Boosted by the stress and exhaustion brought about by COVID, adaptogens are becoming a rising star in the natural health sector, with inventive delivery methods coming to market to facilitate their integration into everyday life. Jane Wolfe finds out more
Adaptogens have been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, but the precise term was coined relatively recently, by Russian toxicologist Nikolai Lazarev in 1958 to describe naturally occurring substances that help the body adapt to stress responses.
“They tend to be mostly found in the plant world and aim to prompt normal cellular function when faced with stress,” explains Dr Michael Barnish, head of genetics and nutrition at REVIV Global Ltd. “This can take the form of physical or mental stress, as well as cellular stresses due to poor nutritional intake, chemical/toxin exposure and even lack of sleep.
“Adaptogens specifically work at this cellular level, helping to stabilize a stress response with involvement of the adrenal glands and the hormonal centres in the brain. They can make the cell more resilient and resistant to the damage caused by the stress response, decreasing the cell’s sensitivity to it, minimizing the potential negative impact.”
Research has noted over 70 different plants with adaptogenic properties, including schisandra, chaga, Rhodiola rosea, reishi, Siberian ginseng, astralagus, brahmi, lion’s mane, turmeric – the list goes on, which is just as well since stress and energy solutions are rating highly on consumers’ shopping lists since COVID made its appearance.
Barnish’s top adaptogen picks include: maca, an antioxidant plant which can improve physical performance and libido; ashwagandha, linked to improved physical endurance and testosterone levels, it has potent antioxidant effects, aiding cellular detoxification; holy basil (tulsi) – with anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, this can also improve memory and concentration; cordyceps – in animal studies this has improved BDNF, an important growth factor in the brain, and shown potential improvement in depressive symptoms and stress markers; and liquorice root, which supports immunity by protecting the thymus gland from being damaged by the stress hormone cortisol.
Adaptogens specifically work
at this cellular level, helping to stabilize a stress response
The pandemic has done two things to boost demand for adaptogens, Barnish believes: “First, it has shifted a movement away from conventional health services that has led to people researching and acting themselves … I also think many more people have put health
to the forefront of their priorities. This combination has increased overall awareness and use of adaptogenic foods and supplements. For the first time I am seeing patients often taking one or two of these already, something that wasn’t common practice pre-pandemic.”
However, he adds that he would like to see more research to fill the current gaps in evidence for adaptogens for improved clinical outcomes as this would lead to even greater awareness among the public. He also thinks that ‘getting clever’ with novel delivery methods will drive the sector. “I do believe this is what consumers want, they want convenience as well as health … I think the easier these things are incorporated into daily life, the better chance of continuing the practice.”
A functional brew
One company getting clever is The Fungtional Brew Company, which has produced the first adaptogenic alcohol-free, vegan beer using functional mushrooms.
Founder Zoey Henderson explains how Fungtn was born: “I wanted to prove that a banging craft beer could be made without alcohol and animal derivates, creating a more mindful option for conscious consumers … I believe that most of the solutions to our problems lie in nature and some of that ancient wisdom is slowly coming back into the mainstream. Adaptogens contain powerful compounds that can help balance and adapt with our bodies to help combat these modern stresses. I wanted to create a drink that could be part of our everyday ceremony and help put some good back into our bodies.”
Henderson discovered the benefits of mushrooms about six years ago and after researching their uses and benefits – ‘I found reishi particularly useful in treating my allergies and lion’s mane has done wonders for my focus’ – decided that beer was the perfect vessel to slip adaptogenic fungi into daily routines. “Concentrated extracts are highly soluble and bioavailable so they work perfectly in drinks. They have earthy, nutty, bitter profiles that pair perfectly in brewed drinks, especially beer!”
I believe that most of the solutions to our problems lie in nature and some of that ancient wisdom is slowly coming back into the mainstream
The brewery currently uses reishi, lion’s mane and chaga in its brews. “Their complex molecules, notably their high levels of beta-glucans, have been shown in studies to support the immune system, working synergistically to help synthesize compounds we already produce,” says Henderson. “An example of this is nerve growth factor. Essential for cognitive and neuronal health, it is stimulated by the erinacines and hericenones found in the lion’s mane mushroom. Repeated studies … have shown positive antidepressant and hormone-regulating effects.
