What are Adaptogens?

What are Adaptogens?

Have you come across the new health and wellness buzzword “adaptogens” recently? Well if so, you’re definitely not alone. In the past couple years, the term has exploded into the mainstream with blogs and supplement companies marketing adaptogenic products as the next big wave in the health and wellness sphere. 

Yet no matter how many times you’ve heard the word, perhaps you’re still waiting for someone to explain to you exactly what adaptogens are, how they work, and why you should care? 


We’ve got you covered.


A Long History


Adaptogens have been used in Chinese Functional Medicine and Indian Ayurveda Medicine for centuries. But it wasn’t until World War II, when the Russian military conducted hundreds of studies on soldiers using adaptogenic herbs (esp. Eleutherococcus senticosus, or Siberian Ginseng) in an effort to reduce fatigue and increase stamina, that adaptogens really emerged into western medicine’s awareness.


Since that time, countless studies of adaptogenic plants and fungi have been conducted. Though most studies have been on animals or performed in-vitro, meaning in a test tube, mainstream acceptance of the benefits of adding adaptogenics to your diet is quite established. 


A Tonic for Stress


Put simply, adaptogens help your body handle stress, whether it’s a biological, chemical, or physical stressor.


Each adaptogenic plant and fungi operates a bit differently, but on the whole they achieve their de-stressing effect by interacting with your Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and your Sympathoadrenal system, both of which are involved in the body’s response to stress.


So, what’s actually going on in this interaction?


It’s believed that adaptogens work similarly to catecholamines, the neurotransmitters involved in stress situations (well-known catecholamines include adrenaline, epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine). 


In other words, adaptogens are mild stressors. By taking them regularly, you help build up your body’s immunity and tolerance for stress, allowing you to better control future stress situations. 


Typically, when you’re stressed, your body goes through three stages: alarm, resistance, then exhaustion. Think of exercising at the gym. You start working out and your body reacts by pumping out particular hormones like adrenaline to help improve your performance. In essence, your body reacted to the alarm phase and provided its response, putting you squarely in the resistance phase. Once you start to feel tired, you’re entering the exhaustion phase. Anyone who exercises knows the longer you can stay in the resistance phase, the better your workout is going to be. Adaptogens help elongate that sweet spot and delay tumbling into exhaustion.  


Some Familiar Names


But what qualifies as an adaptogen? Some common adaptogenic plants and fungi include: 

  • Ashwagandha
  • Medicinal mushrooms (e.g. Reishi, Cordyceps, Chaga)
  • Ginseng
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Holy Basil
  • Maca Root


So, now you know that adaptogenic plants and fungi have a long history of use, help improve your body’s stress response, and achieve their powerful effects by essentially building up your tolerance to stress. 


Now the only question is why you wouldn’t consider using adaptogens to add another tool to your stress management toolbox?



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