Wellness Trends: What's An Adaptogen?
We’re back to tackle another wellness trend, and this week we’re looking at adaptogens – the new superfoods on the block. This scientific-sounding group of plants and herbs first became popular with US-based wellness bloggers (and of course, Goop), and now the use of adaptogens has found its way to the London's wellness scene. Wondering whether they are worth the cost, or just wondering what on earth they are? Here’s what you need to know before adding piling cordyceps and ashwagandha into your morning smoothie…
What are Adaptogens?
Used throughout history in Chinese and Ayurveda traditions, adaptogens are supposed non-toxic super herbs and plants that are meant to help the body resist – or ‘adapt’ to - stressors and boost overall well-being. Whether the stress is physical, emotional or environmental, they produce a state of resistance in the body and have a range of health benefits, with certain adaptogens said to bring you a sense of calm, or clarity, or even boost your fertility.
According to Dr Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Centre for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute: “When we exercise, it’s a stress on our body. But as we continue to train and exercise, our body becomes better at dealing with the stress of it, so we no longer get as tired or as high a heart rate,” she says. When you take adaptogens, meanwhile, “you’re training your body to handle the effects of stress.”
Common Adaptogens & Their Suggested Benefits
With a name meaning “smell of the horse”, Ashwagandha is the most popular adaptogen around, mainly used for soothing your nervous system and helping with anxiety and fatigue. It’s also said to be great at supporting and boosting your immune system too.
Often seen mixed into “superfood” lattes in trendy plant-based cafés, Cordyceps is actually a mushroom, traditionally used to aid fertility but nowadays used to maintain good liver & kidney function, as well as to increase athletic performance. Pre-workout mushroom latte anyone?
Ginseng is another adaptogen often seen in the media, which has gained popularity thanks to its caffeine-like kick. For those who choose to avoid coffee, it’s a natural way to improve your concentration and boost your energy.
If you want to support your body in the long-run, Moringa is the one for you. It can help reduce inflammation, improve sleep and give you a stronger immune system too.
Rhodiola is touted as an all-around wellness booster. Its benefits include: boosting productivity, balancing your blood sugar levels, lowering cortisol, protecting your heart from stress, increasing mental clarity – big claims from a natural herb!
In short, more research is needed and we’re not buying into the hype just yet.
There’s not much scientific research on how adaptogens affect humans (most studies have been done on animals or human cell samples) and it's probably too soon to tell whether they can have a significant effect.
For example, Pansossian & Wilkman (2010), found that adaptogens can induce increased attention and endurance in situations of decreased performance caused by fatigue and/or sensation of weakness, and can also impact on the quality of life of patients when implemented as adjuvants in the standard therapy of many chronic diseases and pathological conditions. However, they also conclude that further research may be needed to evaluate their efficacy.
However, there are minimal side-effects, so, with the advice of a health professional, experimenting shouldn’t be too dangerous – although it might be dangerous for your bank balance!