Stress: It seems unavoidable, doesn’t it? Maybe you had a crazy day at work, a fight with your significant other, or are just drained out from the eternal struggle of trying to balance work and life—either way, you feel like your adrenals are racing out of control, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Or is there? What if we told you there were some magic super herbs you could consume on a daily basis that would help your body cope with stress in a natural way—leaving you calm, focused, and energized? Introducing adaptogens—herbs that work with your body to help you fight the negative effects of stress, including high cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, acne, fatigue, insomnia, and elevated blood pressure. And while they may sound like a new thing, they’ve actually been around for centuries.
“Adaptogens work by regulating our fight or flight response, and they help keep our bodies balanced—therefore, better able to adapt to all sorts of stressors. To be considered an adaptogen, an herb has to be non-toxic, and have a non-specific effect,” Sarah Swanberg, acupuncturist, herbalist, and owner of Indigo Acupuncture and Wellness, tells Domino. As chronic stress can cause everything from stomach ulcers to heart problems, it’s vital to find a way to cope with them—and adaptogens are generally an easy, safe way to do so.
“Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications for high blood pressure or autoimmune disorders should check with their doctors before consuming them, but they’re fairly safe for most people,” says Lauren Slayton MS, RD, and founder of NYC-based nutrition service Foodtrainers. “They basically work by controlling your adrenals—if you need more or less of something, they can help. But you need to take them for four to six weeks to see the full effect.”
According to Swanberg, every adaptogen helps to regulate stress to a certain degree—but of course, some have a better effect than others. Slayton loves ashwagandha, an ancient Indian herb. “It has the most potent hormonal effects—it helps regulate thyroid, estrogen, and progesterone,” she says. She also uses rhodiola, which is essentially rose root—it has the added benefit of providing mental focus and clarity, and is the ultimate mood booster. “These are the two herbs I recommend the most with clients,” she says.
The best way to use adaptogens, however, is by mixing and matching, which is why custom blends are so mainstream these days—Swanberg just created her own line in partnership with Maikana Foods, and one of the most popular brands, Moon Juice, has been mainstream for years. While Swanberg loves both rhodiola and ashwagandha, she also loves reishi. “[It’s] amazing for the immune system, but can also help calm the mind and promote restful sleep. That’s why I encourage mixing and matching: We created our blends by combining several herbs that have both complementary and balancing effects. Because adaptogens have a normalizing effect and work like a thermostat that would raise the heat when the temperature is low and drop it when the temperature is high, some herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola are in both our Energize and Relax formula, but in different amounts and ratios to the other herbs.”
So, how do you use these herbs? Well, it’s fairly simple—you mostly just add a teaspoon of the mixed blend into your daily coffee, smoothie, while baking, or on yogurt, but they also come in pill form too. Consistency is key, however: You can’t expect changes right away when you start eating better or exercising for the first time, and the same is true for adaptogens. “The body will be able to build up a ‘reserve’ of sorts, so I recommend that people try out several formulas to see how they respond,” says Swanberg.
Below, check out three adaptogens these wellness experts swear by.
Calming Adaptogen, Moodbeli
This is a favorite brand of Slayton’s—it’s even found in her online shop. Consisting of a delicate blend of ashwagandha, ginger, and Himalayan pink salt, this chai-spiced powder has a grounding effect on the nervous system, thus promoting restful sleep and supporting the adrenals.
Relax Adaptogen Powder, Maikana Foods
Swanberg’s Relax blend also contains ashwagandha, but is mixed with varying amounts of reishi, schisandra berry, and rhodiola as well. “Relax is best for when you are feeling a little edgy or irritable,” says Swanberg. She encourages taking it in the day if you need to take the edge off, or at night to promote a good night’s sleep.
SuperYou, Moon Juice
Available only in pill form, SuperYou contains four adaptogenic superherbs: shatavari, amla, rhodiola, and ashwagandha. “I chose these because of the profound impact they have had on my life,” says Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of Moon Juice. “It’s the simplest way to protect from the pretty severe effects of ongoing stress, as you only need to take two tablets a day. I love shatavari because women can take it in every phase of life for hormonal balance: It wakes up energy and is one of the most powerful adaptogens for reproductive health. And for the visible signs of stress—i.e., how it shows up on hair, skin, and nails—amla helps preserve natural collagen by fighting oxidative stress.”
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