We are well-acquainted with the likes of vitamin D, iron and magnesium, but there’s a new group of supplements on the block – adaptogens.
Derived from herbs and roots, they are natural compounds said to have a range of health benefits.
These include reduced stress and less fatigue – and there is evidence that they could also help symptoms of diabetes and high cholesterol.
It is little wonder they have long been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and have gained a host celebrity fans, including Gwyneth Paltrow.
There are many different types, including ashwagandha, ginseng, reishi, licorice root, holy basil, rhodiola, maca and astragalus.
“In the days of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, when modern medicine was a thing of the future, people turned to wild plants and herbs – as medicine – during times of illness,” explained Jeraldine Curran, nutritionist (thefoodnutritionist.co.uk).
“Certain herbs were singled out for their unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to the specific needs of our bodies and these became known as adaptogens.
“Adaptogens are a unique group of herbs that help improve health by working with the body’s adrenal glands, our body’s stress response system, to help reduce stress levels along with helping to regulate most of our bodies processes.”
Indeed, reducing stress is one of the qualities adaptogens are best known for, along with boosted energy and cognitive function.
“Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands, all of which are involved in the stress response,” said Olga Hamilton, nutritionist for Evermore Health, who’s range of products include ginseng and maca.
“They work by ‘hacking’ the stress response in the body.
“Researchers have found they can have several effects on the body, including anti-depressive and anti-fatigue effects, and stimulation of the central nervous system.
“They also increase mental work capacity, enhance attention, and prevent stress and fatigue.”
Chronic stress can cause a number of other health problems, meaning that tackling it at it’s root can have numerous benefits.
“Constant stress can wreak havoc on our body, especially on our digestive system and our energy levels,” said Aleksandra Vicentijevic, a nutritionist at Pure Package.
“By minimising stress, they are also helping in strengthening our immunity and giving the body a natural boost of energy.
“Some studies suggest their link in helping improve blood sugar levels – beneficial in diabetes treatment and control – reducing inflammation and improving cholesterol levels.”
Just beware that you can have too much of a good thing.
“Depending on the source, high doses may cause sleep disturbances, excitement, irritability, headaches and dizziness,” warned Hamilton.
She also advised not taking liquorice root without first checking with a healthcare practitioner if you have borderline or elevated blood pressure.