by Dr. Will Cole
What can’t adaptogens do? If you spend much time researching the wonderful world of adaptogens, you may become convinced that these eclectic natural medicines can fix just about any problem, boosting energy and sex drive, improving mood, and balancing hormones. People have been using adaptogens medicinally since pretty much the dawn of human history, but recently they have emerged from ashrams and are gaining street cred everywhere from Beverly Hills to Brooklyn.
At the forefront of this adaptogenic awakening is Gwyneth Paltrow, who, in all of her GOOP goodness, has spread the word about adaptogens to the masses. As both a functional medicine doctor and someone who has struggled with adrenal fatigue in the past, I’ve personally experienced and witnessed the clinical benefits of adaptogens over the years, but in an effort to really put them to the test, I decided to go full-on health nerd and practice a strict 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 to experiment with creating my own blends depending on what my body needed on any particular day. Here’s what happened, and how you could try this too. Please note that while most adaptogens are generally safe for everyone, it is important to take precautions if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Certain varieties like ashwagandha, shilajit, and mucuna pruriens are not safe for these people. Ashwagandha is also a nightshade so it can trigger inflammation for those with autoimmune conditions.
My typical adaptogenic day
I vowed to include adaptogens at every meal, and learned early on that my favorite way to include them was in smoothies, elixirs, and tonics. I also filled up my plate with as many superfoods as I could, “consciously coupling” nutrient-dense food with adaptogens for even more potent detoxification effects. Here is what I ate in a typical day:
Breakfast: Brain-Boosting Smoothie
This smoothie, my own adaptation of one of Gwyneth’s brain-boosting recipes, contains 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. By the way, did you know 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? Try this boost for your own brain health and lay the foundation for the day ahead.
- 1 whole avocado
- 1 cup greens of choice
- 1/2 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 afternon, I thought this 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 adapotgens!
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 sex hormones, because why shouldn’t you have a little after-dinner fun with that special person? 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.
30-Days Later: My results
After 30 full days of consistently incorporating these adaptogens, I experienced what I consider to be significantly enhanced energy, mood, and feelings of deep wellness. I also came out of this experiment with some personal favorites. Here’s what I plan to continue to use going forward:
- Cordyceps: This mushroom helps to boost and maintain energy levels by activating energy production in the body’s cells.
- Ginseng: Whether you choose Asian white, Asian red, or American white, ginseng is a great pick-me-up and it’s the first thing I turn to when I need an energy boost. I can sometimes be sensitive to caffeine, so this gave me the boost without 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.
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