Why are so many people taking adaptogens to reduce their stress levels?
Millions of people worldwide are taking all-natural herbs that promise to enhance the way your body responds to stress and reduce its impacts on your health. With promises like a better libido, more mental energy, better sleep, and improved mood – it’s understandable why adaptogens are bursting with popularity. But, are adaptogens everything they’re cracked up to be? Let’s explore the world of adaptogenic medicine and uncover the truth behind these powerful little herbs.
What exactly are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a class of plants that are thought to counteract the effects of stress in the body. The term was coined in 1947 by a Soviet toxicologist named Nikolai Vasilyevich Lazarev. Adaptogens are thought to help build the body’s resistance to stress by improving resilience and decreasing sensitivity to stressors. There are multiple adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms, each with its own unique mechanism of action and health benefits.
Do adaptogens actually work?
Whether adaptogens work for you, depends on many different factors. However, the research is pretty positive. According to the authors of a study by the Swedish Herbal Institute Research & Development, researchers concluded that “Adaptogens have a significant, beneficial and specific effect on stress-induced symptoms under fatigue.” The study found benefits for cognitive function, mental performance, increasing energy, and for improving symptoms of depression.
Another scientific review examined studies using Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Bacopa found that these herbs were effective in reducing the negative impacts of stress, improving wellbeing, and increasing mental energy.
It has been shown that adaptogens help the body maintain homeostasis by affecting how the body’s stress response system works. Adaptogens affect stress markers, including the hormones that regulate your body’s stress response and HPA axis. Some of the biomarkers and regulators impacted by adaptogenic herbs include nitric oxide, cortisol, corticosterone, glucose, cytokines, biogenic amines, and neuropeptides. Learn more about your stress response here.
While there is still more work needed on the best way to use adaptogens for specific issues, the current research supports their use as a safe way to improve your health and build your body’s resilience to stress.
What are the active ingredients in adaptogens?
The chemical compounds in most adaptogens can generally be divided into three groups: phenolic compounds, tetracyclic triterpenes, and oxylipins.
- Phenolic compounds: Found in the roots and rhizomes of certain adaptogenic herbs and are structurally similar to neurotransmiatters called catecholamines. Catecholamines are hormones producers by the adrenal gland such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
- Tetracyclic triterpenes: Resemble the structure of corticosteroids which are also produced in the adrenal glands and play a significant role in the regulation of stress.
- Oxylipins: Resemble leukotrienes and lipoxins, which play important roles in inflammation response and immune-system functioning.
Adaptogens help your body better deal with stress by stabilizing your existing stress hormones, such as cortisol, and helping your body find equilibrium again. Their ability to impact your entire stress system means they have benefits for all of your organs. Adaptogenic herbs, therefore, support a broad range of functionalities including sleep, cognition, immune functioning, mood, thyroid and adrenal health, memory, and stress relief.
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How do I choose and Adaptogen?
Since many different factors can affect how your body responds to adaptogens, it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. You can use this general guide to get started with adaptogens.
Best all-around adaptogen: Rhodiola Rosea
Best adaptogen for mental stress and fatigue: Ashwagandha
Best adaptogen for physical stress and fatigue: Rhodiola Rosea
Best adaptogen for boosting energy, focus, and testosterone: Tongkat Ali and Panamax ginseng
Best adaptogen fo boosting Fertility: Tongkat Ali
Best adaptogen for low libido: Ashwagandha or panamax ginseng
Best adaptogen for Sleep: Ashwagandha or schisandra, and reishi
Best adaptogen for stress and inflammation: Ashwagandha or Panax ginseng, and reishi
Best adaptogen for hormonal health, libido, and menstruation: Maca
Best adaptogen for immune-system: Holy Basil, Shiitake, or Ginseng
Best adaptogen for focus and mental energy: Bacopa Monneiri
How to Take Adaptogens
Follow the recommended dosing guidelines on the adaptogenic herb you decide to try. You can choose from powders, capsules, or pre-mixed cocktails. The important thing is to find what works for you and to remain consistent in your daily dosing for a period of at least 4 weeks.
