Herbal tea ceremony using adaptogens. What are adaptogens and how do they work in the body? Our blog will illuminate the wondrous healing potential which this class of amazing herbal and mushroom medicines have to offer us. Photography by Nathan Dumlao

What are adaptogens? And how do they work?

Adaptogens are a class of non-toxic plants and fungi which counteract the harm that physical, chemical and/ or biological stressors can cause the various systems within the body – including the endocrine, neurological and immune systems.
Stress is a hormonal response which is meant to manifest in short bursts, often referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This response dissipates as quickly as it comes, however the stress which we face in the modern era is an on-going effect which wreaks havoc on our overall well-being. With the use of these adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Ashwagandha, Pine Pollen and Eleuthero – which we will look at later in the blog – the body is able once more to reach a level of homeostasis.
Surprisingly this class of medicine was first looked into by Scientists in World War Two, where they wanted to treat soldiers and pilots to become more efficient – The Soviet Union even published military studies on Schisandra, which showed that when eaten it reduced thirst, hunger, exhaustion and improved one’s ability to see at night.
So how do they work?
In one word: balance.
The number one effect which Adaptogens have on the body is working directly on HPA Axis and the sympathoadrenal system.
The HPA Axis – Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal Axis – explores a direct and complex relationship of influence on the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands. These organs are to thank when it comes to stress response, the regulation of digestion, mood, emotions, hormones, the immune system and energy levels. While the sympathoadrenal system holds the connection between the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal medulla which facilitates a response to external stimuli.
Adaptogens essentially ‘hack’ into these systems when there is a signal of stress – the release of cortisol - thus allowing for the body to respond in a more efficient way. This is can be done in the various stages of stress: alarm, resistance and exhaustion.
The phase of resistance is really where the body is able to thrive best – it has a chemical response to the stress which strengthens the internal systems from the damage that exhaustion causes.
To put simply when the body comes into contact with the adaptogen, it allows for it to become more resilient to any stress, thus allowing homeostasis to be attained.
One of the truly remarkable traits of adaptogens is their ability to suit each individuals specific health needs. In the various studies which are being done world wide on how these allies can aid global health, they have shown an ability to assist cardiovascular health, in the treatment of neurological disorders, depression, accelerating the healing process, and targeting specific organ dysfunctions. Truly there seems to be very little that they cannot do and their benefits are countless.
And now, on to the herbs and mushrooms!
When it comes to this class of medicine there is a long list which one can choose from. These medicines all have three things in common:
1. Non-toxic and safe for the body.
2. Produces a non-specific result in the body – increases resistance to stress in a multitude of ways in different areas of life.
3. Has a normalising effect on the body – brings about balance and homeostasis
To name a few there is Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Astragalus, Goji Berries, He Shou Wu, Liquorice Root, Tulsi, Moringa, Maca, Mucuna, Shilajit, Chaga… the list goes on.
Here are five of our favourite adaptogens:
REISHI - Ganaderma Lucidum
Those of you who we have had the pleasure of meeting probably know how in love we are with this phenomenal medicine. With a medical recognition for over 4000 years, it has been documented in many ancient texts for it’s phenomenal effects on the human body. Traditionally it was used by Taoists in China to promote a more meditative mindset – creating calmness and allow one to attain long life. In traditional medicine it has been used to remove toxins, treat cancer, aid heart health, repair the liver, help joint inflammation and treat uclers. A modern understanding of this amazing fungi shows that it has a profound capability to promote vitality, relax the nervous system, and aid in combatting stress. It has also shown unprecedented boosting abilities to the immune system, thereby allowing to strengthen the body from cancers and other illnesses.
CORDYCEPS – Cordyceps Militaris
Say goodbye to your need for a caffeine kick with this amazing medicine – one of Cordyceps’ main claims to fame is its unmatched ability to increase energy and thereby combat fatigue. It contains a molecule which allows for energy to be delivered to the muscles, causing for better utilisation of oxygen during physical training and otherwise. It has a direct effect on sexual functioning as well as virility and stamina. For women who are menopausal / post-menopausal it aids balancing hormones once more. It additionally aids the immune system, has anti-tumor activity, is a powerful tonic for lungs, kidneys and heart, aids the endocrine system and is anti-bacterial.
SCHISANDRA BERRY – Schisandra Chinensis
Called the “Quintessence of Tonic Herbs” by Taoist masters, this radiant berry has been studied since antiquity for its ability to enhance overall well-being and vitality. Used to create the perfect foundation, all monks consume it for 100 days to initiate greater clarity, brighten the eyes and lay the foundation of the three treasures – Jing, Shen and Qi. Used for a variety of ailments including respiratory disease, asthma, insomnia, kidney health, diarrhoea, fatigue, and in aiding treatment Alzheimer’s and parkinsons disease. It also shows anti-aging qualities, being high in antioxidants, including vitamins C and E. One who consumes Schisandra was describes to radiate with health and overall well-being.
PINE POLLEN - Pinus Spp.
Who would have thought the humble Pine tree could create a nutrient dense medicine to promote growth, rejuvenation and healing? Many are surprised to learn that this tree has been used by many cultures throughout antiquity for its ability to treat the lungs, kidneys, liver, heart and spleen. Containing over 200 bio-active nutrients, vitamins and anti-oxidants it boosts immunity, lowers systemic inflammation and increases the body’s ability to help detoxify oxidative stress. Other noted uses are the treatment of depression, rejuvenating the endocrine system, cognitive decline and hormonal imbalance.
ELEUTHERO - Eleutherococcus senticosus
“I would rather take a handful of Eleuthero than a cartload of gold and jewels” – Lu Shih-Chen. Master Shih-Chen had the right idea when it comes to the power and true value of this root. Used in the Soviet Union in the 60’s to support workers productivity, strengthen the army, make champion athletes and even create stronger astronauts. It is used for many of these reasons still today, it strengthens tendons and the skeleton, aids endurance, boosts sexual function, is stress protective and boosts immunity. Not only is this medicine amazing for getting through day to day demands, it allows for one to explore the physical body and the countless trails that can be explored.
ASHWAGANDHA - Withania Somnifera
A prized Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha (which in Sanskrit translates to 'smell of the horse')  is best known in its abilities to aid the body in reducing stress overall, increasing physical energy and creating better balance throughout the body. Working directly with the HPA-axis and cortisol levels, it is able to directly interact with the amount of stress which is processed and registered within the body, therefore creating a reduction in overall stress and anxiety levels. It additionally has shown to improve athletic performance, aid in managing mental health and wellbeing, support hormone balance, regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, improve brain health and even aid in supporting healthy sleep cycles. 
These adaptogenic allies are here to aid us in a world which seems overwhelming at times - facilitating healing, balancing and revitalisation on the inside and out. 
And as always, remember in the world of herbal medicine there is no ‘one fits all’, so listen to your inner doctor, see what works for you and contact us if you have any questions
Sending blessings of RADIANT HEALTH
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Panossian, A. ans Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress – Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals, [online] 3(1), pp .188-224. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/.
Time. (n.d.). What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?. [online] Available at: https://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/ [Accessed 6 Mar. 2020].