June 04, 2022


Warmer climes have finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest! For many of us, the long, sun-soaked days and short nights translate into hyper-productiveness, both at work and at play. Sleep can be elusive, and we rely on coffee for a morning boost or to propel us through deadlines, projects, and personal challenges. While coffee contains a multitude of beneficial compounds, and the ritual of making, pouring, and drinking a cup of joe can be a powerful meditative tool, too much caffeine can disrupt our stress response in many ways. 


It’s common knowledge that the jolt of energy we feel from a strong cup of coffee is the result of adrenaline being released into the bloodstream. Since the adrenaline is intense and fleeting, we may experience irritability and anxiety followed by depression and exhaustion. Even more disruptive and concerning, though, is the burst of cortisol, the “stress hormone”,  that accompanies the adrenaline surge from caffeine consumption. When we build up a tolerance to caffeine and start consuming it more frequently to get the desired effects, we bathe our cells in a steady stream of cortisol. This elicits a chronic stress response from the body, which can result in a myriad of undesirable conditions from heart disease to diabetes to depression [1]. Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation that goes hand in hand with caffeine consumption creates a desire for more caffeine, driving a self-perpetuating and damaging emotional and physiological cycle. When we find ourselves turning to coffee throughout the day and night (a latte at lunch to get us through the afternoon; an evening espresso to meet work obligations…) it might be time to consider alternative means of conjuring and maintaining energy! 


Enter adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that stabilize cortisol levels and help balance the body's response to both acute and chronic stress. By doing this, adaptogens stave off some of the most harmful effects of stress, including insulin resistance, inflammation, anxiety, depression, physical and mental exhaustion, organ dysfunction, and a compromised immune system [2]. Each adaptogen works in a slightly different way, but they all interact with the adrenal glands to moderate the response (think turning down “fight or flight”) to mental, physical, and chemical stresses. 

There are dozens of adaptogenic products on the market. Some of the most popular and effective include ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, and holy basil (tulsi) to combat long-term stress and sleep disturbances, rhodiola, siberian ginseng, and schisandra for acute stress, and turmeric, reishi, and cordyceps mushroom extracts to boost immune health [3]. All of these herbs and mushrooms can be taken as teas, tinctures, or supplements. Some can be mixed in with food in a powdered form. It can be useful to incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine, but it’s also great to utilize them on an as-needed basis. 


My go-to adaptogens are turmeric, tulsi, Ashwagandha, and mushroom extracts. I often spike my morning coffee with Anima Mundi’s Golden Sun Milk adaptogenic chai, a powdered blend that contains delicious and energizing spices like cinnamon and cardamom as well as beneficial mushroom extracts, ginger root, and turmeric. Alternatively (and increasingly), I substitute my regular coffee with a cup of rich and satisfying Host Defense Mycobrew coffee with Lion’s Mane mushrooms. For an evening wind-down, and to support a restful night of sleep, I love to sip on caffeine-free Tulsi Ashwagandha tea. I reserve my Reishi mushroom liquid extract for days - like today - when my pollen allergies are super active. Also, adding organic turmeric powder to smoothies is a great, teenage-daughter-approved way to nurture the whole family!

Emerging studies support long-standing Aryuvedic knowledge that adaptogens can combat fatigue and boost human health. They do this by moderating hormone levels (i.e. estrogen, insulin, cortisol) and creating a physiological environment conducive to healthful, satisfying sleep [4]. Instead of continuing a caffeine-induced cycle that perpetuates and aggravates the body’s stress response, consider easing into an adaptogenic lifestyle! Along with, or in place of your morning coffee, nourish yourself with the adaptogen(s) of your choice. As summer unfolds into long, beautiful days ripe for exploration and adventure, I hope you will find that you have more energy and clarity to indulge in your favorite activities and appreciate the beauty of this season. 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/.

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/smart-girls-guide-to-adaptogens

[3] https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-adaptogens-4685073

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/