After superfoods—a trend that is still going strong—adaptogens may well be the next hottest thing in the health food industry. While they don’t quite sound like food, these popular new plant-based compounds and mixtures are rich in antioxidants that are known to help with stress, anxiety, sleep, your immune system, and a whole bunch of other lifestyle disorders. Interestingly, though adaptogens have been commonplace in centuries-old Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, their remedial effects have also been backed by science.
How do they work?
Adaptogens are essentially herbs (as well as roots and mushrooms) which have an impact on the body’s adrenal system. We produce hormones like adrenaline and cortisol during high-stress situations, which spike our heart rates and increase blood sugar. Adaptogens mainly work towards restoring the balance in the hormone levels, which in turns alleviate stress levels and boost energy. Not all herbs have the same super powers, but in general, common adaptogens have been known to improve the immune system, digestion and promote weight loss
While a majority of adaptogens are taken in the form of supplements or powders, there are several that are naturally available in India and can be mixed into foods as well as prepared like tea.
Tulsi – Also known as Holy Basil, this adaptogen has had widespread uses in Ayurvedic treatments. Multiple scientific studies have found that extracts of holy basil decrease stress hormone levels, corticosterone in particular, which can reduce the risk of age-related mental disorders. Apart from supplements, you can strain it in teas, use it in dips and chutneys, or use a pinch of tulsi powder in your breakfast smoothie.
Ashwagandha – Essentially a root, Indian ginseng or ashwagandha eases fatigue and provides a shield against physical stress that comes from a demanding routine. In controlled doses, the root helps build muscle strength and co-ordination, eventually leading to better running form and speed in athletes. Brew it in tea with a cup of water, 1-2 tsps of the root or leaf and some honey for sweetness and flavor.
Maca – Extracted from a Peruvian plant, maca is usually available in powder form and is rich in calcium, vitamin C, amino acids, phytonutrients and healthy fatty acids. A study from 2009 proved that maca can relieve stress and anxiety as well as boost energy levels. Maca can be hard to digest raw, so it’s best to get your dose by adding the powder to smoothies, cereal, yogurt, and baked snacks.
Goji berries – Native to Asia, goji berries have been used in medicine for over 3000 years, and are often referred to as the ‘longevity fruit’. They strengthen immunity, lower cholesterol, as well as contain generous amounts of iron, beta-carotene, amino acids, and more vitamin C than oranges. You can soak the berries before adding them to your cereal or eating them as a snack, or even use in tea.
Brahmi – Also used widely in Ayurveda, Brahmi is a creeper herb that is reputed for combating stress and sharpening the memory. It is also known to treat alopecia, eliminate toxins and help with insomnia. Brahmi can be used both externally as an oil to treat hair loss as well as consumed in the form of capsules or tea.
While adaptogens by definition are natural compounds that do not carry harmful side effects, caution should still be exercised in the case of pills and powdered extracts. Remember to refer to your physician before picking off-the-counter supplements.