The health and beauty world can be a daunting one to wade through, but to cut through all the noise, we thought we'd start with the A's in the alphabet and cast the spotlight on adaptogens. We turned to Joy McCarthy, holistic nutritionist CNP and founder of Joyous Health to get the basics on what she calls "Mother Nature's little helpers" adaptogenic herbs, otherwise known as adaptogens.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of your adrenal system, the system in charge of managing the body's hormonal response to stress. They have been known to help strengthen the body's response to stress and improve its ability to cope with anxiety and fatigue. Where most of us would typically turn to sugar or caffeine to light a fire under us or get through a challenging situation, adaptogens can have similar effects but without a jolt or crash. The name "adaptogen" comes from their ability to "adapt" their function to a body's specific needs. While the buzzword might be new on the scene, adaptogens have been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for their unique abilities.
How can our body benefit?
"Adaptogenic herbs or foods can help to normalize processes that can become imbalanced from stress," says McCarthy. "Some adaptogens may nourish glands in the body that take a beating when undergoing stress (such as the thyroid or pituitary glands), and others have been found to be rich in antioxidants, therefore protecting the body from cellular damage." Even if you eat well and exercise, McCarthy is quick to point out that "sometimes our bodies need a little extra TLC along the way when combating the negative effects of stress."
The effects of stress on our skin
We all know that stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, but rarely do we consider the effects it can have on our skin. The skin is the body's largest organ and is an expression of what is happening inside, therefore incorporating adaptogens into our routine to combat stress may result in healthier, more youthful skin. McCarthy goes on to further highlight the negative impact stress can have on our beauty saying: "Stress is terrible for beauty because it ages our skin both through blood sugar imbalance which leads to sugar cravings and poor diet."
How to use them
As with any herbs, even though they are ingredients found in nature, it is always important to exercise caution and consult your doctor before embarking into the world of adaptogens and incorporating them into your routine. "Easy ways to get them into your diet are making an infusion (tea) or adding them in powder form to a smoothie," says McCarthy. Adaptogens are available individually or in combination formulas.
We've rounded up some of the best to help get your started, including some of McCarthy's favourites.
Maca has gained a reputation for its ability to balance hormones. It is an endocrine adaptogen, meaning it contains the nutrients necessary to support normal hormone production. It has been shown to be helpful in combating adrenal fatigue and reducing stress hormones. Vega Maca ($40) is organic and made using the maca root traditionally grown in the Andean highlands in partnership with Peruvian farmers.