by Dr. Will Cole
The world of adaptogens seems like a wondrous place, an eclectic variety of natural medicines touted to boost our energy levels and sex drives, improve our moods, and balance our hormones. Around since the dawn of time and used in societies for millennia, adaptogens have found their rebirth in popular culture, with all things adaptogenic leaving the ashram and heading over to Beverly Hills and Brooklyn. Adaptogens have gone mainstream.
At the forefront of this adaptogenic awakening is Gwyneth Paltrow, who, in all of her goopy goodness, has shed light on adaptogens to the masses. As both a functional medicine doctor and someone who has struggled with adrenal fatigue in the past, I’ve seen the clinical benefits of adaptogenic blends in my life and thousands of patients over the years.
To see what adaptogens could really do, I went full-on health nerd and decided to put myself on a 30-day Gwyneth-inspired adaptogenic diet. Since some adaptogens are calming (such as cordyceps, schisandra, and reishi) and some are stimulating (like maca and rhodiola), it was fun not only to use GP’s recipes but to experiment with creating my own blends depending on what my body was needing that particular day.
It’s important to note, though, that while most adaptogens are generally safe for everyone, please supplement with awareness. Certain varieties like ashwagandha, shilajit, and mucuna pruriens are not safe for those who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. Ashwagandha is also a nightshade so it can trigger inflammation for those with autoimmune conditions.
A day in the life on my adaptogenic goop-venture.
Each day, I made sure to have adaptogens with every meal that I ate. I learned early on that my favorite way to include them was in various smoothies, elixirs, and tonics. During the course of the month, I also made sure to have meals filled with detoxing superfoods for a complete body cleanse. I was able to totally harness the benefits of these healing adaptogens by consciously coupling (pun intended) them with powerful food medicines.
Breakfast: Brain-Boosting Smoothie
Smoothies are my favorite type of breakfast, so my typical day started off with a version of Gwyneth’s brain-boosting drink filled with a variety of adaptogens aimed at maximizing brain health. I’m a huge fan of maca in the morning to increase my mental strength, and GP makes sure to include that in her drink as well. To help prevent brain fog, I added a little holy basil.
She’s noted that she includes lion’s mane in her smoothies, which is a workhorse when it comes to brain health. It contains nerve growth factors that regenerate and protect brain tissue. In fact, studies have shown a decrease in depression and memory loss with the use of this mushroom.
What’s crazy is that our genetic makeup is very similar to mushrooms. Ever wonder why it is so much more difficult to get rid of a fungal infection than a bacterial one? It only makes sense that we can use these adaptogenic mushrooms to our advantage to harness their health benefits.
It was fun to mix these up with different ingredients to change up the flavor. My personal favorite from the month included a lot of healthy fats, which help to boost brain health and lay the foundation for the day ahead.
- 1 whole avocado
- 1 cup greens of choice
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 to 2 handfuls blueberries
- 1 teaspoon maca
- 1 teaspoon lion’s mane
- 1 teaspoon holy basil
- Raw honey to sweeten (optional)
Combine ingredients in blender, blend, and enjoy!
Lunch: Re-energizing Latte with Nori Wraps
Since GP likes to sip an adaptogenic latte to give herself a boost in the afternoon, I thought one would be the perfect accompaniment to my lunch. In my version I also included the adaptogenic bean mucuna pruriens, which helps to elevate my mood, brain function, and creativity for the second half of my day as well as shilajit to give my immune system the kick it needs to feel more energized. Additionally, the thyroid-balancing effects of ashwagandha are that much more amplified when alongside a lunch of homemade sushi. Sea vegetables contain iodine, which is essential for happy thyroid hormones. Since your whole body needs thyroid hormones to function, I take any support I can get.
Where I normally would start to feel a little sluggish at lunch after a long morning of patients, I noticed a quicker bounce-back rate after enjoying this latte. After about a week of keeping this as a lunchtime ritual, I didn’t even notice my midday slump creeping in anymore. One more point for adaptogens!
Dinner: Hormone-Balancing Chocolate
After a dinner of wild-caught salmon, I indulged in a little chocolaty goodness for dessert. I made a chocolate bark similar to the adaptogen-packed ones Gwyneth eats, filled with ingredients aimed to amp up your sex hormones and get you ready for a little after-dinner fun. I included Ho shou wu since it has been traditionally used for years in Chinese medicine as a sex-hormone enhancer. In addition, adding the adaptogenic berry schisandra helps to balance out brain-adrenal communication to calm stress hormones, which can contribute to low sex drive.
My personal favorite adaptogens
The cool thing about many of these adaptogens is that you can start noticing changes relatively quickly. In particular, I noticed the adaptogenic mushrooms like cordyceps working almost immediately to boost my energy and mood. From a functional medicine perspective, I know the importance of self-care and the ability of adaptogens to balance out hormones. I see labs and lives improve with these lifestyle tools. But personally, after 30 full days of consistently incorporating these adaptogens, I experienced a significant enhancement to my wellness routine. Taking note of what Gwyneth uses, I experimented a lot and came up with my personal favorites list based on their health benefits and how they made me feel.
Cordyceps: This mushroom helps to boost and maintain energy levels by activating energy production in the body’s cells.
Ginseng: Choose between Asian white, Asian red, and American white. When I needed an extra pick-me-up this was the first adaptogen I turned to. I can sometimes be sensitive to caffeine, so this gave me the boost without all the jitters.
Reishi: I took this mushroom when I wanted to relax as it helps to promote better sleep by calming the body and mind.
Astragalus: This root-derived adaptogen is the perfect support for overall health. It helps to enhance the immune system and boost metabolism and aids in whole-body function.
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.