What Are Adaptogens? And What Are Their Benefits?

Herbalists have used adaptogens for centuries to help the body restore balance for optimal health, but only recently has science begun to unlock its secrets.


Adaptogens are a class of herbal supplements that help the body to resist physical, chemical, and biological stressors.


They work by helping the body to regulate its stress response and boost the immune system, rather than by directly combating the stressor itself. This allows the body to adapt more effectively to changing conditions and reduces the long-term impact of stress.


Adaptogens are generally safe to take and are available in many different forms, such as powders, capsules, and tinctures. While there is still much research to be done on the efficacy of adaptogens, many people believe that these herbs can help to improve energy metabolism, reduce anxiety, and boost immunity.


If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of adaptogens and how to incorporate them into your wellness routine, you've come to the right place.




How Physical And Emotional Stresses Impact Your Health


We all experience stress from time to time, but did you know that there's a difference between good stress and bad stress?


Good stress, also known as eustress, is positive stress that motivates us perform our best and leads to a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Examples of positive stress are exercise, taking on new work projects, exploring hobbies, and immersing yourself in a new culture.


On the other hand, bad stress is the feeling of being sick, overwhelmed, anxious, or burnt out.


When we experience distress, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. If this happens too often or for too long (chronic stress), it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stress-induced impairments (anxiousness and depression).


So how can you tell the difference between good and bad stress?


If you're feeling motivated and energized by a challenge, it's probably good stress. But if you're feeling overwhelmed or sick because of your workload, relationships, or life events, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate your situation and find ways to help your body cope with stress and foster areas for positive stress.


That might mean making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet or getting more exercise. It could also mean finding ways to better manage emotional stressors, such as seeking counseling or practicing relaxation techniques.


Supplementing one's diet with adaptogenic herbs can also lend a hand in how the body manages stress effectively to reduce its negative impact long term.


How Do Adaptogens Work?


Researchers believe that adaptogens work by affecting the adrenal glands, which play a key role in the stress response.


By modulating the adrenal glands, some adaptogens help to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body and improve resistance to stress.


In addition, adaptogens seem to have a general tonic effect on health, helping to improve energy levels, circulation, and immune system function. With all these benefits, it's no wonder that adaptogens have been called "the ultimate stress-busting herbs.”


This means that they can help to increase energy levels when we are feeling tired, and decrease energy levels when we're feeling revved up. So, if you're looking for a way to reduce stress and promote relaxation, consider adding an adaptogen to your diet.


There are many different types of adaptogens available, so be sure to do your research before you choose one. And remember, always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement regime.


Common Adaptogens To Support The Stress Response


While there's no magic pill that can make all your worries disappear, there are some natural remedies that can help your body deal with stress more effectively.


These herbs have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda to help the body better cope with stress. And modern science is starting to back up these claims.


Studies have shown that adaptogenic herbs can help to improve mood, cognitive function, and energy levels while also reducing stress hormone levels [1].


So if you're looking for a natural way to support your body's stress response, here are some of the best adaptogenic herbs to try:


American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)


Ginsenosides, are the primary pharmacologically active ingredient in ginseng, which is responsible for its numerous health benefits, including reducing stress, improving cognitive function, boosting immunity, and cardiovascular health [2].


It is also sometimes used as a natural treatment for fatigue, anxiety, and depression. American ginseng root can be consumed fresh, dried, or powdered and is available in capsules, tablets, teas, and tinctures.


Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng)


There are subtle differences between American and Asian ginseng. Panax ginseng or Asian ginseng is considered to be "true ginseng" and has a higher ginsenoside content and is traditionally used in TCM to combat fatigue, aging, and improve fertility [3].


Genuine Asian ginseng does cost significantly more than other forms of the herb because of its limited growing environment, so it may not be as easily accessible.


Ashwagandha


Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb popular in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It is sometimes called "Indian ginseng" because of its similar properties.


The active ingredient in ashwagandha is withanolides, which help to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body to support healthy weight management [4].

In addition, ashwagandha is often used as a natural treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.


While more research is needed to confirm these effects, many people find that taking ashwagandha helps them to feel more relaxed and less stressed.


Astragalus Root


Also known as huáng qí, this ingredient is thought to have a variety of health benefits, including boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, and even fighting cancer.


Astragalus root contains a compound called cycloastragenol, is used to help regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats [5].


Astragalus root is most commonly taken as a supplement or tea, but it can also be found in some skincare products.


Cordyceps


Cordyceps mushrooms are a type of fungus that grows on insects and other small animals. In traditional Chinese medicine, they were prescribed for a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections and fatigue.


Today, cordyceps are best known for their ability to boost energy levels and improve athletic performance. Some studies have shown that they can increase oxygen uptake and help the body better utilize glucose [6]. Cordyceps are also thought to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.


Maca Root


Maca is a root vegetable that is native to the Peruvian Andes. For centuries, it has been used for its nutritional and medicinal properties.


Studies have shown that maca can help to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and increase energy levels [7]. Additionally, maca has been shown to improve sexual function in women. It can also help to alleviate hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms [8].


Overall, maca is an effective adaptogen that can be beneficial for women’s health.


Reishi


Also known as Lingzhi mushrooms, reishi mushrooms are prized for their purported ability to improve health and vitality. Today, interest in reishi mushrooms is growing, as more and more people look for natural ways to boost their health.


