The story goes that in the 1970s in a sealed lab in Siberia, the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Defense uncovered the powers of adaptogen herbs. The USSR was looking for a solution to their soldier’s frostbite, fatigue and illness but, what they uncovered were ancient plants that help the body’s immune system, decreases stress, boosts energy and reinvigorates the hair and skin. Notably, this is all done without any addictive qualities.
While it wasn’t long before the Russians began experimenting with doping and steroids instead, the legacy of their adaptogen research lives on.
Thanks to the likes of Goop, adapotgen is a buzzword in the holistic market. It’s the manna that keeps on giving. With promises like untethered joy, boundless energy and a clear and glowy complexion, these wonder herbs have people shelling out hundreds of pounds to feel good. The promise of a natural solution is keeping tills ringing and making LA herbalists Moon Juice cult leaders.
But, what are they and do they *actually *work?
Stress wreaks havoc on the body, it causes acne, comfort-eating, insomnia and all-number of undesired side effects At the most basic level adaptogens counter the negative effects of unregulated cortisol levels, which is our body’s stress hormone. While sometimes it’s good to feel panic, to get the blood pumping it’s the prolonged effects we need to be wary of. Though exercise can keep this in check, supplements like adaptogens have become the wellness industry’s favourite way of self-medicating.
‘Adaptogens are a group of plants that have adapted to survive in extreme weather conditions like minus 50 Degree temperatures and severe winds. This has meant that over time they have developed incredible powers’, explains Jessica Smith, the UK brand manager of Natura Siberica, a beauty line that uses the original research of Russian botanists Lazarev and Brekhram to create organic skincare. Though they have been said to slow down the physical signs of aging this magical ingredient has picked up the nickname ‘dopamine bean’ because of its ability to sooth the bodies anxiety and stress.
‘They work with the adrenal and endocrine gland system (which produces hormones like adrenaline when we’re stressed) by helping to neutralise its erratic reactions. They put our bodies into a calmer state, so it can handle situations better,’ says ingredients expert Joanne Evans. While some circumstances call for our body to go into fight or flight mode the majority of daily grievances, like commuting, early mornings and rainy weather, doesn’t require the extreme reactions that our bodies induce. It’s the regularity of these proteins and peptides flying around our nervous system that cause the feelings of chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, irritability and sleep problems. Evans adds, ‘When you’re feeling borderline PMT all the time, adaptogens reduce that level of stress. It helps create an overall calmer state’.
A study from 2009 echoed Evans, saying ‘based on their efficacy in clinical studies, adaptogens can be defined as a pharmacological group of herbal preparations that increase tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhance attention and mental endurance.’ By supplementing with adaptogens, we can balance out our chemical reactions to keep our emotional and mental levels steady.
Knowing which of these plants to spoon into tea, sprinkle over smoothies or spread over the skin is key to making the most of their powers. Knowing that some moisturise (American Ginseng, Codonopsis, Shatavari), some dry (Rhodiola, Schisandra), some calm (Schisandra, Ashwagandha, Reishi, Cordyceps) and some energise (Red Ginseng, White Asian Ginseng, Rhodiola) can key to maximising this wonder product.
The 10 Ingredients You Need To Look Out For:
Debrief adaptogens ingredients
When your hair is looking lacklustre it's time to break out this Ancient Greek remedy. Derived from sea buckthorn it improves hair condition, prevents it from falling out and guards against dandruff, dryness and brittleness.
Clinical research has found nature's 'chill pill' Rhodiola Rosea has anti-inflammatory and anti-depression benefits. Studies show that the Rhodiola Rosea SHR-5 improves attention, cognitive function and mental performance in chronic fatigue syndrome, hence why this has become so popular with cramming students.
Without a doubt, this was the USSR's favourite adaptogen. Why? It increases endurance and mental performance in patients with mild fatigue and weakness. The Soviets also found that it enhances physical performance and promotes endurance. Take this before your next gym sesh.
Next time you're feeling sneezy and flu-y reach for astragalus as this adaptogen helps fight the common cold. For centuries, it has been employed in Chinese medicine as it is rich in antioxidants, which protect the cells against oxidative damage. It also contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and can strengthen immune function and protect the liver. It's a winner.
Say 'Om' as Ashwagandha is commonly used in Ayurvedic healing as a powerful calming agent to naturally lower cortisol, reduce fatigue, balance thyroid hormones and regulate immune function.
If you're feeling zonked, it's worth noting American ginseng is said to boost mental performance, improve short-term memory and reaction time before tests.
AKA a bread of Siberian ginseng, Eleuthero has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to provide energy and vitality. A study has linked it to improved athletic performance, which means it's a wise pick if you're on a health kick
Feeling spotty? Reach for this Siberian plant. With cherry-like fruits, it's rich in vitamin E and C, natural antioxidants, minerals and essential oils, which are good for skin and hair. It's commonly found in masks, creams and toners because it's known to relieve the skin of irritations and inflammations. When used in shampoos and hair treatments it's to stimulate growth, relieves irritation and itchiness, nourishes and regenerate the scalp, improve hair structure and appearance. It's an all-round good egg.
As this Siberian bush can withstand the most extreme winters (thanks to its mix of essential oils, carbohydrates and fatty acids), it's been known to improves skin condition by restoring epidermis cells, protecting the skin from dehydration and stimulating blood circulation. Use this when you feel like your skin is sensitive and dull or if you're worried about premature ageing.
The Egyptians were big fans of liquorice root as it stimulates and balances the adrenal glands, increase energy and boost endurance. Plus, it's anti-inflammatory properties soothe gut issues and restore balance. However, it's very important to note that moderation is key here, as it contains a compound (glycyrrhizin) that causes high blood pressure.
9 Products Harnessing The Powers Of Adaptogens:
Natura Siberia, Black Cleansing Micellar Water, £12.99buy
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.