Mind & Body

How to beat stress with adaptogens

Feel calmer, lift your spirits and even improve your skin by tapping into the health and well-being benefits of adaptogenic plants, says SUZANNE SCOTT


What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are not a new discovery. In fact, they have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, but they are enjoying the spotlight of late. To the uninitiated, adaptogens are a group of non-toxic herbs, mushrooms, berries, roots and spices that go above and beyond your regular plant life. “They expand the body’s capacity to handle stress, whether the source is mental, physical or emotional,” says Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, who incorporates adaptogenic ingredients into her formulas. “Adaptogens are potent allies as they help to regulate cortisol (the stress hormone) and balance the stress-response system to improve mood, boost immunity, reduce fatigue and more.”

Scientists are only just starting to unlock their potential, but it is widely accepted that adaptogens bring balance to the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine-axis (known as the ‘stress stem’), which regulates communication between the brain and adrenal glands. “We’re only really starting to understand their beneficial properties,” explains Texas-based dietitian Ali Miller. “But so far research has shown that adaptogens aid our ability to maintain resilience to stress by supporting our immune system, optimizing energy, supporting brain health and protecting our glands from the impact of stress.”

Where can I try one?

The adaptogen on all our radars is turmeric, thanks to the proliferation of turmeric lattes (or golden milk). This caffeine-free alternative to tea and coffee is often enjoyed as a pre-sleep treat due to its stress-relieving properties. Turmeric is also rich in flavonoids and has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve circulation and even assist wound healing. Add freshly grated turmeric root (it’s more potent than powder) to any milk with a pinch of black pepper, which will enhance the bioavailability of the active curcumin in the spice.

What are the best adaptogens?

“Not all adaptogens do the same thing,” explains Bacon. “Some are stimulating, while others can be calming.” They can even help your skin, protecting it against environmental stress. Ashwagandha, Cordyceps and Rhodiola are the power players to look out for and are available in powders, tinctures and teas. “Ashwagandha is the most well-known and helps to prevent stress-induced fatigue and maintain energy levels, focus and concentration,” says Miller. “Cordyceps balances out blood sugars and boosts immune health, whereas Rhodiola is a mood influencer and is now known to help with depression and anxiety.”

What is the best way to take them?

To reap maximum benefits, incorporate a few of the below into your daily diet, or look for them in nutritional powders that can be added to a smoothie or sprinkled over your breakfast. Roots are best for potency when grated into milk or food, followed by powders (which can be a little bitter) and pills. “Most adaptogens are more bioavailable [readily absorbed] in heat, so take them either in tea or blended into coffee with fat or with vitamin C to boost adrenal recovery,” says Miller. And look for the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) stamp on the label, which means that there should be no added additives, fillers or sweeteners.

But a word of warning: some adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng can negatively interact with certain prescription medicines, for example by lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, which can affect hypertension or drugs for diabetes. Make sure you seek your doctor’s advice if you’re taking any kind of medication.

Natural healers: Your quick-look adaptogens guide

Ashwagandha interacts directly with the endocrine system to reduce stress and anxiety.

Asian ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, has been shown to be calming and support memory recall.

Maca has been found to strengthen the skin’s defenses against the sun and may help promote new collagen formation.

Schizandra is a type of anti-inflammatory berry that protects skin from environmental aggressors such as sun, wind and pollutants.

Ginkgo biloba is recognized for reducing mental fatigue and boosting memory.


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