What Are Adaptogens & How Do They Work?
Have you ever heard of “adaptogens”? They sound like something out of a science fiction movie, right?
Something like, “Our defenses are crumbling! We need to release the adaptogens!”
But they’re very real, and they can do wonders for your body.
If you’re not sure what adaptogens are, where you can find them, how you should use them, when you should consume them, and more, then you’re in luck.
We’re about to teach you everything you need to know.
Adaptogens: The Basics
Adaptogens are natural, non-toxic healers.
In fact, it’s quite possible you’ve been consuming adaptogens your entire life without knowing it, unwittingly reaping adaptogenic benefits.
We’ll stop here for a minute, because we know what you’re thinking. Adaptogens aren’t the newest, hottest wellness trend that’s come to stake its claim over beet juice smoothies, rose water, and quinoa.
Adaptogens are more than a trend. They’ve been a part of medicine for centuries.
Simply put, they can be described as natural substances that work with a person’s body to help them adapt (hence the term “adapt”ogen) to the various challenges of life. Most notably, they’re said to help your body regulate homeostasis and return to its natural balance, especially when it comes to stress.
That’s the 30,000 foot view. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Adaptogens: The Nuts and Bolts
Our bodies have a built-in fight-or-flight system that is triggered in response to stress. This system is incredibly useful in emergencies or when we’re threatened and need to take immediate action.
Cortisol is released, which then triggers the adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system. Blood pressure is increased and your digestive secretions are restricted. Essentially, your body readies itself to either run or to stand and fight.
Unfortunately, we increasingly live in high-stress environments in which we encounter stressful situations multiple times per day. The meeting with the boss. Driving through heavy traffic. Dealing with irate customers. Caring for a screaming baby.
Each of these stressors triggers our fight-or-flight response, releasing a flood of cortisol through the body. Our bodies weren’t designed to handle so much cortisol, and it can lead to the adrenal glands failing, stress on the digestive tract, and rapid aging.
Cortisol levels and stress are only meant to exist in your body in short bursts — as a hormonal response designed to protect you in survival situations. Adaptogenic compounds (whether in food or in herbs) help mitigate the body’s stress response and get your adrenal system back into balance while overcoming adrenal fatigue. These compounds keep your body at a balanced level.
A natural ally to your body, adaptogens can help your body deal with persistent stress and fatigue, and help get you back to proper, functioning order. They work with your body to help regulate hormones and adjust your cortisol levels over long periods of time to help regulate chronic stress.
You can think of them like a thermostat for your body. When your stress “temperature” begins to rise, adaptogens can support your body as it comes back to its normal levels. They can help keep stress hormones from running rampant throughout your body.
For example, studies of Panax ginseng, a well-known adaptogen, have suggested that it can be significantly helpful in reducing the body’s overall response to stress. The same goes for numerous other adaptogens.
But that’s not all. Adaptogens also may boost your immune system, help you manage a healthy weight, increase your physical endurance and your mental focus, reduce discomfort, reduce cortisol levels (which contribute to stress), and encourage a balanced mood.
Adaptogens are a unique class of plants that can have particular healing abilities. They may be able to help balance, protect, restore your body, and normalize psychological functions.
The list of helpful, healing adaptogens is long – so long we can’t possibly include all of them in this article. But, we’ll list out of a few helpful adaptogens you can utilize in your daily routine.
In fact, you might already use some of these without knowing how much you’re helping your mind, body, restoration, and balance.
Some of the most popular adaptogenic herbs are things you’ve probably heard of, such as:
- Licorice root
Others, you might not be so familiar with include:
- Astragalus root
- Milk thistle
- Moringa oleifera
- Gotu kola
- Ginseng eleuthero
These adaptogens can be consumed in a variety of ways, including food and supplements. The main point is simply to start getting a number of these adaptogens in your diet, especially if you find yourself constantly under stress.
Adaptogens: In Your Diet
Adaptogens that are most notable for helping lower or balance your cortisol are compounds like rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha (indian ginseng), milk thistle, asian ginseng, holy basil, and panax ginseng. You’re probably going to be challenged to find ways to include milk thistle in your diet, meaning you’ll need to consume it in supplement form.
However, adaptogens can be present in food as well. Just like the herbs and other compounds, there are specific foods that can contain the healthy adaptogens your body can benefit from. Add basil to your meals to gain adaptogen benefits, eat specific kinds of mushrooms, or spice up your dishes with rosemary.
Additionally, consider things like ginseng tea and other herbal mixes. The goal is simply to find numerous ways to get adaptogens into your diet, whether it’s through supplements, food, or mixes.
And while most adaptogens can be used individually, many herbalists prefer to blend them together to create an even more potent effect. In essence, they stack the benefits on top of each other.
A Few Cautions With Adaptogens
The benefits of adaptogens seem endless, but knowing what they are and what they can do for you doesn’t answer a few of the remaining questions you probably have about the compounds.
For example, when should you take them? How do you know how long you should take them? In what amounts should you take adaptogens?
The positive thing about adaptogenic compounds is that there are only a few instances in which you can overdo it or they can cause you harm. In fact, one of the driving features of adaptogens is that they’re safe and non-toxic.
However, it’s possible, however, that some herbs can cancel each other out when taken together. For example, if you’re taking an herb that stimulates you and one that helps you sleep, the effects will probably cancel each other out.
It’s also possible that some of the herbs should only be used for limited amounts of time or once every few months. Herbalists and doctors often recommend rotating the adaptogens you use every few months.
As always, it’s important to check with your doctor before you start taking any form of medication or herbal remedies. Some herbs and foods that contain adaptogens can interact with other medications you’re taking, so ensure that you’ve approved any new herb or botanical with your doctor before you consume it.
Additionally, consider reading The Botanical Safety Handbook, which contains all the information you need to know about adaptogens.
If you’re breastfeeding, use particular caution. While no adaptogens have been shown to be of any concern for breastfeeding children, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe. Again, talk to your doctor.
Adaptogens and You: Final Thoughts
If you’re thinking about about adding adaptogens into your diet, you might find yourself wondering, “Do I really need them?” The answer is both, “Yes,” and, “No.”
You don’t need them in the sense that you need an antibiotic to treat a particular infection. You do need them to help you body stay in balance amidst the constant stresses of life.
It’s important to note that adaptogen supplements don’t treat specific conditions. Rather, they help boost your overall well-being. Instead of wondering if you “need” them to solve a problem, ask yourself if taking adaptogens can help you feel better, more balanced, less stressed, and healthier?
Ask yourself how you feel. Is your digestive tract functioning to the best of its ability? Do you have a healthy appetite? Is your skin vibrant and healthy? Are your stress levels easily manageable? If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s possible you’re a candidate for adaptogen inclusion in your diet!
Adaptogens help adjust your body’s stress response and keep it at a desirable level, similar to how you’d adjust the temperature from becoming too high or too low.
If you want to keep your body in balance, adaptogens might be the perfect solution to add to your diet and supplement plan!