We’ve always had a habit of bringing back the old days – in fashion, movies, musical styles etc. There is always a love for the whole spirit. Now, we have taken this tradition into the health sector. Herbs, the primary feature of traditional medical practices, are now the rave of modern medicine.
Adaptogens have become one of the most relevant herbs in modern medical practice and are famed for their numerous benefits. Here. we explore what these adaptogens are, what they do and which herbs are classified as adaptogens.
Stress is a major problem in the body and is responsible for many diseases that afflict humans. Stress weakens the neurological, endocrine and immune systems, resulting in dysfunction. Thus, it is important to counteract the effects of stress on the body.
As the name implies, Adaptogens are plants, herbs, and mushrooms that help the body adapt to stress. These herbs affect the stress response system to balance the levels of stress hormones. In addition to their anti-stress effect, adaptogens bring balance to several other systems and are thus useful in treating conditions like anxiety, depression, fatigue, circulation problems etc.
Adaptogens featured prominently in traditional Chinese and Ayurveda medicine. These herbs were either eaten raw or prepared as tinctures, decoctions, infusions or powders. These herbs have become popular in modern medical practice due to their numerous benefits. Hence, they are now available in modern formulations such as capsules, tablets and powders for the solution.
Adaptogens have the advantage of being non-toxic. Coupled with their numerous benefits, these herbs may be regarded as a medical wonder. As a result, research on adaptogens has expanded in recent times. These herbs have been found to improve energy and mood, enhance memory and thought processes, extend lifespan, treat cancer, slow aging, correct hormonal-related problems, stabilize blood sugar, etc.
Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone, and its production and regulation are controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). This axis ensures that cortisol levels remain within defined limits. However, when the body is exposed to prolonged stress, the HPA becomes dysregulated, causing cortisol levels to remain persistently high.
Adaptogens work on a molecular level at the HPA. These herbs regulate HPA and hack the body’s stress response. The production of cortisol is regulated, allowing the body to respond optimally to stressful conditions. However, if cortisol stays persistently high, the resultant effects are damaging to the body. Adaptogens ensure that the body stays in the phase of regulated cortisol production regardless of its exposure to stress. This allows us to physically and mentally adapt to the response without getting fatigued.
By regulating the HPA response, adaptogens help to balance several systems, including the nervous and circulatory systems. Research shows that adaptogens increase mental capacity, enhance attention and prevent stress and fatigue.
Adaptogens serve various functions in the body. Adaptogens help the body function better and overcome the influences of chemicals and physical and biological stressors. Some of the researched benefits of adaptogens include;
- They help to improve attention.
- Increase endurance in situations caused by fatigue
- Reduce the risk of stress-induced disorders and impairments in the body
- They help to balance hormone levels in the body
- Help reduce, balance and keep cortisol levels and other hormone levels in check.
- Fight fatigue resulting from excessive physical or emotional stress
- They help to counter the impact that stress has on the brain’s function
- Adaptogen helps to stimulate mental performance that has been affected by stress
- Stabilize the body system and normalize body functions
- Boost the immune system
- Fight the stress-related symptoms caused by increased cortisol levels in the body, symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and obesity.
- Increase strength and physical stamina and improve energy levels
- Improve the function of organs, like the liver and adrenal glands.
- Improve the function of body systems, like the gastrointestinal system.
There are numerous herbs that have adaptogenic properties. We may classify these adaptogenic herbs based on their primarily researched benefit. Thus, the following herbs are adaptogens of relevance.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng, helps protect cells and reduce inflammation. This herb is native to the Indian subcontinent and parts of Africa and is one of the most potent adaptogens, being effective in relieving stress and anxiety. Besides its stress-relieving effect, ashwagandha helps regulate blood sugar levels, boost memory and enhance mood.
Ashwagandha root extracts are used in formulating ashwagandha capsules, tablets, gummies and powders. Ashwagandha is one of the more popular adaptogens and is described as a medical miracle. Some of its other benefits include; enhancing sexual function and promoting weight loss.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a herb that is native to Europe and East Asia. Licorice has several benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is also considered a potent adaptogen, helping to relieve stress and regulate mood.
