Cold season is upon us. Unfortunately I do not have a good relationship with it. I've certainly had my fair share of cold viruses over the years but this past year has been especially bad as my son started pre-school. The stuff he brought home deserved some sort of trophy..."shittiest of shit cold viruses award" because that's how last year was. Months upon months of nothing but sickness. Sleepless nights and misery plagued our home.
Prior having babies and breastfeeding, which spanned over a 5 year period, I hardly ever got sick. Why? I took adaptogens consistently.
I first learned about adaptogens in an unlikely place. Before working in my current job I had the pleasure of being a recruiter and loved it. Kidding...it was horrible. Talking to people on the phone all day was definitely not my dream job. But the way I heard about adaptogens was during a routine recruiting call. Because I hardly ever cared to talk actual business, I usually steered the conversation into more interesting directions. So I learned this particular man hadn't been sick in 26 years and attributed it all to Astragalus. You know damn well I was at the health food store as soon as my lunch break arrived, Astragalus in hand.
Most recently my experience with adaptogens has been with Ashwaganda. I started taking this several months after my daughter was born, while I was in the thick of postpartum hell. More on this another time, but it helped to level out my thyroid which went a haywire after having her.
What are adaptogens?
As the name suggests, adaptogens help the body adapt to an array of stressful situations. Chronic stress can tax the body and weaken the immune system making us less likely to fight off infections. The notable thing about adaptogens is that they work incredibly well with the body without significant side effects. So let's take a look at some of these:
Astragalus - has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It's been used to ward of stress - both mental and physical. Since it acts as an anti-infalammatory agent, it helps to ward off a whole host of modern day diseases that are often attributed to chronic inflammation. It also significantly boosts the immune system.
Ashwaganda - When researching natural ways of getting hormones in check, balancing thyroid function naturally and reducing anxiety, this herb came up time and time again. After weeks of research, I finally decided to try it. "Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. It is supplemented primarily for its ability to prevent anxiety. Ashwagandha’s anti-anxiety effect is even synergistic with alcohol. It also shows promise for relieving insomnia and stress-induced depression. Ashwagandha can significantly reduce cortisol concentrations and the immunosuppressive effect of stress." That right there pretty much sealed the deal for me as I struggled with some pretty appalling postpartum depression/anxiety.
Eleuthero - This was an herb I took for years in conjunction with Astragalus. Another name for Eulethero is Siberian Ginseng. I used it as a natural energy booster. This is another traditional herb used in Chinese medicine that's been around for thousands of years. The first reference in recent times was when Russian Athletes used Eulethero to increase stamina and improve performance.
Ginseng - You've most likely heard about ginseng and may have even taken some yourself. Ginseng is well known for increasing mental clarity, boosting immune system, reducing stress, diminishing menstrual symptoms, increasing metabolism, aiding with weight loss and also increasing sex drive in both men and women. I know you've stopped reading and are running out the door to get this...you're welcome.
Rhodiola Rosea - Next to ginseng, this herbs takes the #2 spot in popularity. It's used as a physical and mental anti-fatigue agent. Several clinical studies have looked at this adaptogen. One study that looked at stressed induced fatigue concluded that: "A statistically significant improvement in these tests was observed in the treatment group (RRE) during the first two weeks period. No side-effects were reported for either treatment noted. These results suggest that RRE can reduce general fatigue under certain stressful conditions." - you can read the whole abstract for additional information.
Milk Thistle - this herb also dates back to ancient times and is primarily used for liver disease, kidney and bladder issues. Some early lab studies suggest that Milk Thistle may also: stop cancer cells from dividing and reproducing, shorten the lifespan of cancer cells, reduce blood supply to tumors.
Holy Basil or Tulsi - This is a highly regarded herb in Ayurvedic Medicine. Some of the considerable benefits of Holy Basil are for reducing anxiety, hypothyroidism, acne and blood sugar regulation, which makes it especially important for those suffering from Diabetes. This placebo controlled study suggests that Holy Basil possess cognition enhancing properties as well.
Licorice Root - Another adaptogen found in traditional Chinese medicine that's held its ground over the millennia. Its powerful anti-inflmmatory, anti-viral, liver protective effects as well as mild laxative effects, have been studied time and again. However, one study suggests that overuse can lead to complications such as "unexplained hypokalemia and muscle weakness."
Maca - This adaptogen is considered one of the world's super foods. It's rich in nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, calcium and zinc. It also contains numerous amino acids. Maca's benefits include balancing hormones and improving sexual function in both men and women. It may also help alleviate symptoms of menopause especially depression and anxiety related to it. "Preliminary findings show that Lepidium meyenii (Maca) (3.5 g/d) reduces psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowers measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity." Maca is also relied upon by athletes to increase stamina and performance. It's also shown to improve learning and memory.
Word of caution
While most of these adaptogenic herbs are perfectly safe to use, it's always recommended that you do your own research as some may interact with certain medications. Most GPs will have no idea what you're talking about if you mention adaptogens, though some may pleasantly surprise you. So please be sure to check if taking them is right for you. (I sound like a drug ad)
When it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding, caution is recommended and again do your research.