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From ashwagandha to rhodiola – 6 adaptogens that will transform your health


From easing menopausal symptoms to reducing stress and anxiety – there’s a special category of herbs that can help you cope better known as Adaptogens. Healthista quizzes the experts on what adaptogens we should be taking and how they help our health 

If you’re under a lot of stress, feeling anxious or depressed, or just finding it hard to cope with the demands of everyday life, there’s a group of herbs, called adaptogens that may help.

‘Adaptogen herbs are a special type of herb that can protect you from the physical and emotional effects of stress,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer.

When you’re stressed, your body releases an excess of stress hormones. Temporarily, this can boost performance and make you more alert. But, if you’re under constant, unrelenting stress, this will leave you physically, emotionally and mentally depleted.

Adaptogens work to keep the body healthy and balanced when faced with multiple stressors

‘Adaptogens are useful for normalising the metabolic changes caused by persistently raised adrenal hormones (e.g: adrenaline, cortisol), helping your body recover and get back into balance,’ explains Dr Brewer.

‘Adaptogens work to keep the body healthy and balanced when faced with multiple stressors,’ says Dr Rachel Rozelle, author of the Essential Guide to Adaptogens.

‘They increase or decrease various physiological functions to create balance and restore homeostasis (equilibrium) in the body. These unique properties of adaptogens help you to handle physical and emotional stress more effectively.’

Adaptogen herbs can also offer many other health benefits. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular and effective adoptogenic herbs…

Adaptogen #1 Ashwagandha – for stress, anxiety, insomnia and hair loss


READ MORE: Feeling stressed out? Here’s why you need ashwagandha

What is it?

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is an Ayurvedic herb that can help to alleviate stress, improve energy and concentration.

‘Ashwagandha contains chemical compounds called withanloids that have many health properties including anti-inflammatory, antifungal and immune-boosting effects on the body,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, Consultant Medical Nutritionist.

‘It is an apoptogenic herb which means it is mentally calming, yet physically energising.’

What’s the science?

Studies show that Ashwagandha can boost mood and has a neuroprotective action against stress and anxiety. In a recent meta-analysis (Phytotherapy Research August 2022) that involved 12 studies and over 1000 people it was shown that ashwagandha supplementation (300 – 600mg daily) significantly reduced stress and anxiety.

In one study (Ethnopharmacology 2021) it was shown that taking daily ashwagandha supplements (for eight weeks) can improve sleep quality and help in managing insomnia.

Ashwagandha can also help reduce hair loss. In a recent study (Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 2022) 24 men and women who took ashwagandha daily for six months.

it was shown that taking daily ashwagandha supplements (for eight weeks) can improve sleep quality

After 12 weeks 83.7% men and 79.5% women noticed significant improvements in visible hair growth, thickness, fullness and coverage with less noticeable hair shedding. There were further improvements after 24 weeks, suggesting there were continued improvements with sustained use.

Why you may need it?

If you’re prone to anxiety, poor sleep or are going through a stressful time, taking ashwagandha is a gentle way to help you cope, rebalance your system and minimise distressing symptoms.

It may also help to halt stress related hair loss. One to two 250mg capsules daily is considered a safe dose.

Try: Healthspan Ayurvedic Ashwagandha, £14.45 for 60 capsules.

Adaptogen #2 Turmeric – anti-inflammatory all round health booster


READ MORE: 5 ways turmeric can help you make the most out of your workouts

What is it?

Turmeric, a bright yellow spice, also known as golden spice, is a staple of Indian cooking and it’s long been recognized for its healing properties in Ayurvedic medicine.

‘It contains the compound curcumin which has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect,’ says Rob Hobson, Consultant Nutritionist with supplement brand Healthspan.

‘It also has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.’

What’s the science?

Research suggests that curcumin may help to protect against conditions including osteoarthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

In one study (Trials 2019), on 139 people with knee osteoarthritis, it was shown that curcumin supplements (500mg taken three times daily) were as effective in alleviating symptoms as NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (50mg taken twice daily), but there were none of the side effects.  Amongst those taking NSAIDs, 28% experienced stomach problems.

In another study (Frontiers in Endocrinology, 2021) it was shown that curcumin may have an anti-diabetic effect, because it can help to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and improve insulin resistance (decreasing insulin and glucose levels).

Why you may need it?

It’s always a good idea to try and reduce inflammation in your body, particularly if you suffer from osteoarthritis, or want to protect yourself from developing heart disease and diabetes.

topping up with a supplement will ensure you’re getting a beneficial dose

To get the full therapeutic benefits of curcumin, you’d have to consume large amounts of turmeric – e.g.: in curries, vegetables, sauces, rice, and turmeric latte. It’s also best absorbed with the addition of black pepper.

So, topping up with a supplement will ensure you’re getting a beneficial dose of curcumin and look for supplements that have the optimum absorption such as Healthspan’s Opti-Turmeric, £10.95 for 30 capsules, that is 7 times faster, and 185 times better absorbed and includes vitamin C.

Adaptogen #3 Schinsandra – reduce fatigue, improve mental clarity and relieve menopause symptoms


READ MORE: This former model says taking adaptogens could change your life

What is it?

Schisandra is red-purple berry that grows in China, Japan, Korea and Russia. It has powerful adaptogenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.

