You might be asking, “Adapt-a-what?” Adaptogens are a category of herbs that help you to balance your body’s stress response. In a good year, many women could use help with that. But in 2020? Sign practically everyone up! One of the most important benefits of adaptogen herbs is that they are generally considered to be safe – meaning that if you take them in normal doses, they’re not likely to cause any bad reactions.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can just pick up any adaptogen tincture, tea, or blend and expect it to solve all your problems. There are roughly two dozen adaptogens or probable adaptogens, and they can be taken individually or in combination. Often, combining them helps them to work even better. And finding the right herb or blend for YOU is important in order for you to actually notice any benefit.
So what exactly CAN they help with? Stress is an underlying cause of so many symptoms and conditions, including things like blood sugar issues, anxiety, poor sleep, PCOS, endometriosis, painful or irregular periods, cardiovascular issues, and so much more. Not only can these issues CAUSE stress, but stress can cause these issues. It’s like a vicious cycle. But adaptogens can help to pull you out of it.
While you might think of taking an antacid for heartburn or ibuprofen for a headache, adaptogens don’t quite work that way. They work in a nonspecific way, meaning they allow your body to resist a wide range of stressors including physiological, biological, and chemical insults. Put in simple terms – they help with stress coming from the inside, outside, and what we put into our bodies. They also have a normalizing effect (rather than an effect of simply quieting symptoms).
This is where it gets really fun to help match the best adaptogens for individual women’s needs. Check out the details below of five of my favorite individual adaptogen herbs.
Ashwagandha – This is my personal go-to for myself. It is great for type A personalities who need some help just calming down their mind. If you’re the type who can become wired but tired or tend to be anxious a lot, this may become your new best friend. Ashwagandha can help to improve sleep, memory, and learning and can relieve brain fog too. People who struggle with fibromyalgia or chronic muscle tension can also benefit as well as those who struggle with blood sugar regulation and also possibly those with hypothyroidism and iron deficiency anemia. This truly is a soothing herb with so many added benefits.
Schisandra – I work with so many women who struggle with hormone-related issues, and schisandra is usually on my short list for them because it helps with liver function (and hormone issues are a BIG sign of liver dysfunction). It helps to boost detoxification and is especially good at helping to get rid of hormone-disrupting toxins. This is also a great herb if you’re struggling with brain fog, memory, or focus problems, if you get tired out easily after being active, and if you struggle with anxiety. A great way to summarize schisandra is that it will help you to feel calm but alert and focused.
Eleuthero – If you have a crazy work schedule causing you to have odd sleep hours, this one is for you. Eleuthero also helps those who have dream disrupted sleep. If you find that you get sick often or struggle with a chronic infection like Epstein-Barr Virus, eleuthero can help to boost your immune system too. It helps with detoxification, brain fog, and general mental alertness. Eleuthero is considered a neutral adaptogen, meaning it isn’t stimulating or soothing, but it does tend to be best for those who still have their vital energy.
Holy Basil – You may have heard of Tulsi tea, which is the same as holy basil. This one is for you if you are looking for an overall gentle tonic for your mind, mood, and immunity. Interestingly, it can help you shift to a new mindset and make healthier lifestyle and mindset choices. This is a bonus on top of its benefits for chronic inflammation, blood sugar balance, and improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This is another neutral herb, so you can likely benefit whether you are completely wiped out or need some help calming down.
Rhodiola – This is a great herb for you if you struggle with mental fatigue, brain fog, irritability, or exercise a lot. It helps to improve mental and physical performance and stamina and aides in exercise recovery as well as conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia through its pain modulating effects. It also enhances fertility. Rhodiola should typically be avoided before bed as it is a very stimulating herb (except in high doses where it actually becomes sedating).
This is just a sampling of a few of my favorites. The key is to purchase from a reputable source. And don’t expect these herbs to work overnight. Adaptogens can take time to build up in your system to have a noticeable effect, and they are generally considered safe to take for 6+ months. However, adaptogens have not been studied for their safety during pregnancy, so it is generally recommended to avoid them during pregnancy.
Last but not least, quality is incredibly important. My favorite brands for tinctures are Herb Pharm and Herbalist & Alchemist (and I will highlight some of their blends in the future). My favorite brands for bulk loose herbs are Frontier Co-op, Starwest Botanicals, and Mountain Rose Herbs. Play around with what works best for you, and hopefully you’ll be handling the stress in your life with ease soon!
Denise Brusveen is a Certified Women's Herbal Educator and Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner and holds a Master of Science degree with a research emphasis in reproductive physiology. She is passionate about helping girls and women to become informed about holistic options to overcome health challenges related to their hormones.