Every year, we seem to get introduced to a new booster that will take our smoothies and juices to new heights of health. Past years we've had coconut oil, maca and chia seeds. In 2017, the buzzword is "adaptogens." Adapt-a-what, now? They are seriously smart herbs that work like a thermostat to help our bodies adapt to stress, whether we need more energy to tackle the day or we need something soothing to calm our nervous system, their herbs offer much-needed balance in a world that is often anything but. To find out more about these supercharged herbs, we did some internet digging, but we also called on the team at PRESS, a cold-pressed juice bar that offers adaptogen boosters at its juice bars across the capital for stressed-out city workers.
Keep scrolling to find out more about these, supposedly, wonder herbs and how you can reap the benefits in your next DIY smoothie.
What are adaptogens?
"Adaptogens are natural substances believed to help the body adapt to stress and persistent fatigue. They support adrenal function, eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic process and counteract the adverse effects of stress by regulating hormones in the body," explains Chloe Smith, Press London's creative manager. While adaptogens have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years, the name "adaptogens" was coined "by Soviet physician and scientist, Nikolai Lazarev, in 1947," writes Andrew Weil, MD. Frank Lipman, MD, is also a fan of these natural ingredients, "adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating. They can normalise body imbalances. In short, adaptogens are amazing."
Why do we need them?
"The stress hormone cortisol is hugely detrimental to every physiological system in the body, especially our adrenal and thyroid glands," Smith says. "Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels lead to anxious and irritable behaviour, weight gain, bone loss, depleted energy levels and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease," she adds and goes on to say, "adaptogens help to balance fluctuating cortisol levels and thus tackle issues such as adrenal fatigue.
When the cortisol in our system gets too high, it puts the body into fight or flight mode, which places further pressure on the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands. Not only does this decrease digestive secretions, but it also leads to an increase in blood pressure. This process forces the body to cope with a constant state of stress and means we age faster than we should.
Adaptogens help people cope with the mounting pressures of our fast-paced, modern society—they help people feel healthy and happy, allowing them to banish those daily sugar cravings. They help to restore health, vitality, stamina, immunity and libido." So if you're feeling overwhelmed, having trouble sleeping or your libido is not where it should be, then you could benefit (that's all of us, then).
Are there different types of adaptogens?
For a herb to be an adaptogen it has to tick a few boxes. It must be non-toxic to humans, offer support and help to bring the body back to equilibrium. There are adaptogens that stimulate the body and your mind, like Siberian and Asian ginseng and maca. Then there are those that calm and soothe, such as reishi and ashwagandha.
"At Press London, we suggest specific ones to suit certain symptomatic needs. For example, ashwagandha is said to improve energy, memory and learning, while cordyceps is a natural remedy for fatigue and may also enhance aerobic activity. Maca is alleged to have the ability to increase energy and stamina, oxygenate the blood and enhance libido," explains Smith.
"While these adaptogens are best known to target certain areas, they are all good for restoring balance and a sense of well-being," she adds. "We advise customers to listen to their body and respond to their physical, emotional and mental health needs."
How often should we factor them in?
"Given that adaptogens keep you calm and boost your energy, we recommend that they are consumed daily in order to maximise the beneficial impact," Smith says. "Failing that, we suggest that you should consume them as regularly as possible in order to improve and sustain your peak mental and physical health."
"For those such as ginseng that are taken to boost energy levels and concentration, we suggest you ingest them mid-morning or afternoon to sustain your focus and mental alertness. Whereas if you're taking them to improve sleeping patterns, like quality of sleep and calm state of mind, it is better to have them slightly later on in the day!"
Adaptogens can come in pill form, tinctures that are mixed with water or powders, the way you take them comes down to personal preference but adding them into a micronutrient-rich smoothie is definitely the tastiest way.