What Are Adaptogens and How Can They Help During My Cycle?

Essential Takeaways 

  • Adaptogens assist with stress response due to their ability to increase adaptability to environmental stress and decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. 
  • Studies have shown that adding adaptogens can help with general stress symptoms, fatigue, anxiety, sleep, and overall mood. 
  • There are specific adaptogens recommended for different phases of your cycle: Ovulation, Menstruation, Post-Menstruation. 

By: Devon Loftus with medical expertise from Alyssa Melody + Katie Lemons

The word “adaptogen” has become quite the buzz word in the last few years, while many of us still aren’t entirely sure exactly what they are and how they can help. And even if we do have an understanding of what an adaptogen is, we may be unsure of which adaptogen can work best for us. If this is you, you are not alone! (hand raised over here). So, let’s start at the beginning.

What an adaptogen helps us do is all in the name — adapt. Results can be different per individual, but for the most part, they assist with stress response due to their ability to increase adaptability to environmental stress and decrease serum cortisol (the stress monster hormone) (14). What this means is that if, for example, your cortisol is high, an adaptogen will help decrease it to baseline levels. If your cortisol is low, the adaptogen will help raise it to a baseline level. They also prevent neurotransmitter depletion (as in serotonin, dopamine, and GABA – the “happy hormones”) and increase resistance to stress as well as improve concentration, performance and fatigue endurance (7).

It’s good to take note, however, that there have been limited human clinical trials conducted to test the efficacy of adaptogens and where they do exist they are usually small scale studies. Not all adaptogens affect two people in the same way and sometimes, it can take months before results are felt (One practitioner, for example, recommends a minimum of two to three months before significant results (5). This isn’t to say they aren’t effective, but like all wellness based protocols, nothing is a “magic pill”! Combined with supplements, diet, and lifestyle protocols, it’s been shown that adding adaptogens into the mix can help with general stress symptoms, help combat fatigue, decrease anxiety, improve sleep, and fight cravings and mood swings.

Adaptogens for Your Cycle:
Ovulation //
Cordyceps: Cordyceps is an adrenal tonic, specifically known for increasing energy, oxygenating the blood and brain and heightening feelings of alertness. Ovulation is when the body normally has more energy and drive. It’s a good time for people to increase activity levels, do exciting things and feel more zest. Cordyceps is also known as a libido tonic (which, during ovulation, is also naturally heightened!). This adaptogen helps support our body in it’s natural increase of energy.

Chaga: Chaga is a major immune system tonic, anti-bacterial, antiviral and antifungal. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, Chaga would be a great addition to battle pre-period pain.

During Your Period/Menstruation //
Reishi: Reishi is not only an immune system tonic, but also an incredible nervous system calming herb. It is used to counteract general fatigue or weakness that may be associated with chronic PMS and is an excellent herb for calming and relaxing women who experience irritability, nervousness, heightened emotions and sleeplessness.

Chaga: Chaga is one of the highest ranking antioxidants in the world. It is a wonderful anti-inflammatory herb, helping to decrease pain and uncomfortable aches. The high levels of the antioxidant called Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), is important for liver cleansing. Some women with PMS have sluggish detoxification pathways in the liver for breaking down estrogens, meaning that the liver is the root of the problems. Because of liver detox symptoms and pain management properties, it is the perfect adaptogen for PMS time.

He Shou Wu: He Shou Wu is actually not technically an adaptogen but nonetheless an extremely beneficial herb that contains iron and zinc and is known in TCM ( Traditional Chinese Medicine ) as a blood tonic, liver and kidney support. He Shou Wu has the ability to strengthen the membranes of red blood cells, which will help improve memory and nerve function. He Shou Wu has been shown to prevent excessive blood platelet aggregation (clumping) and improve blood flow. This would be perfect for after a period to rebuild blood levels. However, being a blood tonic, this would also be good for anyone throughout the month who has scanty periods, brown blood, and very light bleeding, which can be a sign of blood deficiency.

The important thing to note about adaptogens is their ability to work differently for different individuals. Start low and slow, and keep a close note on how you feel!

To review:
he shou wu: improves memory and nerve function, lowers high cholesterol, improves blood flow + rebuilds blood levels and powerful antioxidant

cordyceps: adrenal tonic, increases energy, oxygenates the blood and brain, increases alertness and increases libido.

reishi: immune system tonic, nervous system calming, regulator of blood sugar, counteracts general fatigue or weakness, calming and relaxing herb for women who suffer from irritability, nervousness, emotional excess, and sleeplessness.

chaga: one of the highest ranking antioxidants in the world. anti-inflammatory, decreases pain and uncomfortable aches, liver cleansing, immune system tonic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, enhances the health of skin, slows the process of our skin aging.

A variety of adaptogens are used in Elix Cycle Balance formulas. Take the free online health assessment to discover the adaptogens and other herbs best for your cycle + your health.

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This article was reviewed by Dr. Jessica Ritch.

Dr. Jessica Ritch is a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologist who specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. She completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, where she was selected as chief resident and received the prestigious AAGL Outstanding Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.

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