What Are Adaptogens? Why Is Reishi One of the Top Ones?

By Melissa Carr, Dr. TCM

Apr 29, 2021

“Adaptogen” is a buzzy wellness term that has taken the world by storm. Used often in wellness blogs, this term is even turning up in places like coffee shop menus and cookbooks. But what exactly is an adaptogenic herb, and why is reishi mushroom considered among the best of them?

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a special class of herbs (fungi included) with extraordinary properties that, as the name suggests, help your body adapt to meet your needs. These herbs back us up in dealing with physical and mental stresses, bringing us back to homeostasis, a balanced state of wellbeing. While adaptogens are popping up all over the world these days, they have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions for thousands of years.

Adaptogenic herbs are used for a whole host of health-related reasons like lowering the impact of stress-related disorders, balancing hormone levels, combatting fatigue, stimulating mental and cognitive performance, supporting the immune system, and improving physical endurance.

Do Adaptogens Really Work?

It might be tough to wrap your head around the fact that naturally-occurring herbs can treat serious health concerns—but as it turns out, they can. According to a 2010 study in the journal Pharmaceuticals, researchers demonstrated that adaptogens had a positive effect on stress-related symptoms, cognitive and physical performance, asthenia (abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy), and depression.

What Are the Best Adaptogenic Herbs?

Not all adaptogens are created equal. When it comes to potency and quality, reishi mushroom comes out on top. Also known as the “mushroom of immortality,” this functional fungus was once reserved for royalty.

An ancient adaptogen that plays a major role in traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners place the divine mushroom in the “calm spirit” category. Herbs in this class are used to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, treat insomnia, and help manage stress. In fact, Taoists have long taken reishi to help with meditation.

While reishi helps bring calmness to your day, it is not sedating, meaning it can be taken any time of the day without worry about drowsiness. It is, in fact, also considered a Qi tonic, meaning it supports energy and reduces fatigue, without being stimulating. This is one of the defining characteristics of an adaptogen.

How to Add Red Reishi to Your Diet

Reishi mushroom, while a bit softer when fresh, becomes very hard as it dries, and many of its healthy compounds are locked in the hard-to-digest chitinous shell. In addition, those compounds make high-quality reishi products taste really bitter—what you might call an “acquired taste.”

Unless you like the idea of getting used to a flavour you don’t like after spending long hours simmering the herb on your stovetop, and then ultimately not knowing how much of the compounds you were able to extract and whether that dose is sufficient, then capsules are your best bet. While you can certainly include functional food reishi products like Mikei’s ramen or chocolate, to get therapeutic dosages, it doesn’t get easier than one capsule per day.

The benefits of taking red reishi can seem endless because adaptogens have wide-ranging benefits, from heart, liver, and kidney health to immune modulation and mental health support. If you are considering adding an adaptogen to your health routine—and why wouldn’t you?—make sure to include this adaptogenic powerhouse.

Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others. www.activetcm.com

Reference

  • Panossian A, Wikman G. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2010;3(1):188-224. Published 2010 Jan 19. doi:10.3390/ph3010188

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