Everything you need to know about adaptogens

If you’re like us, you like to keep up with the latest trends in the health world. From juice cleanses to oil pulling to beauty food diets, we pride ourselves on researching and reporting on the latest of-the-moment fads. Recently, we’ve been fascinated with the idea of adaptogens, which are potent and powerful Chinese herbs that act as superfoods and promote homeostasis in the body. Really, all that means is that these herbal powerhouses help your body adapt to stress, maintain hormonal balance, and resist fatigue. Sounds pretty incredible, right? We got to talking with about adaptogens with our friend and favorite holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque of Be Well by Kelly (in case you haven’t noticed, we talk to Kelly about most health trends before trying them!). And today, we’re sharing everything you need to know about these powerful potions. Here’s why you should be adding adaptogens to your smoothies and coffee every morning…

What are adaptogens, exactly?

Phytotherapy or herbal medicine is the study of how herbs in their natural state affect the body. Most often used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogens are a specific group of herbs that promote homeostasis in the body. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not! The use of adaptogens dates back 2,500 years, and there is a plethora of medical research supporting the claims.

What do adaptogens do?

Depending on the herb, adaptogens can help the body counteract the adverse effects of stress by supporting adrenal glands. They also enable the body’s cells to access more energy by helping cells eliminate toxic byproducts and utilize oxygen more efficiently. But that’s not all… Kelly says that studies also show anticancer, antiviral and heart protective effects. In short, let’s just say that the return to traditional medicine is making a serious comeback!

How do they taste?

Most adaptogens have such a subtle taste that you won’t even notice them in your smoothies, coffee or tea. And, you won’t use enough to really notice the taste. Some, like ashwagandha and rhodiola, are a little stronger. But mostly, they all have an earthy, herby taste to them. You can easily find powdered adaptogens at your local grocery store, health store, or online by clicking here for Sun Potions, here for Gaia Herbs or here for Moon Dust.

What’s the best way to consume them?

Blend them into your Be Well Smoothie, add ½ a teaspoon to your coffee, or spoon some into your tea. After you’ve tried a few, you’ll see which ones taste best in which liquids.

Which adaptogens should I be taking?

They all do different things and have different purposes, and since there are so many out there, you can test of some of the popular favorites to find which ones you like best. As an easy guide, here are some that Kelly recommends adding to your daily routine:

  • Rhodiola Rosea:
    Like most adaptogens, rhodiola restores your normal physiological response to stress, protects against stress-induced depression and modulates the immune system. However, this herb is growing in popularity because of numerous studies showing its system wide efficacy to promote homeostasis in the body. Rhodiola is shown to prevent stress-induced heart attacks and promote new cardiac blood vessel growth after a heart attack, explains Kelly. It’s cleansing too: A 2002 study showed a reduction in serum markers for liver dysfunction. It’s also shown to inhibit the proliferation of leukemia cells and fight back against viral aggressors like hepatitis C, influenza, and Coxsackie virus. If that’s not enough, its beauty benefits include restoring the liver’s natural antioxidant stores, stimulating an appropriate immune response to inflammation. And, it has most recently been linked to weight loss!
  • Ashwagandha:
    Ashwagandha is a potent root, calming the body’s physiological and nervous systems, according to Moon Juice, an online shop that sells ashwagandha by the jar. This mineral-dense adaptogen aids the thyroid, soothes anxiety, improves sleep and contributes to virility. Rich in antioxidants, ashwagandha stimulates the thyroid gland and secretion of thyroid hormones, boosts immunity, and increases the production of blood. It should be no surprise that increased blood flow and relaxation results in a positive effect on libido and sexual health. Described as a nervine tonic in Ayurveda (the Indian system of medicine that believes in linking mind and body), it even has promise of protecting the neuronal injury in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Holy Basil (Tulsi):
    Referred to as the “Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Queen of Herbs” in Ayurveda, Holy Basil contains several active properties that promote anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-stress effects. Consumed as a tea, Tulsi contains the phytochemicals Urosilic acid, Rosmarinic acid, and Epigenin to help fight oxidative stress, reduce DNA death and chronic stress by improving the immune system, ECG and corticosteroid It’s the perfect way to get your feet wet with adaptogens.
  • Cordyceps:
    Cordyceps are powerful antioxidant-packed-mushrooms with adaptogenic, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Kelly says that there is a still a debate on whether these mushrooms are technically “adaptogens” but their benefits are worth mentioning! When ingested, cordyceps have been associated with controlling insulin and lowering blood sugar levels, two factors important for protecting lean muscle mass and burning fat for energy. Cordyceps have also been associated with increased libido by restoring sexual hormones. Cordyceps naturally fight both physical and mental fatigue by increasing the production of ATP, which is our body’s major energy source.
  • He Shou Wu:
    This super herb is known for its powerful anti-aging and energizing properties. And in fact, in recent years scientific studies have shown that the scientific properties of He Shou Wu stimulate the body to produce longevity-promoting substances. We’re talking about living a longer life here! It has powerful abilities to cleanse the kidney and liver, which in turn clean the blood. And, while it’s not actually a stimulant, it is known for being a strong, all-natural energy tonic. He Shou Wu also supports immunological functions, improves adrenal gland functioning, and works wonders for clearing skin, giving it that natural glow.

Which one of these is the most powerful?

Rhodiola is a popular favorite among women Kelly works with. It has all the anti-stress properties of ashwagandha, plus weight loss. Find out more about how rhodiola can help balance your hormones by clicking here.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t consume adaptogens?

Ashwagandha is in the nightshade family. So, if you have an allergy to nightshades (this includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers), avoid it.

Well, ladies, there you have it! We’ve really just touched on the tip of the iceberg with our quick guide to adaptogens here… There is so much more to learn about these powerful super-herbs. So, if one of the above caught your attention, be sure to do your research and learn more about the amazing health properties it can add to your life. Making a life-changing smoothie has never been so effortless!

Which adaptogen will you be trying first?

And, what topic would you like to see us cover in our next health and wellness post here on the site?

P.S. Thanks to our girl Kelly for contributing her expert tips on this topic!

XO Allison

Team LC

Photos: Jessi Burrone for LaurenConrad.com