Your ‘hero’ adap­to­gens

Women's Fitness (UK) - - Health -

Adap­to­gens en­hance the body’s abil­ity to cope with ex­ter­nal stresses such as tox­ins in the en­vi­ron­ment and in­ter­nal stresses such as anx­i­ety and in­som­nia

1Ash­wa­gandha (Witha­nia som­nifera) Ash­wa­gandha is one of the most widely used herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, the tra­di­tional herbal medicine of India. ‘Part of the night­shade fam­ily, ash­wa­gandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yel­low flow­ers that grows mostly in pre-mon­soon con­di­tions,’ ex­plains Anas­ta­sia. ‘The plant, roots, seeds, and leaves and fruit con­tain al­ka­loids, flaval­oids and steroidal lac­tones, as well as with­arin, which gives ash­wa­gandha the stress-re­liev­ing prop­er­ties that clas­sify it as an adap­to­gen.’ Known as a ‘tonic’ herb, it’s said to have an over­all re­ju­ve­nat­ing ef­fect – help­ing to pro­tect and sup­port the ner­vous sys­tem and immune sys­tem as well as im­prov­ing en­ergy. But what makes ash­wa­gandha stand out is its an­tianx­i­ety, calm­ing ef­fects. Whereas some other herbs – such as gin­sengs and rho­di­ola – can be stim­u­lat­ing, ash­wa­gandha can sup­port en­ergy with­out mak­ing us feel more wired.

The anti-stress ben­e­fits of ash­wa­gandha have been widely re­searched in hu­man and an­i­mal stud­ies. One 2012 study pub­lished in thein­dian Jour­nalof­psy­cho­log­i­calmedicine was car­ried out on 64 adults who were suf­fer­ing chronic stress. Half the par­tic­i­pants took two cap­sules of ash­wa­gandha for 60 days, and the other half took a placebo. Af­ter 60 days, those who took the ash­wa­gandha had much lower scores for per­ceived stress, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion than the placebo group. What’s more, their av­er­age cor­ti­sol level (a stress hor­mone) fell by 28 per cent, but dropped by only 8 per cent in the placebo group. Try it: Pukka Herbs’ Wholis­tic Ash­wa­gandha, £23.95 for 60 cap­sules, pukka­

2 Holy basil / Tulsi (Oci­mum sanc­tum)

Holy basil also has a long tra­di­tion of use in Ayurvedic medicine. In fact, it too is one of the most highly val­ued herbs in Ayurveda, and is known by var­i­ous names in­clud­ing ‘The In­com­pa­ra­ble One’ and ‘The Queen of Herbs’. ‘Holy basil is part of the mint fam­ily and is recog­nised as a pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dant with demon­strated an­tibac­te­rial, anti-in­flam­ma­tory and an­ti­fun­gal prop­er­ties,’ ex­plains Anas­ta­sia. When it comes to the most im­me­di­ate ef­fects of stress, holy basil has shown sim­i­lar ben­e­fits to ash­wa­gandha, with stud­ies prov­ing sim­i­lar re­sults (a placebo-con­trolled study on 150 peo­ple by re­searcher Ram Chan­dra Saxena in 2012 found holy basil to sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove en­ergy lev­els, mem­ory and sleep).

Holy basil may also have many other ben­e­fits for our health, too. These in­clude sup­port­ing the immune sys­tem, boost­ing mood, im­prov­ing mem­ory, pro­tect­ing against chem­i­cal tox­i­c­ity and ra­di­a­tion, and even pro­tect­ing the heart and liver. ‘It pro­motes pu­rity and light­ness in the body, too, cleans­ing the re­s­pi­ra­tory tract of tox­ins, and re­liev­ing di­ges­tive gas and bloat­ing,’ adds Anas­ta­sia. A true all-rounder!

So, for stress sup­port, when should you choose holy basil over ash­wa­gandha? Al­though they can have sim­i­lar ben­e­fits – and nei­ther are stim­u­lat­ing like other adap­to­gens can be – herbal tra­di­tion sug­gests that holy basil may be a bet­ter choice if you need help for mood or emo­tional well­be­ing (‘the blues’) or for mem­ory sup­port, as well as for over­all stress pro­tec­tion. Try it: Pukka Herbs’ Wholis­tic Holy Basil, £16.96 for 30 cap­sules, pukka­

3 Shatavari (As­para­gus race­mo­sus)

Also much revered in Ayurveda, shatavari is a favourite herb for women’s health. It’s con­sid­ered the main re­ju­ve­na­tive tonic for fe­male health and may have spe­cific ben­e­fits for fe­male hor­mone bal­ance and the re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem. ‘It con­tains phyto-es­tro­gens, the pre­cur­sors of es­tro­gen, so it helps to sup­port women at all stages of life,’ ex­plains Anas­ta­sia. Its tra­di­tional uses in­clude sup­port­ing fer­til­ity and li­bido, but also help­ing to bal­ance hor­mones through­out child­bear­ing age, and dur­ing and af­ter menopause. Shatavari is con­sid­ered to have gen­eral adap­to­genic ac­tiv­ity too, al­though it may have less wide-rang­ing ef­fects com­pared to ash­wa­gandha and holy basil.

Try it: Pukka Herbs’ Wholis­tic Shatavari, £16.96 for 30 cap­sules, pukka­

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