Part of being in the ZONE is clearing mental blocks, reducing the effects of stress and improving focus, so that you can feel in flow in whatever you are doing. As well as using movement, aromatherapy and releasing tension in the body, using cognitive enhancers can help boost wellness and clarity.
We chat to Luke Patterson, founder of SPKD Blends about the rise of adaptogens and how to use them to help you find your ZONE.
Luke is a Bondi-based health and fitness lover who was in need of a new coffee routine – working from home and drinking lots of instant coffee just wasn’t cutting it! He realised that with a little help from some traditional adaptogenic herbs and some MCT oil, that he could use his coffee habit to enhance wellness, instead of it sending him spiralling into a 2pm energy crash! He set about developing an instant blend of adaptogens and functional mushrooms to increase focus and productivity and SPKD Blends was born.
And a side note (which we think is super cool) SPKD Blends has also committed to donating $1 profit to various charities that are making a change and are currently partnered with The Black Dog Institute who work with mental health awareness and prevention.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a hot topic in the wellness world at the moment, but they are certainly not a new invention. Naturopaths, herbalists and healers have been using adaptogenic remedies for centuries to help support the body and counteract the effect of stress on the body.
Adaptogenic herbal medicines provide support and tonification to the whole body so that it can cope with current stressors and increase the body’s resistance to stress on many levels. The adaptogenic approach is to assist the body in healing itself, rather than approaching the symptoms directly and works to bolster the adaptive capabilities of the body through modulation of hormone and neurotransmitter physiology.
When Luke was developing his superfood coffee blend, he had several physiological problems that he wanted to solve, and knew that choosing the correct adaptogens would be key. He wanted a source of clean energy that is sustained throughout day without a caffeine crash. He was also looking to reduce coffee ‘jitters’ and caffeine induced anxiety and perceived stress levels in the body (of course it needed to taste great and be deliciously creamy as well!) He specifically chose to include functional ingredients, adaptogens and mushrooms to help drinkers get the most out of each day by reducing stress, providing clean energy and enhancing mental focus.
How Do Adaptogens Help You Focus?
As well as their work on counteracting the harmful effects of stress, adaptogens have stimulant properties that work on neurotransmitters and may improve mental clarity, which is why they are becoming popular as a way to enhance focus and improve performance.
Studies have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, anti-depressive, anti-anxiety and central nervous system stimulating activity. In addition, nootropic activity has also been observed, which is a cognitive enhancement that in some people can improve memory, increase mental alertness and concentration as well as boost energy levels and wakefulness.
There have been a number of clinical trials demonstrating that adaptogens exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly in tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention.
Types of Adaptogens and Their Function
Ashwagandha (withania somnifera) is a plant that has been used for over 3,000 years as an ancient medicinal herb.
Reported traditional and modern benefits include:
- Combat physical/mental stress and anxiety
- It can lower cortisol levels the stress hormone your body releases
- Lower blood sugar levels
- It supports mental clarity and brain function (like memory)
- It's been shown to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushrooms get their name by literally resembling a lion's mane as they grow. Traditionally, people enjoy these raw, steeped in tea or cooked up but their derivatives are used as a health supplement.
Lion's Mane has been shown to:
- Stimulate the growth of brain cells and therefore may support helping protect against degenerative brain diseases that cause memory loss (like Alzheimers)
- Reduces inflammation which helps improves blood flow, which provides your brain with more oxygen. The side effect of more oxygen in your brain is better brain performance
- Use their anti-inflammatory properties to reduce anxiety
- Enhance the immune system
Cordyceps (cordyceps militaris) are widely known in traditional Chinese medicine and have been used for centuries. There are over 400 species of Cordyceps discovered with Cordyceps Militaris being one of the most widely researched.
Most commonly, Cordyceps have been shown to:
- Boost energy and oxygen during exercise
- Immune system support
- Have antibacterial and antiviral compounds which help fight viral flus and infections
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is considered an adaptogen because it helps the body handle stress both physically and mentally. It also acts as a stimulant that increases nervous system function.
- This stimulant can boost energy levels and help prevent the effects of exhaustion - making it popular within the fitness industry.
- Studies have shown that Siberian ginseng can increase the exhaustion point by reducing the build-up of lactic acid and blood urea nitrogen, in addition to increasing fat utilisation.
- By increasing circulation, it may increase blood flow to the brain, improving mental functions such as focus, memory and concentration.
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is considered a herb for the body, mind, and spirit.
Holy basil has been used for:
- Immune support as a natural fever reliever and for it’s antibiotic, germicidal and disinfectant properties.
- Managing stress and anxiety. One of the most well-researched abilities of this herb is keeping hormone levels balanced naturally and helping manage symptoms of anxiety.
- Can counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels
- Positive effects on memory and cognitive function
How Can Adaptogens Balance the Effects of Coffee?
The main ingredient in coffee is caffeine, and this is known for providing energy or keeping you awake. But caffeine does so much more than just keeping you awake - it’s a stimulant that affects your central nervous system in numerous ways.
Too much caffeine is known to increase the body's level of cortisol aka “the stress hormone.” We all know stress is not good for your health - it can contribute to weight gain, mood changes, high blood pressure and lower immunity strength - to name a few. Caffeine also increases dopamine levels in your system, acting in a way similar to other stimulants. This can make you feel good at first, but after it wears off you can feel even more depleted, remember, what goes up, must come down!
When we face stress whether physical or mental, our bodies go through what’s called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and can soldier on.
When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which then energises you to tackle an emergency. But too much too often is usually bad for our bodies.
When we can adapt to stress, we perform better and feel better despite the perceived stress of the environment around us. Reduction in stress levels can improve our health and well-being.
Adaptogens work to fight off both emotional and physical stress that can lead to anxiety and inflammation down the line. Additionally, by lowering our cortisol levels, adaptogens help us to feel the stimulating benefits of coffee without any stress or jitters throughout the day.
Lifestyle factors also come into consideration when managing stress and improving mental clarity. Exercise and movement is an important factor to help regulate the hormonal balance of a stress response. When under stress the body uses its sympathetic nervous system, which is known as the ‘flight or fight mode’ which gives the body signals to move or to prepare for action. However, since most modern-day stress doesn’t involve having to run or fight, it is essential that the stress hormones are brought back under control. Alongside system balancing supplements, exercise and movement is always a useful way to bring these hormonal irregularities back into balance.