The wellness world is constantly churning out new ways to improve your health and lately one of those has been adaptogens. Interestingly though, adaptogens are not a new tool. They have been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, and have been studied in the western medical world since the 1950s.
Adaptogens are plants and herbs that help your body adapt to stress and combat fatigue. Think back to your high school biology class. Do you remember them talking about the fight-or-flight response? This is when you’re faced with some type of threat and your body prepares to either fight the threat or run from it by releasing stress hormones, which give you a burst of energy you’ll need for either one of those responses. What they probably didn’t teach you in high school is that this is just the first part of your stress response.
Whether you’re faced with physical danger or the chronic stresses of modern day life, your body releases the same type of stress hormones and then needs to adapt and heal from those reactions. After that initial protective mode, your body shifts into the adaptation phase. It’s either repairing itself from the shock of that first stressor, or it’s making molecular changes to handle its new level of stress. Finally, if that stressor really won’t let up, your body moves into the final phase of the stress response - exhaustion. While this happens on a cellular level, you probably recognize the feelings of burnout and depression that come with ongoing stress from any area of your life.
These specific adaptogen herbs can help your body mediate that stress response, letting it manage the initial shock better and be more efficient in the adaptation phase and hopefully avoiding exhaustion. What does this really mean for you? Well, it means there are natural substances that will help your body maintain homeostasis, and improve your immunity and ability to handle stressful situations.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Improves body’s response to stress
Improves mood (protects against stress-related depression)
Promotes cardiovascular health
Has been linked to weight loss and improving immune response
Known for its calming benefits (calms the nervous system, improves sleep, soothes anxiety)
Loaded with minerals
Improves blood flow by stimulating thyroid, which leads to improved immunity as well as sexual health
Antibacterial properties (strengthens immune system)
Antioxidant packed mushrooms
Whether or not these are actually classified as adaptogens is a bit debatable, but they are packed with benefits including: anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, increase ATP (energy source for the body), control insulin and blood sugar levels
With modern medicine catching up with ancient wisdom, you can find adaptogen supplements anywhere from the grocery store to Amazon. The availability is good in one sense, but it’s also important to know your body. These herbs have traditionally been used only by herbalists and under supervision. Just like any other medication, it’s not wise to take these things as a cure-all or without considering side effects.
For instance, ashwagandha is a nightshade, a fairly common allergen. If you are allergic to any other nightshades (eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes), it may be best to steer clear of ashwagandha as well. Adaptogens in general calm cortisol production, so you should use them strategically to go with your natural cortisol curve (it’s released throughout the day). If you wake up dragging, you don’t want a lower level so hold off on those adaptogens until later. If you’re wired at night, this may be a better time to take them. There’s also the possibility that these could interact with prescription medications so feel free to run these by your doctor..
Finally, adaptogens are helpful but they should not be used to replace other essential elements of health like getting enough sleep, eating well to balance your blood sugar, and reducing stress in your life as much as you can. Just like anything else, adaptogens are a great tool and work best in combination with a lifestyle that’s balanced overall.