Adaptogens are more than just a trendy wellness staple. Here’s what you need to know about what adaptogens are and how to choose the best ones to fit your needs.
Last Tuesday started with this text from my friend, let’s call him, Eddie.
Eddie: I know there’s more to it than just vitamins but what’s a good supplement for the brain?
Me: What about the brain?
Eddie: Reduce stress and increase focus
Me (knowing Eddie): Rhodiola
This is the kind of text I love to get, and not an uncommon one. Because I roll with a dynamic group of people, trying to balance career, social life and health.
That may seem like a quick reply but that’s only because I understand his health background (he’s a former nutrition client) and his goal. Once you do all of the foundational work, the answer comes easily.
What is Rhodiola and why is that my recommendation? Ah…. Not so fast! Before the answer, we have to lay the foundation.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are healing foods and herbs that support your adrenals and help your body adapt to stress. Bringing you and your cortisol levels back into balance.
Why does that matter? Stress raises cortisol. Which is what it’s supposed to do. But after the stress is over our cortisol should drop back down. If you’re not in balance, it won’t. Elevated levels of cortisol is a hormone imbalance that can negatively affect your mood, suppress immunity, and slow metabolism.
Thankfully, there are many adaptogens ready for you to try to see if it will work for you.
Here’s the deal though, everyone’s body is different; just because your friend uses (insert whatever new fad food is) to balance her (energy, hormones, weight, stress level, whatever) and it worked for her, doesn’t mean that the same will be for you.
And just because your fave coffee shop has a cool new latte or your fave blogger lives for specific herbs, doesn’t mean that you should be having it. Legit, it’s not worth the Instagram photo for what it could be doing to your body and/or mind. This works for hairstyles and clothes, not for supplements.
Do not, I repeat, do not, put something in your body because you saw an influencer talk about it, unless you know what you’re looking to change and you know that this could be recommended. Look into it more, ask them why they use it, use them as a trusted resource but not as a compass for what you should put in your body.
K, got that out of the way, now let’s look at the most popular adaptogens ATM. What they are and what they may be good for so you can make an informed decision on which one may be right for you.
Here are four adaptogens you need to know about
This herb is a stimulating adaptogen so it helps to reduce stress by increasing your energy and mental focus. Great if you’re feeling anxious or feeling like your mind is going in a million places, not the best if you want to sleep better.
Crazy resilient plant that grows high up in the mountains (and also down the hill from the water tower on this season’s Arrested Development) and is able to survive intense climate changes. It often grows where little to no other vegetation can, so it has access to all of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (buzz word alert: phyto means plant – all this means is plant nutrients. Plants have loads of nutritional benefits that span beyond vitamins and minerals.) Maca is a simulating plant as well, often used to increase energy and stamina. Maca is super stimulating for me and I can only have a small amount (if at all) in the morning. Whereas I have a good friend who sips maca like hot chocolate before bed for a peaceful sleep; see what I mean about everyone’s body being so different? If your mojo is low, try maca.
The most popular ginsengs are Asian and Siberian. Asian (Panax) is beneficial for pre-workout energy, whereas Siberian (Eleuthero) is beneficial for immune support. If you’re looking to amp up your workout, try Panax. Feeling sick and tired all the time, Eleuthero may be for you.
Ashwagandha and chill. This is a calming herb that’s been known to help you chill when you’re feeling burn out. If you’ve been going, going, going and need some solid sofa time, try this herb.
Whichever you choose, pick one and try it for 4-6 weeks (using as directed, noting many experts recommend taking a week off every 4-6 weeks). I recommend keeping a mood journal during the trial to see if you notice any changes.
Get specific but it can be as simple as noting how you feel today, and what you want to change. Let’s say every Monday you have to give a presentation at your company meeting and you freak about it every Sunday night.
Note how you feel (distracted, frustrated, on edge, anxious, drained, like you can’t sleep, etc.) and then each day of your trial (or in this case every Sunday and Monday) note how you’re feeling. Don’t focus too much on this, simply jot down the first feelings that come to mind and leave it there. If you can’t identify any positive changes, consider letting this supplement go.
If you’re not sure what you need, I recommend investing in working with a naturopath, herbalist or nutritionist, someone who can help you lay the foundation for what you need and work with you to determine your best course of action.