“Chaga is full of antioxidants such a triterpenes, polyphenols and superoxide dismutase. The concentration of antioxidants, as well as the diverse types of antioxidants, makes chaga a great natural support in overall health. Reishi, one of the most revered medicinal mushrooms, was referred to as the mushroom of immortality in ancient Eastern texts. It is a natural antihistamine and also naturally high in antioxidant compounds which contribute to its anti-ageing properties.”
Henderson believes COVID has encouraged people to look at their lifestyle choices and how to ensure their immunity says in ‘tip top condition’ by turning back to nature for gentler ways to support optimal health. “Adaptogens come up time and time again as important aids in our survival tool kit,” she stresses. “Their non-toxic effects, ability to help keep the body in a natural state of balance and their bioavailability makes adaptogenic supplements and compounds easy to integrate into health routines.
“The future of fungi is really exciting. Mushrooms and mycelium are coming back into the light. The research being done on medicinal mushrooms, their adaptogenic properties and healing effects is a really exciting space. With so many medicines coming from fungal sources we are just scraping the surface on how fungi can help support a healthier future.”
The company is planning to expand its offer, having earmarked more mushroom varieties to use in new beers and brews, including a stout and cider.
Another route for convenient consumption is via a range of coffees incorporating adaptogenic mushrooms. Superfoodies’ organic Mushroom Coffees come in Relax (reishi, lion’s mane), Achieve (chaga, cordyceps) and Focus (chaga, lion’s mane); Vivo’s Magic Ground Coffee combines organic Fairtrade coffee with lion’s mane; Mushrooms 4 Life’s offer includes Organic Chaga Turmeric Latte Mix and Organic Reishi Cacao Latte Mix; and SuperU’s Ground Shroom Coffee pairs sustainably sourced organic Arabica coffee with chaga, lion’s mane and cordyceps for an energy-boosting blend.
In 2020, London Nootropics launched a three-strong line of all-natural Adaptogenic Coffees which use medicinal mushrooms alongside other adaptogenic ingredients. Grind blends lion’s mane mushroom and rhodiola to help with motivation, mental clarity and focus; Mojo combines cordyceps and Siberian ginseng for physical endurance, strength and vitality; and Zen incorporates CBD and ashwagandha for a balancing and calming blend. The brand is also developing two adaptogenic cacao blends.
“Our vision is to make functional plants, mushrooms and other natural substances easily accessible, convenient and delicious, allowing more people to benefit from their cognitive-enhancing properties in their daily lives,” explains brand co-founder Zain Peer. “Lots of people who are sensitive to caffeine and experience jitters/anxiety/crash from regular coffee report they have no side effects from our blends, allowing them to enjoy coffee again.”
Our vision is to make functional plants, mushrooms and other natural substances easily accessible, convenient and delicious
“There are multiple benefits to adaptogens and we call out the most relevant ones for each blend’s purpose,” adds Peer. “For example, the cordyceps mushroom in Mojo is known to increase aerobic capacity and oxygen flow to your muscles and brain, giving you a natural boost. There are loads of other benefits too, they are immune-boosting, and a study last year concluded they can help your body adapt to jet lag. In our Zen blend, ashwagandha interacts with the adrenals and CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to help you find balance.”
Peer says that while consumers may understand the benefits of adaptogens they may not be aware of what a quality extract is and what actives they should be looking for. “There are lots of companies selling adaptogens who seem misinformed themselves on what they’re putting in their products. I think there will eventually be some regulation to ensure quality extracts are on the market in products – we’ve already seen this with CBD. We saw CBD become very popular over the last few years, and medicinal mushrooms are now rising in popularity, especially after lots of recent studies citing their benefits.”
