by Valerie Demetros
Adaptogens are a buzzword right now in the wellness world. But if you’re new to the idea or aren’t sure if they live up to the hype, let’s break it down.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are fundamentally a class of herbs intended to boost your tolerance of both physical and emotional stress. They adapt to your needs and can boost your energy or help you relax. Some claim adaptogens help with trouble focusing, headaches, dry eye, high blood pressure and even cancer.
In 1947, a scientist in the Soviet Union coined the term adaptogens after finding that soldiers needed more resistance and adaptogens helped them focus, cope and adapt to stress. One of the early adaptogens, rhodiola, is grown in the Siberian highlands.
One small study found that adaptogens may impact how much of the fight-or-flight cortisol hormone is released, which reduces stress. It’s also been found that they encourage cells to produce more neuropeptide Y, which regulates mood and appetite. They also help your body adapt to physical stressors like exercise and support your immunity.
How adaptogens work
Although more research is needed, many believe adaptogens are beneficial. Adaptogens may do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for your muscles.
For example, when you exercise it stresses your body. But as you continue to exercise, you adapt to the stress and no longer tire as easily. With adaptogens, you train your body to handle stress over time.
Some experts believe the plants do this by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, which help the body’s response to stress. Adaptogens may tweak hormone production and your body’s response to stress.
This herb has immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory benefits, boosts white blood cells, fights fatigue and improves autoimmune health. A 2014 study found that regularly taking ashwagandha helps manage anxiety..
Rhodiola is good for stress relief and focus. Research shows that regularly taking rhodiola can help fight fatigue that dulls mental concentration.
Also known as Siberian ginseng, this herb reinvigorates your chi and restores energy. Research shows it also supports adrenal function and promotes the breakdown of stress hormones.
Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom, is beneficial for your liver, kidneys and heart. One study found that when used regularly for three weeks, participants exercised longer and easier.
Incorporating adaptogens in your life
To reap the benefits, you need to take adaptogens daily for a few weeks. In most cases, take it in the morning when your cortisol is highest.
There are some exceptions: If taking ashwagandha for sleep, take it in the evening. But for other purposes, such as adrenal or immune system support, take it in the morning.
You can sip adaptogen teas or combine tinctures with water. To add them to your foods, buy pre-mixed powders. Supplements also are available.
Each adaptogen has a slightly different function, so the best one for you depends on the specific results you’re looking for. Do your research and talk to your physician before beginning to take adaptogens to ensure there is no cross-reaction to medications.