking certain types of adaptogens, others may have allergic symptoms.
How to add adaptogens to your diet
The adaptogenic herbs can be added to your meals as powders, chutneys and also had as juices. You can also make decoctions or teas out of them. Another way to consume them is in the form of medicated ghee like ” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Ashwagandharishta is useful in managing the symptoms of anxiety.
Start by taking any one herb at a time and consume it consistently for several weeks. But also remember to stop taking it for a week to readapt, and know if you can continue with the herb or take another one. This way you can determine how each one does or doesn’t affect you before deciding whether to try another one. Again adaptogens are not quick fixes, but rather herbs that help build your resilience over time.