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Adaptogens: Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms to diminish stress and avoid burnout

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    Adaptogens: What are they and who are they for?

    Natural adaptogens have been studied throughout history to improve our response to stress, increase energy and attention span, and combat fatigue.

    Adaptogens are useful substances to recover a state of calm and serenity that may have been lost due to non-specific causes such as stress, making us restless and anxious while being prone to sleep issues and poor digestion. So most of us could benefit from adaptogens at some point in our lives!

    ginseng, turmeric

    Definition of adaptogenic substances

    In the 1990s, adaptogens were defined as “natural bioregulators that increase the ability to adapt to environmental factors and prevent damage caused by those factors”.
    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) referred to them as metabolic regulators that aid environmental adaptation and prevent external damage.

    In short, an adaptogen:

    1. It helps the body to cope with adverse situations, such as physical or environmental stress
    2. Reduces the physical impact of stress
    3. It does not impair the normal functioning of the body
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    In Search of the Superhero Pill

    Looking back in history, the term “adaptogen” began to be used in the 1940s to refer to extracts that could improve an organism in general.

    Adaptogens can therefore be defined as natural products based on extracts of plants, seeds and medicinal mushrooms or synthetics (pharmaceutical products) that act to counteract immunological, hormonal and neurological problems caused by stress and fatigue.

    In World War II, scientists looked to adaptogens as a solution to enable pilots and submarine crews to perform at full strength for a longer duration.

    In fact, the former Soviet Union even published military studies on Schisandra chinensis, (a stimulant berry) which made hunters less tired, hungry and thirsty.

    Plant extracts, berries, roots and adaptogenic mushrooms. How can they help me?

    study published in 2010 showed that by complementing conventional therapies with adaptogens in supplement form, could greatly help in reducing symptoms of fatigue and exhaustion.

    Adaptogens have also been shown to help people with cardiovascular problems as well as certain neurological disorders, especially those resulting from chronic conditions.

    The best way to take adaptogens

    We are continually making reference to natural adaptogenic substances which provide alkaloids, terpenoids, flavonoids and the like which can be introduced through the diet. The simplest way to incorporate adaptogens into the diet, is to stick to seasonal adaptogenic foods which have a nourishing tonic effect and these will have lighter effects on the body and mind. If you are looking for a higher concentration, supplements in the form of extracts are preferable (capsules or liquids) or in powder form as preparations for shakes, soups and smoothies.

    Side effects

    As always, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional, especially if you are supplementing alongside conventional treatments. In addition to being effective, supplementation must always be checked for safety and contraindications on a case-by-case basis to confirm no drug interactions.

    At Hifas da Terra we have a multidisciplinary team of experts who offer advice on dietary supplementation.

    Reishi, Cordyceps

    Adaptogenic plants and mushrooms: How to choose the best ones?

    Among the most studied herbal adaptogens are Rhodiola rosea and  Schisandra chinensis, as well as Eleutherococcus senticosus. Other, well-known adaptogens are Siberian ginseng, Curcuma longa (turmeric), Sambucus nigra (elderberry) and Centella asiatica which are also worth mentioning.  However, in almost every list of adaptogens we find medicinal mushrooms also highlighted for their ability to increase a state of non-specific resistance. In this regard, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) , Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) , Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) and Chaga (Iniquitous obliquus)  are all essential.

    As we have already seen, stress affects sleep and can promote the onset of migraines while undermining one’s immune system… So what’s the solution? Studies carried out on the triterpenes of Reishi allude to the calming and sedative effect it has on the nervous system, which can increase the duration of sleep and reduce spontaneous activity at night. 

    Given Reishi’s immunomodulatory nature, it may also help regulate antibody production.

    Like ginseng, this medicinal mushroom is well known for its ability to boost athletic performance, but there is much more to it also.

    Cordyceps is, also known as “the vitality mushroom”, is an endocrine regulator which may help normalise the effects of stress on the thyroid and evidence points to adenosine as the main component of this activity. A double-blind study found that Cordyceps can increase resistance to fatigue by up to 73%.

    The hericenones present in Lion’s Mane medicinal are capable of promoting the formation of neurons and, consequently, of promoting the endogenous production of antidepressants and anxiolytics.

    If we are looking at overall wellbeing, the action of the medicinal mushroom Chaga is also of interest, which, thanks to its variety of polysaccharides, is one of the most important natural adaptogens in Mycotherapy. 

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    Mechanisms of action for stress and insomnia with adaptogens

    1. We now know that adaptogens balance the glands involved in the stress response (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) in which three phases can be distinguished:
    2. Alarm – in the face of a stressor, our body produces substances such as adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone.
    3. Resilience – the hormones secreted help us to improve our performance and increase our attention span. We are energised and clear-headed.
    4. Exhaustion – if endurance is prolonged, exhaustion sets in.

    In short, the role of adaptogens is to extend the endurance phase by keeping us energised, focused and clear-headed for longer.

    Oncological processes and adaptogens

    Among the published studies on adaptogens, there is research in cancer patients, with studies involving the use of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM). The results of complementary treatments are positive but more evidence is needed.

    How adaptogens act on hormone regulation:

    In general, adaptogens reduce the effects of stress, which positively impacts immunity and well-being.

    Research shows that adaptogens can combat fatigue, improve mental performance, and alleviate depression and anxiety. Adaptogens have also been recognised for their therapeutic value in the following conditions:

    • Mental and physical fatigue resulting from stress
    • Sleep issues
    • Hormonal imbalances affecting the nervous system

    General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and Cortisol.

    When the body receives stressful stimuli that it tries to repel, it produces what is known as stress, and general adaptation syndrome or general alarm reactions are when the body experiences these three stages; alarm, resistance and exhaustion. 

    The adrenal gland releases the stress hormone (cortisol) to cope with an emergency of sorts and if cortisol production is not timely, inflammation and pain can be triggered.

    Summary Pill

    Adaptogens can help greatly to reduce the adverse effects of prolonged exposure to stress by improving stress management.

    Mushroom Bioscience

    At Hifas da Terra, we develop formulas based on the medicinal mushrooms we research.

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