Adaptogens Explained ~ Interview with Dr. Axe
Updated: May 27, 2020
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Recently, I've received a lot of questions regarding adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms. With claims like reduced stress, better sleep and decreased anxiety, it's definitely an enticing idea! I personally have used ashwagandha to help with my anxiety and saw benefits when my anxiety was at it's worse.
I decided to bring these questions to the adaptogen expert, Dr. Axe. You may know him as the co-creator of Ancient Nutrition and alllll those yum collagen products (like THIS Beauty Mocha Smoothie I made with his new cold-brew collagen!!). He's also a Chiropractor with an extensive background in adaptogens.
I had the opportunity to pick his brain about everything adaptogens so that I can bring this info to YOU! Dr. Axe shares what they are, how to use them, their history and more!
One interesting point he brings up regarding adaptogens is that they are great to use with your current wellness regimen, but you shouldn't rely on them. This is something I teach to my clients and within my Programs as well.
People often want to be given the one thing that will solve all their problems - whether it be a supplement, stretch, exercise or prescription. The truth of the matter is that REAL wellness - the type of health where you have a clear complexion, high energy levels, no illness, no bloating and feel GOOD - comes from a combination of various techniques that are tailored to your specific needs.
Using adaptogens is one great and natural piece of the puzzle in achieving your ultimate wellness dreams, but they aren't your silver bullet. I personally use Dr. Axe's essential oils like holy basil, lavender and lemon grass to help decrease my anxiety and balance my hormones. It's a great tool that I use in addition to Intermittent Fasting, proper nutrient timing, mold-free coffee, cortisol reducing techniques, balancing my blood glucose levels and much more.
Now time for the goods... EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ADAPTOGENS!!!
What does "adaptogenic" even mean?
Some plants and substances have adaptogenic effects, which generally means that they can boost our resistance to stress and our ability to adapt to the physiologic effects of stress. Basically, adaptogens help to protect our bodies and our health by their adaptive nature.
How do adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms work?
Think about how our ancestors dealt with stressful, life-threatening situations. If they came into contact with a wild animal, for instance, in order to survive, the body naturally goes into a “fight or flight” response. When this happens, your sympathetic nervous system works harder and cortisol levels increase. Although the stressors and triggers have changed over time, the natural body response is the same. When we are feeling stressed at home, at work, while driving, with the kids – our cortisol levels can remain high and stay that way, which can have negative effects over time.
Adaptogenic herbs and beneficial mushrooms help to balance your cortisol levels naturally and help to support a healthy response to stress. By doing that, they can also boost energy levels, improve endurance and support a healthy immune system.†
There have been hundreds of articles and Instagram posts about adaptogens... but do they live up to the hype?
Based on my own personal experiences, adaptogens absolutely live up to the recent hype. Really, adaptogens have been used in the Ayurvedic tradition and traditional Chinese herbalism for thousands of years. It may be a new concept to modern Western societies, but plants and mushrooms have a long history of beneficial use. In our society today, over 80 percent of people are struggling with some type of fatigue - they lack energy and motivation, and they experience symptoms of brain fog. For many of my patients in the past when I ran my clinic, this is an issue. Chronic stress is taxing and can lead to other issues if it's not addressed appropriately through a healthy diet and lifestyle.
For my own clients who are feeling the effects of stress, I often recommend a formula that’s made with adaptogens like ashwagandha. For myself and my wife, Chelsea, we love using holy basil essential oil, which helps to support a healthy response to stress, supports a healthy immune system and supports healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range.†. We like to rub 2-3 drops of holy basil oil into the back of our necks when we are feeling the effects of emotional or physical stress.
But it’s also important to take other measures to reduce your stress levels. I don’t recommend dealing with stress by relying on adaptogens alone. Instead, in addition to a healthy diet, combine lifestyle tweaks to include adaptogen supplements, teas or essential oils with natural stress relievers, as well as outdoor walks, soothing baths and time away from work.
Can you have too many adaptogens in your diet?
I think the biggest issue with relying on adaptogens is that people tend to forget about considering why they need to fight the damage of stress in the first place. If you are dealing with chronic stress, you need to work on reducing stress levels naturally, not necessarily by taking a supplement, but by reworking your schedule or lifestyle to make that happen.
Adaptogenic herbs, traditionally, were used in tonics to contribute to the body’s overall well- being, along with healthy lifestyle and diet habits. If you are using adaptogenic herbs to help balance cortisol and DHEA levels, they are generally safe for consumption, but I do recommend reading the labels of any product carefully for proper dosage and speaking to your doctor before starting any new supplement.† Some supplements may conflict with certain medications, so that’s something to ask your doctor about too.
How do you know which adaptogens are right for you?
There are some warning signs to look out for that may indicate issues that are caused by chronic stress. Dark circles under your eyes, feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep, sugar cravings, lack of motivation and mood changes are signs that stress may be affecting your body’s balance and function.
Rhodiola can be helpful for athletes who are looking to improve their endurance during those long, strenuous workouts. Ashwagandha is my go-to adaptogen herb for balancing c