Adaptogens are having a moment in mainstream media publications. They’ve been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and more recently have been the focus of many Western science studies.
In many areas of the non-Western world, adaptogens are used extensively in high-risk and strenuous occupations, from athletes to miners to deep sea divers.
So what are they?
Adaptogens are herbs that are said to protect the body from the toxic effects of stress. To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must be completely safe and non-toxic, it must support overall health by helping the body achieve homeostasis (a state of balance) and it must specifically reduce stress, both mental and physical.
A few of the more well-known adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha: due to its outstanding ability to lower cortisol, it helps provide relief from anxiety, insomnia and stress-related depression. Also increases vitality, energy, endurance and stamina.
- Asian ginseng: has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress and research indicates that it promotes a sense of well-being.
- Eleuthero: enhances immunity and overall vitality
- Maca: said to increase strength, energy, stamina, libido and sexual function.
- Rhodiola rosea: helps increase physical stamina and wards off fatigue and exhaustion due to stress.
- Siberian ginseng: widely used in Russia and is favored by athletes due to its ability to increase physical performance.
How do they work?
Adaptogens work by normalizing levels of the stress hormone cortisol and help support fatigued adrenal glands. Studies have shown that too much cortisol on an ongoing basis can be dangerous to your health, can cause premature aging, and is one of the culprits behind anxiety, mood swings, forgetfulness, brain fog, concentration problems, insomnia, and weight gain.
One of the amazing things about adaptogens is that they are effective regardless of the root cause of the stress, and whether the stress is physical in origin or mental.
In addition to lowering cortisol and supporting adrenal glands, adaptogens have also been shown to:
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Support the immune system
- Give you more energy
- Improve digestion
- Aid in weight loss
A good analogy that I ran across was to think of adaptogens as a thermostat. Just like a thermostat can keep the temperature in your home from getting too high or too low, adaptogens help regulate your body’s stress response when your stress level goes high.
How do you take them?
Adaptogens are available in many forms, most commonly you can find them in a powder that can be mixed into water to drink like a tea or added to a smoothie or a pill form. One form is not necessarily better than the other, it’s mainly just a matter of personal preference.
A lot of people who take adaptogens take them every day, or a multiple times per day, depending on their needs (you should always check with a professional for guidance about what’s right for you).
Always consult your doctor before taking any herbs and be aware of the side effects and contraindications that some of these herbs have for people with some conditions.
If you’ve used adaptogens, I’d love to hear about your experience with them!