Drink up for a stress-free life

Adap­to­gens have long been used in tra­di­tional Eastern medicine to ease anx­i­ety. Sarah Mari­nos finds out how adding them to a morn­ing cuppa could help you find calm

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

From in­som­nia and in­flam­ma­tion to fa­tigue and fre­quent colds, the symp­toms of ev­ery­day stres­sors take their toll on both our phys­i­cal and emo­tional health. So could ‘adap­to­gens’, a com­pound found in var­i­ous herbs, re­ally help stop stress in its tracks?

While tra­di­tional Ayurvedic and Chi­nese medicine have har­nessed adap­to­gens for cen­turies, the rest of the world is fi­nally start­ing to em­brace their stress-bust­ing pow­ers.

“Mod­ern life­style brings so many more stres­sors,” Pro­fes­sor Marc Co­hen from the School of Health and Biomed­i­cal Sciences at RMIT Univer­sity, Mel­bourne, says.

“A diet high in sugar or salt, pol­lu­tants, al­ler­gens, poor-qual­ity sleep, in­creas­ing work hours – adap­to­gens help peo­ple cope with these kinds of stres­sors,” he says. “They don’t specif­i­cally treat dis­ease but help us cope with men­tal and phys­i­cal stress, hope­fully be­fore they cause dis­ease.”

The com­pounds have a calm­ing ef­fect on the pi­tu­itary and adrenal sys­tems, which are in­volved in the re­lease of the stress hor­mones cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line, and in­crease our body’s re­silience to the ef­fects of stress hor­mones, natur­opath Mim Beim says.

“In an ideal world, you’d try to re­duce or re­move the source of stress, but that’s not al­ways pos­si­ble, so you have to deal with it,” Beim says. “Adap­to­gens help your body adapt as best it can to stress­ful cir­cum­stances.”

Here are some of the most recog­nised, which you can en­joy as a tea or add to your morn­ing smoothie.


Her­bal licorice has a po­tent root that con­tains gly­cyrrhizic acid, shown in stud­ies to in­hibit the body’s break­down of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol. “It spares the adrenal glands, so it’s good for re­duc­ing ef­fects of longterm stress,” Beim says. Make your own tea by adding 1 tsp licorice root to boiled wa­ter and leav­ing to steep for five min­utes. Licorice root costs about $16 for 200g from health stores.


Gin­seng is one of the most widely used heal­ing herbs, and is known for its raft of stress-bust­ing qual­i­ties, from low­er­ing blood sugar lev­els to im­prov­ing mood. “Gin­seng helps ease stress by restor­ing vi­tal­ity but it’s best not taken at night as it can be stim­u­lat­ing,” Beim says. Buy it as a tea or make one by steep­ing 1 tsp dried root in boiled wa­ter for 5 min­utes (add honey to taste). The root costs about $42 for 60g from health stores.


Also known as tulsi, this is one of the most revered plants in In­dia and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thou­sands of years to man­age the phys­i­cal ef­fects of stress. “It’s con­sid­ered the mother of all herbs in Ayurvedic medicine and most house­holds have a plant they wor­ship and eat a cou­ple of leaves from ev­ery day,” Co­hen says. “It re­laxes and calms the mind and helps main­tain en­ergy lev­els.” Buy it as a tea or make your own by steep­ing 2-3 tsp dried leaves for a few min­utes in boiled wa­ter (add honey for taste). It tastes stronger than reg­u­lar basil, so di­lute it by adding a few leaves to your green juice. The dried herb costs about $5 for 15g from on­line health stores.


The com­pound cur­cumin in turmeric makes it an ef­fec­tive anti-in­flam­ma­tory, plus it’s also known to en­hance gut health by in­creas­ing good bac­te­ria and re­duc­ing the bad, which boosts the im­mune sys­tem, Co­hen says. Make your own turmeric latte by whisk­ing 1 tsp ground turmeric with 1 cup milk,

1/2 tsp honey and a few drops of vanilla ex­tract over low heat. Ground turmeric costs about $1.60 for 30g at su­per­mar­kets.


The com­pound gin­gerol in this root is known for its an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant prop­er­ties. Stud­ies sug­gest it can help re­duce the ef­fects of stress on the body, in­clud­ing that caused by car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, can­cers and di­a­betes. Add grated gin­ger or pow­der to juices, to tea with honey and lemon, or make ‘golden milk’: “This In­dian rem­edy is made of ghee, milk or co­conut oil, and turmeric, gin­ger, black pep­per and cin­na­mon,” Co­hen says. Fresh gin­ger costs about $3 per 100g at su­per­mar­kets.


It’s said the Vik­ings used this to in­crease their strength in bat­tle, and stud­ies show it helps the body adapt to stress and boosts mood. “It’s good for im­prov­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion, too,” Beim says. Buy it as a tea or add the pow­der to juices or smooth­ies. The pow­der costs about $18 for 50g from health stores.


The an­tiox­i­dant se­le­nium in this tra­di­tional Chi­nese herb stim­u­lates the im­mune sys­tem, and it’s used in Chi­nese medicine to ease ail­ments such as colds and re­s­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions. “It’s also good for stress-caused fa­tigue,” Beim says. Buy it as a tea, or steep 1 tbs dried root in boiled wa­ter for a few min­utes (add honey to taste). The root costs about $10 per 100g from health stores.


This stal­wart of Chi­nese medicine has a high con­tent of triter­pene, a com­pound that has an an­tiox­i­dant ef­fect and helps to strengthen a body that’s un­der stress due to chronic in­fec­tion and a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem, Beim says. Buy it as a tea, or add the pow­der to juices or smooth­ies. The pow­der costs about $45 per 100g from health stores.


Pre­fer your adap­to­gens in tablet form? As­tra­galus, gin­seng, turmeric, reishi and rhodiola are widely avail­able as sup­ple­ments. In the case of ash­wa­gandha, another pow­er­ful adap­to­gen, a pill may be a bet­ter op­tion – its name means ‘smell of a horse’ due to the root’s strong scent, but Ayurvedic medicine claims it’s worth swal­low­ing down. “It boosts your body’s abil­ity to deal with a bout of stress,” Co­hen says. Or you could make like a Hol­ly­wood celeb and brave the taste – Gwyneth Pal­trow adds the pow­der to her morn­ing smoothie. You can buy 60 pills for about $21 from health stores, or the pow­der costs about $12 for 100g.


Most adap­to­gens are safe to take, but some can in­ter­fere with an­tide­pres­sants and other med­i­ca­tion. They can also pose a risk to breast­feed­ing and preg­nant women and peo­ple with high blood pres­sure or blood-clot­ting dis­or­ders, so check with your prac­ti­tioner first.

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