Most of the time we race at full speed through life, both professionally and privately. No wonder we’re stressed. In order to calm down, we quickly resort to industrially produced medication, and in order to keep going, we drink lots of coffee. But in the long run, it just messes up our bodies even more. Plant adaptogens, on the other hand, help to reduce stress and balance the body in a completely natural way.
Here we explain what adaptogens are, how they are used and the many different effects they have on the body.
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What are adaptogens anyway?
“Adaptogens are biologically active plant substances that help the body to better adapt to increased physical and emotional stress situations”, explains Dr. Dominik Dotzauer, preventive physician from Hamburg. The natural substances have a regulating effect on the body: If you are nervous and stressed, they have a calming effect; if you are tired and exhausted, they have a stimulating effect.
The same applies to your immune system – a strengthened immune system keeps you healthy, whereas an overly active immune system, as is the case with some allergies or autoimmune diseases, can really torture you.
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By the way, adaptogens are not the next big thing among superfoods – on the contrary. “In the Indian art of healing (Ayurveda) as well as in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM ) has been based on the harmonising effect of adaptogenic plant substances for thousands of years,” said the preventive physician. Plants, roots and herbs that have adapted to extreme environmental conditions such as cold, strong sunlight or drought are used.
It is therefore no wonder that their ingredients also help us humans to react more resiliently in stressful situations.
More energy thanks to Ayurveda Adaptogens have a softer and better effect than coffee under stress © Kite_rin/Shutterstock.com
How do adaptogens work?
To understand how adaptogens work, we need to look at what happens in our bodies under stress. During stress, our body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol mobilises our energy reserves. Doesn’t sound so wrong at first – but if the cortisol level is too high for a long time, important regulatory processes of the body get mixed up. This can have consequences such as a suppressed immune system, fears, sleeping problems, high blood pressure or overweight.
Adaptogens act on the natural stress axis of the body, which is responsible for the release of cortisol. There they regulate the body’s own stress response by triggering even small stress reactions. “This activates the cells’ self-protection mechanisms and makes them more resistant to stress in the long term,” said the preventive physician. In contrast to the majority of drugs produced in the laboratory, adaptogens act holistically, i.e. in the entire body and not only in a partial area.
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Activate your inner defence mechanisms and don’t let yourself get stressed in the first place! These are our top 6 adaptogens:
Ashwagandha is an effective adaptogen for problems with falling asleep © Eskymaks/Shutterstock.com
1. ginseng against stress
Ginseng is the king among the adaptogens. For more than 5,000 years, the power root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and is known above all for its stress-reducing effect. But ginseng can do even more – it promotes the production of serotonin and dopamine, our so-called feel-good and happiness hormones. These lighten the mood, improve performance and promote restful sleep.
2. roseroot helps with exhaustion
The plant, which grows only under very cold conditions – preferably in Siberia – bears its name because its root smells of roses when it is cut. Roseroot has been shown to reduce the release of cortisol. This increases stress tolerance, relieves chronic fatigue and stimulates energy production in the cells, as a study by the Swedish Herbal Institute has shown. Little beauty plus: Rose root stimulates the formation of elastin and collagen and thus helps to combat wrinkles.
3. maca supports physical endurance
The South American root tuber supports your physical endurance and resistance. Maca is usually found in the shops as a powder to improve performance. Maca also reduces the cholesterol level in the blood, stimulates digestion and increases your desire for sex.
4. shiitake mushrooms strengthen the immune system
The edible mushroom is considered one of the most effective medicinal plants of traditional Chinese medicine. It minimizes stress, supports the immune system and has a beneficial effect on blood fat levels and intestinal flora.
5. reishi mushrooms promote falling asleep and keep young
In contrast to shiitake, the reishi mushroom, also called ‘shiny lacquer porling’ is not a conventional edible mushroom, but a medicinal mushroom. It helps you with sleep disorders and can be used as an anti-aging remedy, because it counteracts aging factors such as stress, free radicals and inflammatory processes.
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6. ashwagandha to relax
The sleeping berry, as it is popularly known, helps you to have a calm, clear mind and due to its narcotic effect it is a wonderful aid to falling asleep. Great side effect: The powder ground from the berry rejuvenates the complexion!
Tea with adaptogenic ingredients often works wonders for stress © VioNet/Shutterstock.com
How are adaptogens taken?
Adaptogens are now available in capsule or tablet form, as powder, tincture or tea in many organic markets and online shops. They can be taken daily or only in special “crisis times” of the body. The small health boosters cause no or only minimal changes in body function, even when taken over a long period of time, because they only develop their adaptogenic effect when they are challenged (for example, during stress or sports).
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Do the plant substances also have side effects?
According to the current state of research, side effects are largely excluded. In contrast to many other stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, adaptogenic agents are not addictive and the body does not develop tolerance. “Nevertheless, the intake should not exceed the normal level. Since every person reacts differently to active substances, it is best to try out in a not too stressful situation what effect a certain adaptogen has on you”, recommends Dotzauer.
If in doubt, consult your doctor.
Next time, do not take medication immediately if you feel overwhelmed. Teas with adaptogenic ingredients often work wonders for minor depressions or after a stressful working day.