If you've ever considered clicking,"add to cart" on a jade facial roller, or perhaps believe no morning coffee is complete without a scoop of collagen peptides and a dollop of ghee, then chances are you've heard of, or already prescribe to, the concept of adaptogens. Now it may just be the almighty algorithm delivering me all of the most targeted au naturel content, but it seems that adaptogenic plants and herbs are currently trending across all of my feeds at the moment. Supercharged plants have been used around the world and throughout history for their medicinal uses and healing properties, but a certain subset have had a re-awakening recently as the MVPs of mother nature's medicine cabinet, and are and being used to fight stress, anxiety, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances. This post is not to be construed as medical advice, and in terms of plant-based medicine, or holistic health I do not have any formal training. However, I can say without hesitation that I have a strong innate connection to the natural world, and when I am eating, drinking, applying and generally "communing" with plants I just FEEL better, more balanced, more relieved, more connected to the earth.
A is for ADAPTOGENS
Original watercolor by Rebecca Taylor - 2018
Therefore, it seemed apropos to kick off this new series, ABCs of Happy Healthful Living, with a post all about adaptogens and how you too can reap the rewards of plant-based alchemy. Adaptogens are plants and herbs that help the body "adapt" to external stressors and maintain positive homeostasis. If you're interested in reading a bit more on the Russian toxicologist, Lazarev that coined the term around 1947, and his work studying how adaptogenic plants helped fuel Soviet Olympic athletes, the military, and cosmonauts, then check out this article.
There are many different plants that can be considered adaptogenic, however all posses three main characteristics. First, they're safe for human consumption (although some should be avoided during pregnancy, so talk to your health care provider if you aren't sure.) In other words adaptogens are non-toxic. There are many different "magical" adaptogenic mushrooms out there, but none of them are going to make you trip balls. They will however, help your body cope with stress naturally which is the second quality, all adaptogens produce a nonspecific resistance to stress on the cellular level. Lastly, they have a unique normalizing effect on bodily systems. Herein lies the beauty of adaptogens. They act as a thermostat, aiding in the delicate balancing act of the neuroendocrine and immune systems.
I think Kerrilynn Pamer, co-founder of Cap Beauty, explained this best on a recent episode of Radio Cherry Bombe. I'm paraphrasing, but Kerrilynn explains, adaptogens are "dual-directional" intelligent plants that have the ability to help the body find homeostasis. She gives the example that coffee is a single-directional plant that acts as a stimulant. If you're already on high alert and you drink two to three cups of coffee, the third cup will just continue to jack up your adrenal response, likely turning you into jittery mess. Adaptogens by comparison, have the ability to tune-in to your endocrine system and tell your body whether to dial-down the activity of a hyper-functioning system or strengthen the activity of a low-functioning system. I believe is what she meant by dual directional. Check out the full interview here, it's a good one:
So what are some different types of adaptogens and how do you add them into your diet and routine? Per Kerrilynn's suggestion I started out with a premixed adaptogenic blend called Anandamide by Sun Potion. This is a good entry-level purchase because it's on the affordable side (potent herbs are pricey), one bag should last you a couple of months, and it tastes absolutely delicious and sort of like a spicy, earthy, hot chocolate mix.
Per the Sun Potion website, “(Anandamide)..is an exquisite blend of Unsweetened and Raw Heirloom Cacao and Tonic Herbs named after the cannabinoid neurotransmitter "Anandamide" which is unique to humans and raw cacao and has been scientifically documented to inspire an experience of a blissful state- Ananda- upon eating."
I prefer this blend because it contains a balanced mixture of the following:
Raw Cacao - often used to aid those with anxiety and depression. Cacao affects emotions and mood positively by increasing serotonin levels, known to produce unique feelings of contentment and overall relaxation.
Tocos - loved for it's support of skin, hair, and nails. Tocos is a ready source of Vitamins D & E.
Mucuna Pruriens - may support mood, brain function, and overall wellbeing.
Ashwagandha - a favorite amongst the adaptogen community, great for soothing your nervous system and boosting immunity. Awesome for women because its a potent source of iron.
Reishi Mushroom - prized as a nootropic supershroom, reishi is thought to improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, and motivation
Astragalus - revered in Chinese medicine, astragalus stimulates the adrenals, which manages the body's hormonal response to physical, mental, or emotional stresses.
Maca - a nutrient-dense antioxidant root, known to boost energy and endurance. Some believe maca supports healthy sexual energy and libido.
Moringa - rich source of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Known to fight inflammation in the body and support the immune health.
The above adaptogens are then combined along with Rose Petals, Cardamom, Turmeric, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Himalayan Salt Crystals, and Love. The result is delicious adaptogenic blend that tastes as good as it makes you feel. I've stirred it into smoothies (see below for recipe) added it to my morning coffee, and even included it in baked goods!
Adaptogens are becoming more main stream then ever before, and can be sourced in most local health food stores. Other trusted online retailers include Moon Juice, Mountain Rose Herbs, and Thrive Market!
The first time I made this Anandamide date shake Clay came home to find me dancing around the backyard watering the garden and singing a made-up song about how I'd drank a ♫ "dopamine bean" ♫. It was pretty funny and he immediately asked me to make him a cup! It's no wonder, Mucuna Pruriens contains a principle ingredient: L-Dopa, a naturally occurring amino acid which transforms into dopamine, a neurotransmitter which allows the dynamic functioning of the brain. In addition, Cacao releases serotonin and endorphins, hence the energetic and euphoric feelings that led to the watering of many plants and silly songs.
Another adaptogen I've been loving recently is Tulsi or Holy Basil which has been named, "The Queen of Herbs." I find a cup of Tulsi tea is a lovely soothing and relaxing ritual before bed. I especially love this Tulsi Sweet Rose Tea by Organic India. It has a hint of stevia which helps to curb my sweet tooth. Instead of reaching for cookie after dinner, a cup of this rose tea with some homemade almond milk helps me feel cozied up and ready to drift off to sleep. It's a must try for a tired or overworked brain.
With that said, I don't think there is any one secret ingredient to health and happiness, but introducing adaptogens to a diet dense in plant foods, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats in conjunction with daily exercise has helped me feel like the best version of myself. I encourage you to try adding some adaptogens to your diet, and let me know if you think they help you cope with the stressors of our modern world.
Dopamine Date Shake
1 cup ice
1 cup water
3 tablespoons hemp hearts
1 tablespoon Anandamide powder
1 tablespoon Maca powder
3-4 medjool dates, pitted
2 small ripe bananas (frozen or fresh)
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend until fully smooth. Enjoy immediately.
Here's to your health!