You may have noticed lately that ‘adaptogens’ are trending in the realm of health-related buzzwords. Adaptogens are plants that are believed to prepare the human body to resist stressors of all kinds, be they biological, physical or chemical. They are herbs and roots that have been used in the Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional healing systems for centuries and have recently seen a boom in the West. Some of them, like the holy basil, are consumed in foods, while others are taken in the form of supplements or brewed into tea.
How do Adaptogens Work?
Although this field is not yet fully researched, proponents of it believe that adaptogens may have the same effect on our adrenal glands as exercise does on our muscles.
When we begin exercising, the first few days are never easy. Our heart rate increases, our breathing rate goes up, we feel short on energy, and we experience pain. This is because exercise is a stress on our body. As we continue to work out, though, our body adapts and works better to deal with the effects of our stressors. Likewise, adaptogens train our body to handle the effects of stress better.
‘How’ exactly adaptogens affect our health and body is still not clearly known, and more detailed studies are required. The research, at the current stage, has primarily been conducted on animals and human cell line samples. It is, therefore, too soon to confidently conclude ‘how’ adaptogens bring about these healing effects.
It has been hypothesized, however, that Adaptogens might work by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system. These systems are involved in the body’s response to stress. Stress, whether physical or mental, causes the body to produce physiological reactions. These reactions harm the body if they don’t die down once the stress stimulus has waned. Adaptogenic plants may modify hormone production levels and associated physiological reactions to stress – making our body function at a naturally lower stress level.
What are Some Adaptogenic Herbs?
Each adaptogen offers different functions. The one you should take depends on the kind of ailment you’re suffering from. Some possible roles of adaptogens are related to the following ailments:
- Chronic stress: Ashwagandha and Asian ginseng are believed to relieve long-term, chronic stress. They also take care of the hormonal imbalances that are linked to stress. Research suggests that holy basil or tulsi may also help lower high-stress levels.
- Acute stress and anxiety: Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola and Schisandra may fight the stress response – the fight-or-flight response. Siberian ginseng is commonly used to boost the immune system, sexual health and physical stamina. Rhodiola, also known as the golden root, is thought to improve physical performance and memory. Schisandra is believed to improve gastrointestinal problems and liver functioning.
Human research is still needed to back up these claims.
- Immune health: Reishi and ginseng are believed to boost immunity; while some small studies have proven the same.
Adding Adaptogens to Diet
You can add powders made from dried adaptogenic plants to your food to reap its benefits. If you want to take a straight, direct dose, you can drink teas made with adaptogens, or even combine adaptogenic tinctures with water.
There’s nothing wrong about supplementation as long as you know what you’re taking. Adaptogens are being marketed as capsules, but a lot of companies aren’t exactly adding the right ingredients in these capsules, assuming or wishing a synergistic effect might happen. Ensure that you buy your adaptogen supplements from a reputed company; otherwise, the results can be potentially dangerous.
Adaptogen Side Effects
Consult with your doctor before you add adaptogens to your health and wellness routine. One 2018 study observed that common herbal supplements might interact negatively with prescription medications. Many people hide the fact that they’re taking herbal supplements from their doctors in fear of being judged, but the fear is no bigger than your life!
As we’ve established – more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of adaptogen given that their side effects are not yet fully known. Like any other plant, they can cause allergies and gastrointestinal problems for some people. Adaptogens are seen as more of a symptomatic treatment than a cure. People who aren’t able to meditate or do yoga to cope with their everyday stress are better on a pill or tea – at least this gives them an option!
As with anything that you’re using on or in your body, dosing low and going slow is the best advice one can follow. So if you consider adaptogens as a way to reduce stress – go low-and-slow. It is, however, essential to remember that you can’t cure an ailment until you know what is causing it.