At a certain point the question must become: how many things are we going to put into our bodies to combat the things that we’re putting into our bodies?
But we’re not there yet. Because adaptogens just might be the kryptonite we’ve been looking for to go toe-to-toe with our modern-day diet of stress, toxins, and Trump tweets.
The claims are enough to make your chakras spin. Adaptogens have been shown to boost heart health,combat viruses, reduce inflammation, fight asthma, fight allergies, balance blood sugar, raise energy levels, lower stress levels, combat cancer, soothe PMS, curb cravings, sharpen focus, lower anxiety, up your workout, fight free radicals, lower cholesterol, enhance sexual performance, regenerate brain tissue, increase cognitive function, fight depression, boost memory, improve immune function and decrease excessive fat storage.
Oh, and Goop staffers love them. Need we say more?
But what exactly are adaptogens? Pick your metaphor, paraphrased from some of today’s leading functional medicine doctors:
Adaptogens are like little soldiers heading to the front line of your adrenal system to fight the good fight.
They’re like a dear friend who modulates her shitty mood to celebrate your awesome news.
They’re like a thermostat calming you down or boosting you up depending on what your body needs.
And while adaptogens can be found in roots, plants and mushrooms, we’re going to focus on the ‘shrooms because, hey, they’re Fun Guys.
With all due respect to the rock star doctors (a phrase we hereby nominate retiring from the community), we’ve cooked up a little metaphor of our own:
Remember the first time you took mushrooms and you thought it was going to go one way, and then the world exploded along with your sense of time and being alive, and suddenly the public bathroom stall in Central Park became a rocket ship and things took a left turn and afterwards you were so happy because it turned out that experience was exactly what you needed? That’s kind of what adaptogens are doing on a cellular level; figuring out what you need and rallying the troops. Ok, maybe not exactly, but it’s a lot more fun than a metaphor about central air, no?
Did we mention that Goop staffers love them?
The first recorded use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes dates back to a 7000-year-old cave painting found in Algeria of a shaman dancing among a field of mushrooms. 3000-year-old writings from India detail the health benefits, and Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine doctors have been using mushrooms in their practices for thousands of years.
Fast forward to World War II, when the former Soviet Union began testing the mental and physical effects of herbal pills on its air and submarine pilots. Two decades later, Russian scientist Israel Brekhman gave adaptogens their name, derived from the idea that when encountering stress, the body either kicks into fight, flight, exhaustion or adaptation. Adaptogens adapt the body to stress, normalizing the body’s functions and essentially telling it to chill the F out. Or rev the F up, if that’s what it needs.
The science on mushrooms for medicinal use isn’t great–turns out there’s not a lot of incentive for proprietary-hungry pharmaceutical companies to spend money researching something that can literally grow in shit–but there are some standout ‘shrooms that have withstood the test of time. Check ‘em out below.
This mushroom grows on caterpillars in Asia, essentially mummifying and killing our furry friend before growing a stalk at the scene of the crime, which can then be picked come spring. Often referred to as Chinese Viagra, Cordyceps has also been shown to encourage the body to use oxygen more efficiently, reduce inflammation and fight cancer.
Usually found on birch trees in colder climates, chaga has been known to fight viruses, reduce inflammation, promote fertility and combat cancer.
Studies have shown that shiitakes shrink tumors (in mice, but still!), lower cholesterol, and go great in ramen.
This darling grows on rotting logs throughout the northern United States and Canada, and is believed to fight brain fog, prevent memory loss and combat depression.
The most researched of the bunch, Turkey Tail gets the prize for the cutest name and mushroom most thoroughly proven to promote immune function.
Called the king of the mushrooms, reishi is thought to boost immune function, slow cancer growth, fight inflammation and promote longevity.
Often known by its more common name, Hen of the Woods, maitakes are thought to boost immune function, reduce cholesterol, fight viruses and cancer, and modulate blood pressure and sugar levels.
While our window for imbibing the magical sort may have closed, we’re just getting started with the medicinal. Stay tuned to see if we turn super human or just go back to tripping our faces off.