Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body adapt to stress. Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine have used these herbs for centuries to help the body cope with stress, improve stamina, and promote overall health. Today, adaptogen supplements are gaining popularity among Westerners as a natural way to improve stress resilience and encourage relaxation. While there is no concrete definition of an adaptogen, these herbs are typically characterized by their ability to restore balance in the body, boost energy levels, and protect against stress-related illnesses. Some of the most popular adaptogens include ashwagandha, holy basil, and Rhodiola Rosea. [While more research is needed to confirm the efficacy of adaptogens], these herbs offer a safe and natural way to improve stress resilience and promote overall health.
A Short History of Adaptogens
Russian scientist Nikolai V. Lazarev first coined the term adaptogen in 1947. He defined an adaptogen as a natural substance that helps the body adapt to stress and promotes overall health. Since then, adaptogens have been widely studied for their ability to improve mental and physical performance. Some of the most popular adaptogens include ginseng, ashwagandha, and maca root. These herbs have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of conditions. Today, adaptogen supplements are commonly taken to help improve energy levels, increase stamina, and reduce stress. While more research is needed to understand the full effects of adaptogens, there is evidence that these herbs can be beneficial for overall health and well-being.
Though the term ‘adaptogen” was first coined in the 20th century, it is believed that Rhodiola, Ginseng, Reishi, and other natural substances that contain adaptogens were utilized by royal families in China around 2500 BC. Time-hopping forward, we discover that adaptogenic herbs started to pop up in various medical texts, including The Shennong Herbal, a Chinese text believed to be written between 206 BC and 220 AD, and De Meteria Medicia by Greek physician Dioscorides. The next several hundred years would see adaptogens studied and utilized by the likes of the Shaolin Monks, Vikings, and Russian Tzars to improve physical performance, increase resilience under stress, to enhance sexual function and libido, and as a longevity strategy.
But it would be Russian scientist Nikolai V. Lararev and colleague Israel I. Brekhman who would conduct several hundred clinical studies discovering the benefits of adaptogens. The basic definition of adaptogens was first published in the 1960s. And despite being a huge deal in the holistic world, adaptogens remain relatively unknown in the Western World.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
Many of us exist in a prolonged, unrelenting state of stress. We all know how a busy schedule, deadlines, and anxiety can negatively affect our lives. We then start feeling the effects of being over-stressed, including sleepless nights and physical and emotional struggles. Our bodies respond to stress and toxins by releasing the stress hormone cortisol as a natural and appropriate response to stress – but when this gets out of hand when we have no way to otherwise get the stress out of our system, too much of a good thing becomes part of the problem. When this happens, our adrenal glands, which control hormone functionality and response, first start to overproduce cortisol, which suppresses the immune system, and drives higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar, short-term memory loss, weight gain, loss of libido, and mood disturbance.
Then as the neuroregulatory axis shifts and the adrenal gland, which is the workhorse in the survival response, the next phase of adrenal compensation sets in, and you enter adrenal fatigue, which is characterized by inadequate stress responses by an adrenal system that is unable to meet your daily needs in a flexible way. Therefore, when we suffer from long-term stress, we are either in a depleted state of cortisol after a period of over-producing it. Dr. Hans Selye, who received 17 Nobel prize nominations for his groundbreaking research in stress endocrinology and physiology, clearly outlined the way the stress response affects the hormone system, immune system, digestion, sleep, and mood as the “General Adaptation Syndrome” and later “Stress Response.” This is the foundational reference we currently use in modern stress physiology!
Adaptogen supplements stabilize cortisol levels and regulate their production in a more situationally appropriate way that gives one resilience and flexibility. Basically, adaptogens mimic your biological needs and teach your body how to regain equilibrium, even when you are under stress. The true beauty of adaptogens is that they have the ability to balance the entire body as it affects your entire system. It supports everything from mood and cognition to memory, adrenal and sexual health.
Popular Adaptogenic Herbs
Ashwagandha – Ashwagandha is a shrub that grows in India, the Middle East, and Africa. Also known as Withania somnifera, ashwagandha has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. The root and berries of the plant are typically dried and powdered and then taken orally as a supplement or brewed into a tea. Ashwagandha is thought to offer a variety of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting immune function, and reducing stress levels by virtue of reducing the stress response in the hypothalamic-pituitary hormonal control area, reducing the adrenal workload, and preserving healthful function, especially in the rest of the hormonal system. Additionally, some research suggests that ashwagandha may also improve cognitive function, sleep, and libido and protect against age-related cognitive decline.
Rhodiola – Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root or roseroot, is a herbal supplement that has been traditionally used to treat fatigue and stress. The active ingredients in Rhodiola are rosavin and salidroside, which are believed to work together to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine while balancing adrenaline and nor-adrenaline levels in the brain. Rhodiola is also a potent antioxidant, and it is thought to help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. A number of clinical trials have shown that Rhodiola can significantly reduce symptoms of stress and fatigue, and it is also thought to improve cognitive function. As a result, Rhodiola is often referred to as an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body adapt to and resist stress.
Astragalus – Astragalus is a perennial herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The root of the plant is typically dried and powdered and can be taken in capsule form or used to make tea. It’s thought that astragalus has a wide range of health benefits, including boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and improving heart health. Some studies have also found that astragalus can help to protect against cancer, although more research is needed in this area. Overall, astragalus is considered a safe and effective herbal remedy and is often used as a natural treatment for various ailments.
Panax – Panax is a type of ginseng that is native to Korea, China, and Siberia. The root of the plant is used to make medicine. Panax ginseng is sometimes called “true ginseng” or “Asian ginseng” to distinguish it from other types of ginseng, such as American ginseng or Siberian ginseng. People use Panax ginseng for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and diabetes. It is also used for improving thinking, concentration, memory, and physical endurance. The active ingredients in Panax ginseng are thought to be compounds called ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are thought to have a variety of effects on the body, including anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.
Why Should You Try Adaptogen Supplements?
If you’re like most people, you probably think of adaptogens as some sort of new-age, hippie-dippie supplements that don’t really do anything. But the truth is, adaptogens are a class of herbs that have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine to help the body cope with stress. And now, thanks to modern science, we know that adaptogens can indeed help to modulate the stress response. In addition, studies have shown that adaptogen supplements can help to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and increase resilience to stress and performance while under stress. So if you’re feeling stressed out, why not give adaptogens a try? You might be surprised at how well they work over the short term to feel better and over the longer term to build a healthy and flexible stress response.
Safely Adding Adaptogen Supplements To Your Diet
You can find adaptogens in several forms, including teas, tinctures, and supplements. Whatever adaptogen supplements you are taking, make sure you do adequate self-care, maintain hydration and electrolyte intake, sufficient sleep-wakefulness cycles, and a healthy, varied diet. Also, keep in mind that adaptogens aren’t a quick fix to all of your problems; instead, they are meant to help your body adapt more readily over time with strength and resilience to the stressors of your environment, so give them a fair chance to lay that solid functional foundation.
Taking control of your wellness and health doesn’t have to be a complicated and overwhelming process. All you really need to do is choose from the natural supplements offered by Return Healthy to feel your absolute best. For example, our Adaptogen Immune supplement helps balance your body’s system and enables you to reach a state of homeostasis, that calm and stress-resilient, flexible, and in a control state, we all seek. So try our Adaptogen Immune supplement, and you can begin your journey to an in-control, strong, and self-directed life.