What is it that makes an organism survive? Evolve? Thrive?
It is the ability to adapt to its environment; to change when it needs; to become more flexible, more resilient and stronger. Anything that helps an organism adapt is known as an adaptogen.
Adaptogenic substances, compounds, herbs and even practices are those which result in a stabilisation of our physiological processes and a greater ability to handle stress. The most incredible part of these substances is that they not only help an organism adapt to stress, but they adapt themselves to work with the individual who takes them; they 'personalise,' so to speak. Genius!
So why haven’t we heard of these before? Some of them we have. Some of them we are just discovering, but all of them have roots in the ancient medical traditions of their countries of origin. The global community has allowed us access to a whole new range of natural products we never used to be able to find.
The term 'adaptogen' was first used in 1947 by a Russian scientist named Nikolai Lazarev, but it wasn't until the 1960s that a formal definition was created. A substance was expected to behave in certain ways if it was to be considered adaptogenic.
The first criteria is that it must be nontoxic to the recipient. This eliminated narcotics and other less safe drugs from the definition, as they might allow someone to deal with stress more effectively in the moment, but they were not non-toxic in the long run.
Adaptogens must be completely safe. They must produce a nonspecific response in the body such as an increase in its power to resist multiple stressors: things like physical, chemical and biological agents. In other words, they not only help the body deal with stress from outside, but also from inside – protecting against disease, illness and inflammation.
An adaptogen must also normalise the body. This means that they help the body reach a type of equilibrium, a safe and healthy state known as homeostasis. They help us find the perfect state of physical existence.
One interesting thing to note about many adaptogens is that they are plants and herbs that grow under extremely difficult conditions. They are in a constant battle with their environment, which means they understand stress and have evolved to combat it thrive in spite of it.
There are many, many plants that are considered adaptogens, but here are a few that we have used at VM and found to be valuable. You can find them at your local health food store or online from companies like Sunpotion and Four Sigmatic.
This herb comes in first because it has a reputation as the most potent Qi tonic in the world. A traditional Taoist herb, it is said to strength and protect the body’s entire energy. This includes the metabolism and digestive systems as well as looking after your skin from the inside out. This powder works well in smoothie bowls or added in to your protein shake.
'Shrooms: Cordyceps, Reishi, Chaga and Lion’s Mane
These mushrooms have powers you can’t even imagine (no, not those powers!). They have been used for thousands of years in tradition oriental medicines and have specialised properties that can be used individually or together. They work well mixed with your morning coffee.
- Reishi – offers immune support and stress relief. It is perfect just before bed.
- Cordyceps – helps with oxygenation and thus energy, endurance and mental acuity.
- Chaga – provides and energy boost and is a powerful source of B-vitamins
- Lion’s Mane - nourishes nerve tissue and can even act as a catalyst for nerve restoration. It is valuable in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases and is often known as ‘brain food’.
AKA ‘Indian Ginseng,’ this herb has a long history of use within Ayurvedic Medicine. The plant grows in India, north Africa and the Middle East. The most potent part of the plant is the root, which may strengthen the body’s immune system, increase the body’s ability to deal with mental, emotional and physical stress, allow for a greater sense of calm and an ability to deal with stress hormones. Ashwagandha is quite bitter, so add it to something that will help disguise the flavour.
This has been called “the miracle tree” because it contains a huge range of bio-available nutrients, minerals and high levels of vitamins B,C,D and E. The leaf is reported to improve nutrition, stabilise blood pressure and relieve anxiety, allowing for deeper sleep. Moringa is available as both a powder and a pleasant tasting tea.
Well, we all know how this one tastes and we either love it or hate it. But I bet you didn’t know it is also anti-inflammatory, full of phytoestrogen that makes it great for women’s health, excellent in helping out with leaky gut symptoms and useful to combat adrenal fatigue.
This little Indian plant is a healing magician with its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is said to be great for digestion, boosting circulation and relieving anxiety and can act as a toner to tighten aging skin. It makes a delicious tea, and our VM range uses Gota Kola in several of our products, from our Collagen Boosting Gel to our enduring favourite, Marine Collagen Firming Night Cream.
You’ve certainly heard of Ginseng, as it is one of the most commonly used roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is used in TCM for its 'cooling' properties and is said to help with treating diabetes, strengthening the immune system and improving strength and stamina in those who take it. Ginseng can be taken as a powder, a tea or a tincture.
As with any natural product, please don't blindly dose yourself up. Educate yourself on the details of each, consult a natural therapist and try things in small doses first. These are powerful plants and not right for every single body. Always experiment on yourself gently until you find the right natural supplement to enhance your health and fill in any gaps in your body's needs.
And make sure you take a close look at the companies selling the products- are they ethically and sustainably farmed? Has the plant extraction been done in a way that maintains the integrity of the adaptogen? If a product is too cheap and there is no evidence of its origin - give it a miss.
Feature image: Feeh Costa