Preliminary research suggests that reishi mushrooms may offer a range of benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved heart health, and enhanced cognitive function [9]. They are also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer.


Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola is an herb that grows in the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. It's commonly taken as a dietary supplement to help boost energy levels and improve mental performance.


Rhodiola is thought to work by stimulating the production of certain brain chemicals that are involved in regulating mood and mental function. Additionally, rhodiola may help to protect cells from stress-related damage [10]. Some research suggests that it may also be effective in treating depression, anxiety, and fatigue.


Schisandra Berry


Schisandra berry is a small, red fruit that is native to Asia. It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments.


Today, these berries are commonly taken as a dietary supplement due to their high concentration of antioxidants and other nutrients. Some of the potential health benefits of schisandra berries include improved liver function, reduced inflammation, and enhanced cognitive function [11]. Additionally, these berries are sometimes used as an herbal remedy for anxiety and insomnia.


How To Incorporate Adaptogens Into Your Routine


If you're looking for a way to improve your health and well-being, you may want to consider incorporating adaptogens into your routine. Adaptogens are a class of natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and promote homeostasis. While they're not a panacea, research suggests that adaptogens can offer a wide range of benefits, including improved mental function, reduced fatigue, and enhanced immunity.


There are many ways to incorporate adaptogens into your routine. One popular method is to add them to your morning coffee or tea. Another option is to take them in supplement form. And if you're looking for a more creative way to use adaptogens, you can even add them to recipes like smoothies, soup, or yogurt.


Is Taking Adaptogens Safe?


While adaptogenic herbs are generally considered safe when used as directed, it is a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider before using them, as some herbs can interact negatively with some medications.


A lot of supplement companies are jumping on the adaptogen band wagon that have been part traditional Eastern medicine, which is why it's becoming more and more popular.


The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate natural supplements, so it's important that you shop from reputable brands that are transparent about their ingredient sourcing to ensure there aren't any lingering pesticides or other nasty contaminants in your supplements.


When it comes to using adaptogens safely, the general rule of thumb is to start with a lower dose and gradually increase as needed. This will help your body get used to the herb and reduce the risk of side effects.


It's also important to take adaptogens with food to help improve absorption and reduce the risk of stomach upset. If you do experience any side effects, such as nausea or headaches, discontinue use and consult your healthcare provider.


Overall, adaptogenic herbs are a safe and effective way to improve your health and well-being. Just be sure to start slow and increase your dosage gradually as needed.


The Takeaway: What Are Adaptogens & Should You Take Them?


Adaptogens are herbs that help the body manage stress by supporting the adrenal glands, balancing hormones, fighting free-radical damage, and boosting immune system functions. They're called "adaptogens" because they help the body adapt to physical, chemical, and biological stressors.


Now that we know what adaptogens are, you might be wondering if you should take them.


The answer is maybe! If you're feeling run down or stressed out, adaptogens might be worth a try.


However, it's important to discuss any new supplement with your doctor before adding it to your diet, especially if you have a chronic illness or medical condition. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions concerning how to add adaptogens into your wellness routine.


Resources:
  1. Stansbury, J., Saunders, P., & Winston, D. (2012). Supporting adrenal function with adaptogenic herbs. Journal of Restorative Medicine, 1(1), 76-82.

  2. Lu, J. M., Yao, Q., & Chen, C. (2009). Ginseng compounds: an update on their molecular mechanisms and medical applications. Current vascular pharmacology, 7(3), 293-302.

  3. Cui, S., Wu, J., Wang, J., & Wang, X. (2017). Discrimination of American ginseng and Asian ginseng using electronic nose and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry coupled with chemometrics. Journal of ginseng research, 41(1), 85-95.

  4. Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with ashwagandha root extract: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 96-106.

  5. Engin, C. A. N. (2008). TCM treatment for gynaecological diseases-irregular menstruation. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 28(4), 310-314.

  6. Chen, S., Li, Z., Krochmal, R., Abrazado, M., Kim, W., & Cooper, C. B. (2010). Effect of Cs-4®(Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 16(5), 585-590.

  7. Gonzales, G. F., Gonzales, C., & Gonzales-Castaneda, C. (2009). Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru–from tradition to science. Complementary Medicine Research, 16(6), 373-380.

  8. Stojanovska, L., Law, C., Lai, B., Chung, T., Nelson, K., Day, S., ... & Haines, C. (2015). Maca reduces blood pressure and depression, in a pilot study in postmenopausal women. Climacteric, 18(1), 69-78.

  9. Ahmad, R., Riaz, M., Khan, A., Aljamea, A., Algheryafi, M., Sewaket, D., & Alqathama, A. (2021). Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) an edible mushroom; a comprehensive and critical review of its nutritional, cosmeceutical, mycochemical, pharmacological, clinical, and toxicological properties. Phytotherapy Research, 35(11), 6030-6062.

  10. Lin, K. T., Chang, T. C., Lai, F. Y., Lin, C. S., Chao, H. L., & Lee, S. Y. (2018). Rhodiola crenulata attenuates γ-ray induced cellular injury via modulation of oxidative stress in human skin cells. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 46(01), 175-190.

  11. Sowndhararajan, K., Deepa, P., Kim, M., Park, S. J., & Kim, S. (2018). An overview of neuroprotective and cognitive enhancement properties of lignans from Schisandra chinensis. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 97, 958-968.

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