Even to Adriana Ayales, owner of Brooklyn’s Anima Mundi herbal pharmacy, adaptogens can be somewhat hard to define. Touted as an essential element in achieving clarity and balance, they have lured many of us in an effort to even out. But, as with so many things, where to begin? Through an illuminating conversation with Adriana, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of popular adaptogenic herbs, so that you can make informed decisions about which ones may work best for you. Please remember: *always* consult a health professional before taking any herbs or supplements.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a very special class of herbs — natural compounds which have been used worldwide for thousands of years, due to their profound healing abilities. These plants all share a particular intelligence in common — they work ‘non-specifically,’ meaning they target multiple functions in the body — physically, mentally and biologically. The inherent intelligence of adaptogens also works by providing your body with what it particularly needs in that moment. For example, if you’re fatigued, adaptogens give you energy; or, if you’re anxious, they can calm you down. This is due to the infamous impact that these special plants have on our endocrine system, the HPA axis (hypothalamus + pituitary and adrenal glands). In a nutshell, they meet your body where it’s at, and match it by chemically remedying what’s needed to restore balance.
How do adaptogens work?
The HPA axis continually assesses what’s happening in the body: gives feedback and calls for appropriate action, using hormones as its messenger molecules to bring homeostasis in the body.
The hypothalamus (H) is the command center of the brain, often called our 'god' center. This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system and through an influx of hormones. H perceives, oversees and assesses everything going on in the body, then informs its 'personal assistant', the pituitary (P) gland, what to do. The personal assistant informs the 'general managers' (the target organs), who then enlist the 'workers' (particular biochemical processes) in the relevant tissues or organs in the body. The enlisted or activated tissues include the visceral organs — heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas (and their less publicized agents such as the gallbladder, spleen, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, etc.).
Offers a wide variety of benefits, such as: enhancing mood, lowering stress, enhancing athletic performance, and boosting brain function.
• Nutritional powerhouse: contains essential B vitamins, even B12
• Contains medicinally important polysaccharides, proteins, sterols, nucleosides, and other trace elements
• May protect the brain, adrenals and the kidneys
A nutrient-dense mushroom, it yields many powerful benefits, including antioxidants which may help to slow aging skin.
• May boost immunity
• May be anti-viral and anti-bacterial
• Contains some of the highest antioxidant activity compared to other mushrooms
Do adaptogens carry any side effects?
It is very important to know how and when to take these precious medicines, as the common misconception is that because they’re tonics, they can be used daily in large doses. It’s always good to carefully read, educate and do self-research. And, of course, always consult with a healthcare practitioner to truly tailor your herbal prescription to not just feel but, to thrive.
Ayales can’t stress enough the importance of understanding possible side effects when researching and taking adaptogens. “The trendiness of these herbs can pose substantial health risks for those people who are using them because an Instagram celebrity is mixing them into her morning smoothie.”
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