Elixirs of life
Natalia Botanicals’ powdered adaptogenic elixirs combine natural herbs, roots and mushrooms and were inspired by founder Natalia Ikigai’s own health issues, having been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
“My grandfather was raised on an Ayurvedic diet as his grandmother was an Ayurvedic doctor in India. He could see I was struggling with my gut health which was contributing to my poor mental health and outburst of hives, so he recommended a few adaptogenic herbs. I began taking moringa, ashwagandha, holy basil and gotu kola, and within six weeks my gut health had improved dramatically which showed on the outside; my skin became clearer, my eyes were brighter and my anxiety had reduced.”
Ikigai created her first product, Eternal Optimist, for her own use, but the business developed after friends and family began requesting blends. “I created a blend for gut and mental health, glowing skin, thicker and stronger hair, improving mood and positivity, calming anxiety, reigniting libido, balancing hormones, deeper sleep, boosting energy, cognitive function, and of course an adaptogenic cacao blend, because who doesn’t need a dose of chocolate without inflaming their skin and gut?”
Ikigai says when she first came across adaptogens, she tried different ways to incorporate them into her routine. “I found taking them in capsule form the slowest way to feel a difference … It felt like a real chore to take capsules along with my daily vitamins. Using adaptogens in powder form feels the most natural and I love the ritualistic aspect of adding 1/2 teaspoon of herbs to my juices and matcha.”
Fungtn – Adaptogenic alcohol free craft beer
Alcohol free craft beer brewed with functional mushrooms. No, your beer won’t taste like mushroom! These super food fungi contain adaptogenic compounds that help balance health and support wellness. Our beers are vegan and gluten free and with nutty, earthy, bitter flavour profiles, much like hops, our functional mushrooms blend well into a banging trio of 0.4% craft beers.
THEENK TEA is a multi award-winning,set of herbal tea blends designed to naturally support healthy brain function and mental wellbeing. Each box is packed with herbal nootropics, adaptogens and gentle stimulants divided into 3 functional blends for mornings, afternoons and evenings. THEENK TEA is the first product of its kind on the market and it’s been developed to support one of the most important organs in the human body – the brain. THEENK TEA has been designed to help maintain balanced energy levels, improve focus, relieve stress and help achieve a good night’s sleep.
NutraTea Ginseng and Ginger Tea
NutraTea Ginseng & Ginger Tea is 1 of 19 herbal blends that has been formulated to help maintain overall well-being and energise the body. This refined herbal blend contains entirely natural, sustainably sourced ingredients with no added flavourings, oils or excipients enabling each tea bag to be reused throughout the day. Containing 50% ginseng, this powerful adaptogen helps promote vitality and alertness whilst maintaining good cognitive performance. Furthermore, the 50% ginger helps support the body’s immune system and maintain a healthy blood sugar level, making this unique herbal blend a spicy yet aromatic cup of tea.
Raw Living offers an exceptionally high quality, well-priced range of superfoods, including all the popular adaptogens. Organically certified Maca, Ashwagandha and Shatavari are all presented in our beautiful rainbow design pouches. Our dual-extracted organic mushroom extracts are unmatched at a price point of £16.99 for 50g. We also produce a range of loose-leaf teas, for consumers to receive the full benefits, including Eterniteea with reishi slices and schizandra berries, Infiniteea with ashwagandha root, and Femininiteea which contains shatavari root. We have been working with adaptogens for 15 years and we know this category inside-out! Please contact us for all your superfood needs.
Adaptogenic Coffee by London Nootropics
At London Nootropics, we make adaptogenic coffee blends using the highest-quality medicinal mushrooms and other adaptogens to help you easily incorporate premium adaptogens deliciously into your daily diet.
We have Grind to help with mental clarity and focus, Zen to alleviate stress and anxiety and Mojo to give you a natural boost – Mojo has cordyceps mushroom which is known to increase aerobic capacity and oxygen flow around your body. They’re free from preservatives & artificial sweeteners, just pure natural ingredients. Get in touch to try a complimentary sample of our adaptogenic coffee today!