Earlier this year in March, Spoonshot — an AI–Food & Beverage Innovation Intelligence Platform — had presented a paper titled "The Growing Role of Adaptogens in Tackling Stress" at the Future Food-Tech. The paper, presented by the company’s CEO and co-founder Kishan Vasani, stated that the past year had seen a 30% rise in stress and anxiety levels as a result of the pandemic and the economic recession.
Good news is that this increase in stress and anxiety has been driving heightened awareness of adaptogens or adaptogenic substances among people.
In fact, so much is the belief in the potential for adaptogens to help heal anxiety, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, had made a large financial investment late last year into the rapidly growing market. During an interview discussing her daily supplements routine, she had confessed, "Sometimes, ashwagandha makes it into the mix too!" She also went on to share adaptogenic latte blends with American TV show host, actress and author Oprah Winfrey. Oprah apparently said she wished she’d discovered adaptogenic blends sooner so she could’ve have added them to her infamous list of "favourite things."
But Meghan is not alone in showering praise for adaptogenic herbs. Actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, actress Kate Hudson, spiritual author Deepak Chopra and Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez are at the forefront of sharing the benefits of these mysterious substances.
So, what are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plant-based compounds derived from herbs and roots, which modulate the body’s stress responses, promote healthy immune function and stimulate energy. Even products — including teas, tinctures, edible powders and capsules — that use adaptogenic substances are believed to help in dealing with stress.
Aman Puri, who’s the founder of Steadfast Nutrition, believes that today’s hyperactive life has revived their importance of adaptogen. "They are characterised such that they can resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. They are meant to bring us to the middle from the highs and lows of today’s dithery life," he articulates.
Adaptogen versus herbs
According to David Hoffman’s book Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practise of Herbal Medicine, an adaptogen is an herb that increases resistance and resilience to stress. But what differentiates them from other herbs is they work in a non-specific way — they don’t only target one system or symptom, but also enable the body in addressing environmental or physical stressors by working with stress-regulating functions in the body.
Ironically, though adaptogens are trending only now, they date back to Indian Ayurveda medicine. Karishma Shah, health nutritionist and holistic wellness coach, also reminds us that adaptogens are well known and utilised in holistic wellness. "Their properties are harnessed for benefits. Today, western medicine has been adapting to this new culture of incorporating adaptogens into their daily lifestyle to cope up with their busy and hectic schedules, optimise overall wellbeing and improve mental health," adds Karishma. "They are a diverse group of herbs that help the body respond better to stress, lowering many impacts of stress."
Soumya B Hegde, nutritionist and fitness expert, is clear that now that we know when we have to deal with stress, adaptogens should be our solution. "Adaptogens are good for physical, mental well-being, improving immunity and relieving depression and anxiety. They act as wellness medicine," she reiterates.
Herbs for strength, stamina and stress relief
There are 21 herbs classified as adaptogens or possible adaptogens, which include ashwagandha, rhodiola, astragalus, reishi, tulsi (holy basil), licorice and panax (Korean) ginseng. "These primitive herbs are a one-stop solution to many modern-world health problems like hormone imbalance, anxiety, acute stress & weak immune health," says Aman Puri, founder of Steadfast Nutrition.
According to the Indian Journal of Psychology Medicine, patients who took a high level of ashwagandha for 45 days were more likely to cope with stress more efficiently than those who took a placebo.
According to Karishma Shah, health nutritionist and holistic wellness coach, this herb works to restore balance and strengthen the functioning of the body. "It does so by helping us to adapt to the impact of stress. Ashwagandha is relaxing and calming, facilitates balance throughout the body and helps relax the nervous system. It is popularly used in teas and as a supplement," adds Karishma.
This medicinal adaptogenic mushroom helps in balancing one’s mood, supporting concentration, relieving anxiety and preventing infections. Reishi mushroom coffee is a new trend that people in the west are adapting to. It can also be used in soups and teas, and as a dietary supplement.
Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil has other properties. For instance, it is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, digestive and anti-bacterial. It can be used in teas, infusions and oriental cuisines or can be eaten as itself. This adaptogenic herb supports the immune system.
Also known as queen of herbs in ayurveda, this herb is popularly used as female reproductive tonic. According to Karishma, it is excellent for lactating mothers too for coping up with physical and mental stress postpartum. "Shatavari is also used to combat indigestion, fever, heartburn and gastric ulcers. It can be taken in powder, tincture and tablet forms," she adds.
Also known as Gotu kola in Sanskrit and in Ayurveda, Brahmi nourishes the mind and supports the brain and the nervous system. It also helps the body in coping with stress. Brahmi can be incorporated as juice, powder or capsules.