Adaptogens have taken center stage in the trendy healthy world that exists online and on social media feeds. But how did these nutrient-dense adaptogenic herbs, that supposedly warrant superhuman capabilities make their way into modern health stores and wellness circles everywhere? Are they worth the buzz (and the price tag) to give your morning matcha a little more mushroom magic?? Here’s what you need to know.
What are adaptogens?
Although medicinal adaptogenic mushrooms and superpowered fungi may seem like a recent phenomenon, their use in alternative medicine practices dates back thousands of years. There are records of adaptogenic herb use as early as 3000 B.C.E. in Indian Ayurveda Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Adaptogens are a category of plants (such as herbs, mushrooms, or berries) that purport to have a wide range of health benefits. They are non-toxic and generally considered safe for consumption by healthy individuals. The most narrow definition of adaptogens is that they help the body fend off imbalances caused by external stressors—physical, biological, or chemical.
Whether you’re overworked and exhausted or riddled with nervous anxiety, chances are there is an adaptogen that can help improve your symptoms. Adaptogens are said to bring the body back into a state of homeostasis or balance. In other words, if you’re tired and need an energy boost, there’s an adaptogen for that. If you’re stressed out and need a way to unwind after a long day, there’s an adaptogen for that too.
Adaptogens may be beneficial when taken in isolation, but are said to be more effective when combined with other adaptogens. Some companies, such as Four Sigmatic and Moon Juice, offer pre-blended adaptogen mixtures that target specific health areas like sleep, energy, or immunity.
How do I take adaptogens?
Among the most well-known adaptogens are Ashwagandha, Reishi, Lion’s mane, and other fungi. For adaptogen mushrooms, in particular, the health benefits are unlocked during a double extraction process (using both hot water and alcohol). After extraction, the adaptogenic mushrooms are often spray dried into a powder form.
You can purchase adaptogen supplements in a variety of forms, each claiming to offer different health benefits. You may opt for capsule form for convenience’s sake, but always check the ingredients list to avoid any harmful or unnecessary additives. Other ways of taking your daily dose of adaptogens include tincture, extract, and powders stirred into your morning coffee or post-workout smoothie. As with any new health supplement, make sure you discuss the product with your doctor to ensure the product is safe to use while taking any other prescribed medications.
Where can I buy adaptogens?
Adaptogens are widely available in health food stores and online. From Instagram to Amazon, you can find a range of adaptogen products and supplements available for purchase. Many companies run social media giveaways for their products or provide discounts if you sign up for their newsletters, so always check for deals before ordering.
How do I know which companies to buy adaptogens from?
Be sure to research the company you’re purchasing adaptogens from beforehand to ensure you’re reaping the most benefits for your health. Look for companies whose products are USDA certified organic, non-GMO verified, or sustainably wildcrafted and harvested. Details like purity level testing are a good starting place to make sure you’re consuming something safe and effective. Whenever possible, verify that an independent third party has tested the product for things like particle size, tapped density, heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury), moisture content, volatile oil content, total ash, insoluble acid ash, total aerobic plate count, yeast, and mold count.
Health Benefits of Some Adaptogens:
Although some companies go so far as to claim “our adaptogenic supplements, skincare, and food elevate consciousness and wellbeing,” more research is needed to form any definitive conclusions about their effectiveness. With that in mind, below are examples of some of the most popular and widely available adaptogens and their healing potential:
Ashwagandha: One of the most well-known adaptogens, ashwagandha is touted for a plethora of health benefits. From strengthening the immune system to improving thyroid function, this adaptogen’s ability to mitigate stress’ adverse effects stems from an apparent cortisol regulatory power. Ashwagandha is notably beneficial for individuals with thyroid/adrenal gland problems. With such potential benefits, it’s no wonder this adaptogen’s name translates to “strength of the stallion” in India.
Cordyceps: Cordyceps is a fungus commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Also known as Chinese caterpillar fungus, ancient cultivation techniques required harvesting the fungus from caterpillars and other insects’ brains. This method is no longer standard because of the high financial and ecological costs associated with it. However, you can still get the same health benefits from sustainably harvested Cordyceps that are caterpillar-free. Some research has demonstrated Cordyceps’ ability to improve kidney health and function. They may also help support the immune system with high Beta D-Glucans concentrations and slightly improved athletic performance by increasing oxygen uptake.
Ginseng: Another well-known adaptogen is Ginseng. In particular, Panax Ginseng is considered a potent adaptogen for its stress-reducing capabilities. Like other adaptogen herbs and fungi used in TCM, Panax ginseng has shown promising results for boosting immune function, reducing inflammation, and lowering oxidative stress in the body. Like most adaptogens, Ginseng can be consumed as a powder, capsule, or tincture. It may also be enjoyed as a hot tea. With a slightly sweet and herbaceous flavor, this delicious tea also doubles as an excellent evening remedy for helping reduce stress and promote calmness.
Chaga: Used in folk medicine for centuries, Chaga, or the “King of Mushrooms,” grows on the bark of birch trees in several parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Modern research is examining Chaga for its ability to inhibit the progression of certain cancers. Additionally, it may increase mental alertness, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the immune system. Chaga is a rich source of antioxidants and can be energizing, serving as a replacement to coffee for soldiers in WWII. The flavor of chaga is considered mild and tends to blend in well with medium roast coffee.
At CF Nutrition, we believe that food really is medicine. However, we understand that health is uniquely defined, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to wellness. Some people may find that combining clinical and alternative medicine helps them feel their best, while others may find that alternative health practices do not apply to them. Ideally, there is a scenario where alternative medicine can supplement more traditional medical approaches to promote the highest level of health and well being.
While CF Nutrition aims to be on the cutting edge of all health-related practices, we continue to exist primarily in the clinical nutrition setting, helping patients reach their goals through science back practices and protocols. As always, it is important to consult your doctor, dietitian, or naturopath before adding anything new to your diet or supplement regime, adaptogens included. Some adaptogens can interfere with medications’ efficacy, so make sure you carefully research any interactions before incorporating adaptogens into your daily health-care routine.
Ready to start experimenting with your daily dose of adaptogens? Check out some of our favorite superfood recipes to level up your usual health routine.