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What are Adaptogens and Why Should You Care?

  • 5 min read

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Adaptogens, encompassing various plant and mushroom species, possess remarkable properties that aid the body in effectively combating stress, anxiety, fatigue and promoting overall well-being. These natural wonders can be seamlessly incorporated into one’s diet or consumed as tinctures, offering an array of benefits to address both physical and mental stressors.

By harmonizing the body’s responses, adaptogens play a pivotal role in restoring a state of equilibrium, fostering optimal health and resilience in the face of various stress-inducing factors (and let’s be real, everyone these days has more than enough stress in their lives).

In this article, we will dive deeper into adaptogens, what they are, how they work, their types, and their benefits.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purpose only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before using adaptogens.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens, comprising a diverse assortment of plants, possess the remarkable ability to interact with the body’s stress response system, enabling it to adapt and meet the demands placed upon it.

These herbal remedies, roots, and fungi have gained significant traction within the wellness community, being readily available as supplements, powders, and featured ingredients in juice bars, tonic beverages, and various food offerings.

While their recent surge in popularity has captured our attention, it is worth noting that adaptogens have been utilized for a very long time, such as being used as traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to promote the body’s resilience in coping with stress and pursuing overall well-being.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

Researchers state that adaptogenic herbs correspond to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a complex system of hormones, glands, and receptors in the human body. The HPA axis is central to our body’s homeostasis, energy metabolism, and stress responses.

When we consume adaptogens, their organic compounds and properties work with the HPA axis to help balance our body systems. If there is an excess of one hormone, the adaptogens help to lower it.

On the other end of the spectrum, if there is not enough of one hormone, adaptogens can help replenish its levels.

The Various Types of Adaptogens

People use many types of adaptogens to help cope with stress and put them in a better mental state. Some of the most common types of adaptogens are listed below.

American Ginseng

American ginseng supports the immune system, reduces inflammation for pain relief, combats stress, boosts the nervous system, and may regulate mood by affecting dopamine levels.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha positively impacts the endocrine, nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. It regulates metabolism, promotes relaxation by modulating the brain’s stress response, acts as an antioxidant to protect cells, and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling.

Eleuthero

Eleuthero, like ginseng, alleviates stress and fatigue. This adaptogen also enhances immune function as an immune modulator.

Asian Ginseng

Ginseng is effective in relieving both mental and physical fatigue, providing a boost in energy and enhancing performance during stressful activities.

Rhodiola

Rhodiola has been found to alleviate symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It has shown promising results in improving performance during stressful situations, whether it be in the workplace or during physical activity.

4 Health Benefits of Adaptogens

There are many health benefits associated with using adaptogens. Below are some of the things you may experience when using adaptogens:

1.      Treats stress, anxiety, and depression

In a study conducted in France in 2015 and published in the Journal of International Medical Research, a group of people experiencing job-related stress were given the adaptogen eleuthero (also known as “Siberian ginseng”) for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported improved sleep, reduced fatigue, relief from depression, and other stress-related symptoms.

Adaptogens are described as powerful natural solutions to manage stress and inflammation, providing the body with long-awaited relief. They can be likened to “meditation pills” that bring a sense of calmness and relaxation.

2.      Stronger immunity

Ginseng has potential benefits in reducing the risk of cognitive diseases, preventing autoimmune conditions, and mitigating various health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and more.

Excessive cortisol, known as the primary stress hormone, can deplete the body’s nutrient reserves, leading to memory impairment and affecting metabolism, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.

The dried roots of Rhodiola rosea contain compounds that can help reduce cortisol secretion during times of stress.

3.      Adaptogens and Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of metabolic abnormalities increasing the risk of diabetes and vascular disease, affects a substantial number of individuals. Chronic stress and hyperactivity of the HPA axis contribute to its development.

Adaptogens, with their stress-modulating properties, show promise in mitigating symptoms and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and associated complications like type 2 diabetes.

4.      Builds endurance and burns fat

A study revealed that eleuthero supplementation contains compounds that combat fatigue and promote fat utilization for energy.

Also, another report demonstrated that consuming 800 milligrams (mg) of eleuthero daily for eight weeks resulted in a 23 percent increase in endurance during cycling exercises, along with a 12 percent boost in peak oxygen saturation and a three percent rise in heart rate.

Ashwagandha, available in powder and supplement forms, also exhibits fat-fighting properties.

In a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, taking 300 milligrams of ashwagandha twice a day for two months significantly reduced cortisol levels, which are associated with abdominal fat accumulation.