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Adaptogens 101

Rooted in ancient Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines (TCM), adaptogens are powerful medicinal herbs and plants that can help you combat stress.

We often face many different types of stressors in our lives - some of which you may not even be aware of. Stress can arise because of the foods we eat, the activities we do, our careers and lifestyles, and any kind of change in our environment that we are not accustomed to. While some forms of stress can be positive, elevated cortisol levels can be damaging to health, especially if the stress is prolonged.

Enter adaptogens - your best friend to help you cope with mental, physical and emotional stress. The word “adaptogen” is derived from the Greek word “adapto,” which means “to adjust.” By supporting your endocrine, nervous and immune systems, they help bring your body back into balance (also known as homeostasis).

You may have heard of some of them without knowing of their adaptogenic qualities - Holy basil, reishi mushrooms, ginseng (various species), ashwagandha, maca, and rhodiola rosea. They have had long histories of use, dating back thousands of years to ancient India and China, where plants and herbs were commonly used as medicines.

The term adaptogen was first coined in 1947 by Soviet toxicologist N. V. Lazarev, and later defined in 1958 by Soviet researchers with the following three properties [1]:

(a) they must be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism;

(b) they must have a nonspecific action;

(c) they usually [have] a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state.

As adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis hormones [2] and the sympathoadrenal system to increase resistance to stress through physiological responses without disrupting normal biological functions [3], they are safe and beneficial for most people to consume.

Think of it as a substitute to your energy drink, which is usually loaded with caffeine and sugar, or a natural supplement with gentle and subtle effects. Adaptogens are not a wonder cure, but when taken over a period of time, they help you manage your stress effectively.

To date, various studies and practical applications have shown that adaptogens are a kind of elite herbal medicine, playing an important role in human health [4]. However, the clinical application of plant-originated adaptogens and their use in health care products remains in the preliminary stage due to a lack of substantive scientific studies dedicated to adaptogens. As such, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those with prescription medications, are advised to consult their medical practitioners prior to consuming adaptogens.

 

Sources:

[1] Ultimate Guide to Adaptogens (https://drinkmetta.com/blogs/the-elevated-life/the-ultimate-guide-to-adaptogens)

[2] Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/)

[3] What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them? (https://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/)

[4] A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/)

[5] Stress, Adaptogens and Their Evaluation: An Overview (https://www.longdom.org/open-access/stress-adaptogens-and-their-evaluation-an-overview-jpr-1000110.pdf)