It’s not enough that we are throwing back kale smoothies at breakfast, meditating after lunch and spending our evenings sitting in moon circles.
Now, we must take adaptogens, too.
“Adaptogen” is the latest buzzword in the luxury holistic market—the one where wellness-inclined are shelling out hundreds of dollars to look and feel good, naturally. Adaptogens allude to a wide variety of plants and herbs, such as ashwagandha, holy basil, ginseng, astragalus root, licorice root, rhodiola and cordyceps. They can be taken either alone or in combination with others. Their promises? Endless. Glowing skin, boundless energy and radiant joy, supposedly, even in the face of a terrible boss or tantrum-prone toddler.
But before you load up your online shopping cart, well, what are adaptogens exactly.
“They are a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of your adrenal system, the system that’s in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress,” said Dr. Frank Lipman, an expert in functional and integrative medicine whose cleanses, shakes and supplements are favorites of Donna Karan, Kyra Sedgwick and Maggie Gyllenhaal. “They also help enhance the body’s ability to cope with anxiety and fight fatigue.”
According to Lipman, adaptogens literally adapt to the body to restore balance. So if you’re tired, adaptogens will help with energy. If you’re anxious, they’ll help you calm down. They optimize the body’s adrenal functions, thus enabling it to better cope with everyday life. While there’s little scientific research behind adaptogens, devotees allege that they do all they say they will—namely improve energy levels, elevate mood and even reinvigorate hair and skin without yucky side effects or addictive qualities.
It was a special combination of adaptogens that Medea Juhasz claims saved her life. A longtime drug and alcohol addict, Juhasz was plagued with issues like liver damage, ulcers, recurring sinus infections and uncontrollable cravings. After succeeding in her recovery, she addressed her health by researching natural medicine and herbalism. “I started experimenting and obsessively combining herbs, amino acids and superfoods on my kitchen table,” Juhasz said. “It took months to perfect the exact ratio, but when I finally did, my health issues started to disappear.”
Juhasz was so taken with her sudden reversal that she left her job in fashion, where she worked as a sales director for brands like Thomas Wylde and Whiting & Davis, to become a holistic health coach. She bottled and branded her formula, Catalyst Gold that features a wealth of adaptogenic ingredients like astralagus, eleuthero root, camu camu, dandelion, chlorella and more. “Adaptogens don’t treat a specific condition; they’re for anyone looking to boost overall well-being,” Juhasz said. “They work slowly and gently, without crashes and they are completely safe for long-term use. There is something magical about a unique ability to “adapt” the function of these herbs according to your body’s specific needs.”
Catalyst Gold is one of the adaptogen-rich supplements available at Knockout Beauty, where owner Cayli Cavaco Reck curates a selection of vitality inducing, non-toxic beauty products in a chic, boudoir style setting. She also sells the popular Moon Juice adaptogenic powders, which she uses daily. “When I think about adaptogens, they fall into my overall beauty philosophy, which is not coming from a place of ‘problem and solution’ but of ‘goal and map,’” Reck said. “So how do you reach your goal? Well, whether you’re seeking more energy or less stress, adaptogens are your map. They will help you get there.”
Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon offers a pantry-full of supplement powders like cordyceps, ashwagandha and schisandra berry. Bacon, whose original Moon Juice shop in Venice is adored by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Alicia Keys, says she would spike her food and drinks with adaptogens all day long. She’d add a teaspoon of ashwagandha into her tea for its calming effects, or throw some cordyceps into her shake for an energy boost. In keeping with that proclivity, her new Melrose Place location offers Moon Dust lattes full of her special powders. “My pantry is stocked with adaptogenic herbs so I can easily blend them into hot or cold nut milk as a major pick-me-up or even a meal,” Bacon said. “Depending on what my body is specifically needing, I will sprinkle them into batches of raw chocolate or puddings to bring the medicine cabinet into the kitchen in a delightful way.”
One could argue, however, that the vast availability of adaptogens is slightly disconcerting, if not totally confusing. Without the guidance of a holistic doctor or coach, how could one possibly know which adaptogen to take, or by which brand? A simple Amazon search yields hundreds of results in all shapes and varieties. There are powders to mix into drinks, as well as pills, tablets and capsules, each offering a path to feeling our absolute best.
“Like everything in medicine, it is a bit of trial and error,” said Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist and Eastern medical expert who collaborated with Goop Wellness on its new line of supplements. “After working with adaptogens for a while, people are able to distinguish if they’re working because of their characteristics or symptoms. But it’s the same thing with high blood pressure medication or chemotherapy. It’s the same with every medication. It’s trial and error.”
Dr. Junger encourages the general public to speak with holistic professionals in deciding which adaptogen to take and by which brand. The primary danger lies in buying adaptogens that have contaminants. Others simply won’t work as they lack the right active ingredients, or the plants weren’t harvested correctly.
Most importantly, he warned, adaptogens should not be used in place of Western medicine, particularly for treating an acute issue. “Don’t take plants thinking they’re a solution when you should be taking medications or having surgery,” he said. “If you’re relying on adaptogens for everything, you might be missing something.”
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