It’s also known as ‘five flavour fruit’, because it combines all the five tastes that correspond to the five elements – sour (wood), bitter (fire), sweet (earth), spicy/pungent (metal) and salty (water).

TCM teaches that schisandra can help to improve vitality and bring the whole system into balance. It is often prescribed as a herbal tincture or tonic to alleviate adrenal fatigue, reduce stress, improve digestion and liver function, support the hormonal system and enhance focus and concentration.

What’s the science?

A recent study (Brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy, 2019) suggests that schisandra may help improve liver function and protect against alcohol induced inflammation.

In another study (Climacteric 2016) it was shown that schisandra may help to alleviate menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, sweating and heart palpitations.

 Schisandra can also improve muscle strength and reduce fatigue in post menopausal women (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020).

Why you may need it?

Lacking energy and can’t think straight?  If so, schisandra may help to reduce fatigue, improve mental function and enhance physical performance.

Do not take this herb if you’re pregnant, are breast feeding, have a stomach ulcer or suffer from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).  If you have any concerns, consider seeing a medical herbalist.

Try: Indigo Herbs Schisandra Tincture, £16.95 for 100ml.

Adaptogen #4 Reishi – to boost immunity


READ MORE: From Shiitake Mushrooms to Reishi – 5 reasons shrooms are magical for your health

What is it?

There are around 80 different types of reishi mushrooms worldwide. Known as the ‘king of the mushrooms’ in China, the red reishi mushroom has the most potent medicinal benefits.

‘In Japan reishi means ‘spiritual mushroom, while in China it is known as the mushroom of immortality,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer.

‘Red reishi is used in TCM to promote wellness and longevity. It contains at least 100 different substances, know as triterpenes which have a similar structure to steroid hormones.’

What’s the science?

‘Research shows that reishi mushrooms have antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties,’ says Dr Brewer.

In one study (International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 2016) it was shown that reishi mushrooms can have anxiolytic effect and may be useful in reducing symptoms of anxiety.

the red reishi mushroom has the most potent medicinal benefits

‘Research from China suggests that reishi increases the activity of T-lymphocytes involved in fighting infections and targeting abnormal cells,’ says Dr Brewer.

Studies show that reishi mushrooms may help to eradicate cancer cells (Pharmacological Reports, 2010), lower inflammation and improve immune system function (Journal of Pharmacological Sciences, 2005).

Why you may need it?

If you want to strengthen your immune system, reduce fatigue and improve your overall health, you can eat fresh reishi mushrooms, use them as a nutritional powder or supplement.

Try: Healthspan ImmunoVit, £13.95 for 60 capsules – a combination of 300mg of mushrooms includes  reishi, maitake and shiitake mushrooms.

Adaptogen #5 Rhodiola – to reduce stress and calm you down


READ MORE: Understanding addiction – a comprehensive guide

What is it?

Rhodiola rosea, also known as arctic or golden root, is a yellow, flowering herb that grows in cold, mountainous regions in Europe and Russia. This herb is best known for its ability to reduce stress. It has a natural calming effect while enhancing mental alertness.

It contains a number of active ingredients including rosavins (rosin, rosarin, rhiodolin) and salidroside which may help to reduce fatigue, depression and have a beneficial effect on heart health.

What’s the science?

Rhodiola has a long history of use in herbal medicine and modern studies confirm its many benefits. In a recent meta -analysis (Molecule, 2022) that looked at a number of clinical studies, it was shown that rhodiola acts as an adaprogen that increases the body’s resistance to stress.

may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate depression, generalised anxiety, fatigue and depression

It has an emotionally calming effect, yet simultaneously enhances mental function. It may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate depression, generalised anxiety, fatigue and depression.

Research also shows by modulating the stress response, this can also be beneficial for heart and brain health.

Why you may need it?

This is an excellent remedy if you’re experiencing a lot of stress. It will help to feel calmer and less fatigued, and enhance mental clarity.

Try: pure, ethical range from Viridian, their Viridian High Potency Rhodiola Extract, 30 caps, £13.15.

Adaptogen #6 Holy Basil (Tulsi) – to reduce stress and anxiety


READ MORE: 7 physical signs of stress you shouldn’t ignore – plus what can help

What is it?

Holy Basil is a green, flowering herb that is part of the basil family that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It contains a rich mix of phytochemicals that can have a therapeutic effect.

In Hindu culture holy basil is considered a sacred plant that is associated with the Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Holy basil is more spicy, peppery and slightly minty, compared to traditional basil.

What’s the science?

Studies show that holy basil has adaptogenic qualities and improves your ability to cope with both physical and emotional stress. It can bring down corticosterone levels which become elevated during prolonged stress.

improves your ability to cope with both physical and emotional stress

In a recent study (Frontiers of Nutrition, 2022) on 100 people, it was shown that those who took a 125m tulsi supplement, twice daily, had reduced levels of insomnia and improved sleep after eight weeks, compared to the placebo group.

Studies also show tulsi can have positive benefits on cognitive function, memory, blood sugar levels and skin conditions. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (2014) may help to reduce anxiety and depression.

Why you may need it?

If you suffer from anxiety, feel a bit down and are having problems sleeping, holy basil taken as a tea or supplement may be helpful.

Try: Fushi Organic Tulsi, £14 for 60 capsules.

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