Licorice roots are majorly used for their medicinal properties. Thus, licorice may be marketed as root extract powder or formulated as tablets or capsules. Licorice benefits also include treating coughs and healing gastric ulcers.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) is a flowering plant native to Europe, Asia and North America. Rhodiola is one of the most researched adaptogens and has shown marked benefits in numerous studies. In Scandinavian regions, Rhodiola roots are primarily prepared as a remedy for anxiety, depression and fatigue. Rhodiola has also demonstrated the ability to improve brain function, treat certain cancers and remedy diabetes.
Like other adaptogenic herbs, Rhodiola is available as root extracts and as capsules and tablets. However, it was the first adaptogen to be tested on athletes and showed remarkable benefit in helping to enhance exercise performance.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is another well-researched adaptogen with demonstrated adaptogenic and other medicinal benefits. Besides its stress and anxiety-relieving property, ginseng has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and benefits in treating certain cancers.
Ginseng is native to Asia and North America. The ginseng roots are the main medicinal part and are often formulated as powders, tablets and capsules. Ginseng helps improve brain function, strengthen the immune system, reduce sugar levels, regulate mood and boost nervous functions.
Reishi mushrooms, also known as Ganoderma lucidum, are fungus adaptogens with immunity-enhancing properties. Besides its stress-relieving properties, this mushroom also effectively treats cancerous tumors and promotes healthy sleeping patterns. Reishi mushrooms act on the HPA to regulate cortisol production and increase white blood cell production, particularly in cancer patients.
Garlic is another potent adaptogen. Garlic roots have several medicinal benefits, which along with their adaptogenic property, synergistically benefit several body systems. Garlic may be formulated as root extract powder or capsules and has demonstrated effects in boosting the immune system and reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Garlic has also been used in treating Alzheimer’s, dementia and certain types of cancers.
Astragalus root: a traditional Chinese herb with several medicinal properties. It helps to reduce stress and slow the aging process by protecting the telomeres. Astragalus roots also help treat hay fever and enhance the immune system’s functioning.
Holy basil: it helps to relieve stress and anxiety and promotes relaxation
Cordyceps: it is an adaptogen mushroom that helps to balance hormones and fight stress.
Maca: this adaptogen helps to increase energy and improve mood
Wild yam: helps to regulate female hormone (estrogen) levels in the body
Licorice root: helps to boost the immune system, stimulate the adrenal glands, increase energy and endurance and promote healthy cortisol levels
Bacopa monneiri: helps to protect the brain, improve cognitive function and memory
Goji berry: it helps boost energy, promote calmness, improve sleep, boost physical and mental performance and increase the sense of wellbeing.
Eleuthero root: helps to stave off mental fatigue and improve focus.
Jiaohulan: helps to boost endurance and reduce stress
Schisandra berry: helps increase mental performance and boosts endurance and working capacity.
Turmeric: helps to reduce depression and boost brain function.
The major advantage of adaptogens is that they have limited side effects. Unlike synthetic medicines, adaptogens are natural and thus have limited effects other than what is desired.
However, when used in large quantities more than recommended, adaptogens may cause some disturbances. These side effects are rare and include;
- Abdominal pain
- Allergic reactions
Everyone may not experience these side effects as people have different body systems.
Adaptogens have become a common trend among athletes, Olympians, and bodybuilders. Using adaptogens helps to increase athletic performance and enhance strength and muscle building. Adaptogens also help bodybuilders to increase endurance and reduce their recovery time.
Adding adaptogen supplements to your exercise diet helps to reduce stress levels, improve attention, enhance endurance and reduce fatigue in athletes and bodybuilders. Adaptogens help the body adjust to stressors resulting from working out. Thus by using adaptogens, athletes and bodybuilders achieve greater workout efficiency.
Adaptogens are natural plants needed to help fight stress and hormone regulation in the body. Some of these adaptogens have side effects, and some react with other drugs. Adaptogens are also helpful in increasing mental and physical performance in bodybuilders and athletes. Before using any adaptogen, you should consult your doctor to know the best adaptogens to fit your body system.