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Plant power: everything you need to know about adaptogens

Feeling a little stressed? Adaptogens have the power to calm and settle when things are getting on top of you

Feeling overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world? You’re not alone! If, like most of us, you’re feeling stressed by life at the moment and noticing the effects not just in your body but also your skin, adaptogens could be the answer.

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are plant herbs that have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to reduce fatigue and support the body to resist all kinds of stressors; physical, emotional, chemical and biological.

Almost miraculously they adapt to what the body needs – hence their name – so instead of pushing the body in one direction or the other, they help to bring balance to body and mind and help you adapt to all the bumps in the road life throws at us.

What qualities must adaptogen plants and herbs have?

Not just any herb can be an adaptogen. Basically, it must not only regulate your response to stress but also be beneficial to your overall wellbeing, while being non-toxic in the long term.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens are believed to work by normalising the adrenal system and modulating the release of stress hormones. They are said to ‘hack’ the stress response in the body and are preventative and protective as well as curative.

They can calm a racing mind in the middle of the night, give us energy when we’re tired and clarity when everything around us is in turmoil.

What are their benefits?

Adaptogens have a long list of benefits including:

  • Improving our overall wellbeing and health
  • Increasing energy
  • Reducing the stress response
  • Normalising blood sugar levels
  • Reducing cortisol
  • Improving cholesterol ratios
  • Regulating hormones
  • Reducing inflammatory blood sugar levels

What types of adaptogens are there?

There are over 70 types of herbal plants that have been named as adaptogens – the ones you may have heard of and which are available in your local health store are: Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, astragalus, and reishi mushrooms.

They can be found in most health and wellness shops and come in tinctures (drops), powders, capsules and even teas. Find a method that’s enjoyable and easy to fit into your routine. Most can be taken any time of the day, but the more sleep-friendly ones, like ashwagandha, may be best taken later in the day.

Adaptogens in skincare

As we all know, stress and fatigue can play havoc with our skin causing breakouts, inflammation, dullness and ageing. Adaptogens have been said to help soothe irritation, give a glow to the skin, and help acne-prone and troublesome skin by balancing the adrenals.

In addition, adaptogens help to slow the appearance of ageing as they have antioxidant properties which may help delay the ageing process by preventing free radical damage to the skin. They are fairly easy to find in moisturisers, serums and masks. Some of the most popular adaptogens found in skincare formulations are:

  • Ashwagandha: stress reducing, antimicrobial, antioxidant and skin softening
  • Maca: helps to boost collagen production and manage hormones, which could improve acne breakouts
  • Reishi mushrooms: help to combat environmental stressors and calm inflammation
  • Rhodiola: this is said to support collagen and elastin production.

Most adaptogens take some time before they kick in so you will need to be patient. Ashwagandha, for example, takes four weeks to see the benefits. Most experts recommend taking them in small doses over the course of six to 12 weeks.

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