Stress test

Liz Con­nor looks at the po­tent power of heal­ing herbs

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - This Week -

STRESS is all around us. If we aren’t com­plain­ing about our fraz­zled men­tal state to our friends and col­leagues, we’re book­ing into emer­gency yoga classes, throw­ing back green smooth­ies and med­i­tat­ing on our com­mutes to help keep the beast in check.

Herbal­ists have long touted adap­to­gens like ash­wa­gandha, gin­seng, liquorice root, holy basil and cordy­ceps as a way to bol­ster the adrenal sys­tem, which is re­spon­si­ble for re­leas­ing a range of hor­mones into the body — in­clud­ing cor­ti­sol

“Adap­to­gens usu­ally grow in very stress­ful en­vi­ron­ments and have had to ‘adapt’ in or­der to flour­ish,” says Naomi Buff, the health and well­ness guru be­hind su­per­food brand Naomi’s Kitchen ( “Maca, for ex­am­ple, grows at a high al­ti­tude, whereas rho­di­ola is found in harsh, moun­tain­ous ter­rains.

“Their prop­er­ties of greater re­silience and strength are trans­ferred to us when we con­sume these nu­tri­ent-rich herbs and roots, such as help­ing our bod­ies adapt to stress, whether it be phys­i­cal, men­tal, emo­tional or en­vi­ron­men­tal.”

Adap­to­gens come in all shapes and sizes and prom­ise a host of dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits — so how do you know which one is for you? Naomi says gin­seng is a uni­ver­sal win­ner: a blan­ket fixer adap­to­gen that can lift the spir­its and ward off colds and flu. Ash­waghanda, mean­while, is the go-to for eas­ing anx­i­ety (ap­par­ently it can sup­press stim­u­la­tory hor­mones when you’re strung out and stressed). Schisan­dra is a skin-nour­ish­ing woody vine that’s great in win­ter; it can brighten the most lack­lus­tre of com­plex­ions, with, ac­cord­ing to some fans, the added ben­e­fit of help­ing stave off sea­sonal af­fec­tive disor­der.

There’s still lim­ited sci­en­tific ev­i­dence around adap­to­gens and these po­tent plants might not be suitable for ev­ery­one.

“There are some groups of peo­ple who would be con­sid­ered un­suit­able for us­ing the adap­to­gens due to their stim­u­lant ef­fects on the body, but also if they are tak­ing any med­i­ca­tions,” warns Dr Sarah Brewer, a GP and med­i­cal nu­tri­tion­ist.

If you have high blood pres­sure or suf­fer from heart prob­lems or mi­graines, she sug­gests re­mov­ing gin­seng from your shop­ping list. Those prone to in­som­nia might also find the stim­u­lant ef­fect keeps them awake at night, She also ad­vises chil­dren and women who are preg­nant or breast­feed­ing to steer clear al­to­gether.

Be­fore tak­ing any kind of adap­to­gen, Dr Brewer sug­gests you speak with your GP to check that they’re suitable for your own med­i­cal needs.

Do we ac­tu­ally need adap­to­gens as part of our daily rou­tine?

“Hav­ing a well-bal­anced and healthy diet, ac­com­pa­nied with ex­er­cise, would be ideal be­fore sup­ple­ment­ing, how­ever some­times the ther­a­peu­tic lev­els which may be rec­om­mended to help with ail­ments such as stress, tired­ness and fa­tigue may not al­ways be reached with diet alone, and ex­tra pre­cau­tions may be needed,” says Han­nah Mof­fitt, a nu­tri­tion­ist at Hol­land & Bar­rett.

“I would never tell some­one they need to take adap­to­gens,” says Naomi, “but I cer­tainly be­lieve in their nat­u­ral heal­ing abil­i­ties and have ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand how ben­e­fi­cial they [can be] for health. I rec­om­mend them to my clients if they are look­ing for a more holis­tic and nat­u­ral way to heal.”

ADAP­TO­GEN SUR­VIVAL: Herbs like liquorice root bol­ster the adrenal sys­tem.

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