To avoid tolerance, you can choose to take one day off per week or take a week off of adaptogens every 6-8 weeks. Some people also choose to cycle adaptogens every 6-8 weeks to avoid any tolerance build-up and ensure they are getting the most out of the compounds.
Choosing your Supplement
If you’re just starting out, most experts agree that Rhodiola Rosea or Ashwagandha are excellent choices. You can read more closely in our glossary below to see how the different adaptogens work. Remember to talk to your doctor if you are taking any current medications that may impact your blood sugar or thyroid levels, as some adaptogens may impact blood glucose or thyroid function.
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Your Adaptogen Glossary
- Astragalus root: helps reduce stress and aging by protecting the structures at the end of chromosomes called telomeres.
- Ashwagandha: Helps the body cope with daily stress and may be esepcially helpful for restoring high quality sleep.
- Bacopa Monnieri: Helps to protect the brain, boosts memory, and enhances cognitive function.
- Cordyceps: A powerful fungi that helps restore balance to your hormones, reduce the impact of stress, and boost immune function.
- Chaga: Mushroom that’s great for supporting adrenal glands, strengthening immune system, and improving energy levels.
- Gingko Biloba: Help boost mood and mental energy while offering neuroprotective properties to the brain. It’s active components are ginkgo flavone glycosides which have an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect on the brain.
- Holy basil: Effective for promoting relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety, and boosting immune-functioning.
- Panax Ginseng: Helps boost memory, sexual function, fertility, and energy.
- Reishi: Another mushroom powerhouse with medicinal benefits such as helping reduce the impacts of stress, and promoiting healthy sleep patterns.
- Rhodiola rosea: Helps lower anxiety, reduces fatigue, and can even help combat feelings of depression.
- Maca: Can help improve mood, libido, energy, regulate hormones, and help you adapt to stress.
- Schisandra: Reduce stress, anxiety, decrease sleep latency, and boosts sleep quality.
- Shiitake: Anti-inflammatory properties, rich in b vitamins, and helps boost immune system and cardiovascular health. .
- Siberian ginseng: Can help boost energy and reduce the negative effects of mental fatigue and exhaustion.
- Tongkat Ali: Boosts mood, energy, testosterone levels and libido.It works by restoring normal testosterone levels by increasing the release of free testosterone from its binding hormone called globulin.
You can combine adaptogens with one another or with other health-promoting compounds to increase the benefits. Take a look at your goals and feel free to try combining them when you’re ready. Popular stacks include Gingko Biloba + Bacopa Monneriri, Ashwagandha + Rhodiola Rosea (take Rhodiola Rosea in the morning and Ashwagandha later in the day for best effects), and Gotu Kola + Bacopa Monnieri. You will also regularly find ingredients like black pepper in certain adaptogens in order to aid in absorption.
Are Adaptogens Safe?
There are very few long-term studies examining adaptogens but most experts agree they are extremely safe to take at varying doses.
Do Adaptogens Interact with Other Medications?
Use caution when using adaptogens with the following classes of medications:
Prescription Sedatives, Sleep Aids, and Anti-Anxiety Medicines
Many herbs have calming and sedative properties so these effects can be enhanced when combined with prescription sedatives. Use with caution and note any side effects.
Ashwagandha is known to support and stimulate thyroid function, so it has the potential to bump up thyroid hormone levels if combined with thyroid medications. Have your levels tested to find a balance that works for you.
Diabetes Medications or Drugs that Lower Blood Sugar
Most adaptogen herbs, including reishi and rhodiola naturally help balance blood sugar. If you take these herbs along with glucose-lowering meds, it may cause levels to dip below normal. As with thyroid drugs, rather than avoiding herbs, consider working with your doctor to see if they might enable you to lower your dosage of drugs.
The Bottom Line
Stress can have extremely detrimental effects on your health. You may not be able to avoid the stressors in your life but you can help improve your body’s response to stress by supplementing with adaptogens. Try using some today that target your specific needs and see what works best for you! You deserve it.