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What Are Adaptogens and Why Do People Take Them?

You’ve probably heard the word Adaptogens pop up in the health and wellness industry more recently than ever. Adaptogens, or Adaptogenic herbs, are known for their abilities to combat stress and fatigue. Adaptogens are unique in the sense that they are not a single plant or even a single family of plants. But rather, they are a variety of reactions and results produced by plants that help protect the body against mental, physical, and emotional stressors. Since we’re living in such a fast-paced society, stress and fatigue are at an all time high. Stress can have many negative effects on a person. Adaptogens help regulate and stabilize the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands which are involved with our stress response.

So, how exactly do Adaptogens work? To discuss Adaptogens we first we need to understand how stress works and the effects it has on our bodies. When your body is stressed, the response is to release a hormone called cortisol. Since stress has become so persistent in today’s world, when cortisol levels remain high for a long period of time, chronic stress can begin to take its toll on our adrenal and thyroid glands. When cortisol levels are raised our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode. This evolved as a method of survival. But in our modern society many people experience the fight or flight mode on a regular basis, which eventually exhausts the adrenal glands. If there is long-term adrenal stress, this can lead to adrenal fatigue or other health concerns. So, when an Adaptogen is taken it doesn’t necessarily target a specific stress reaction. The Adaptogen will help alleviate and regulate your overall physiological functions to adapt to stress when it is induced.

Here are five popular Adaptogens and what they can be used for:

  1. Ashwagandha: Reduces stress and anxiety, reduces inflammation, supports adrenal function (read more about Ashwagandha here)
  2. Holy Basil (or Tulsi): Protects against infections and diseases, promotes mental balance, reduces stress and anxiety
  3. Licorice Root: Increase energy and endurance, regulates stress response, boosts the immune system
  4. Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea): Reduces stress related fatigue, boosts mental focus, has antioxidant properties
  5. Cordycep Mushrooms: Boosts exercise performance, enhanced antioxidant activity, anti-fatigue abilities

If you’re thinking of adding an Adaptogenic herb to your routine, consider one of the five listed above. More importantly, the first thing you should always do is your research. Some herbal supplements can interact with prescription medications. There are many other Adaptogens available. There are also many ways to add Adaptogens to your diet. You can find these herbs in teas, tinctures, capsules, or pure powder form and add them to anything — smoothies, soups, granola, or even pancakes.

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What is Ashwagandha and How Can It Benefit You?

Botanically known as Withania somnifera, the adaptogenic herb Ashwagandha is one of the most well researched and commonly used plants. Adaptogenic herbs are natural substances that work with a person’s body to help regulate hormone levels which can lead to lowered levels of stress and fatigue while increasing energy levels and supporting the immune system in response. Ashwagandha is also considered a “Rasayana” which means it benefits both mental and physical health. Ashwagandha can also be referred to as “Indian ginseng”, “poison gooseberry”, or “winter cherry”. With an extensive history dating back thousands of years Ashwagandha has many purposes and benefits several different parts of the body.

When harvested, both the leaves and root hold the beneficial properties of Ashwagandha. The potency and health benefits come from the active ingredient within Ashwagandha called “withanolides”. Withanolides are steroids that have been shown to have a number a benefits including fighting inflammation and stress reduction. If you’re looking to add Ashwagandha to your daily routine, always pay attention to the amount of withanolides within the product. Currently the highest concentration available is 5% HPLC. Your Ashwagandha should have the highest level of withanolides. By choosing a product rich in withanolides, you are most likely to enjoy the benefits of Ashwagandha.

Here are five health benefits of Ashwagandha:

  1. Improves Thyroid Function: Ashwagandha has been shown to support people with an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. Research has shown that Ashwagandha improves serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) levels. Since Ashwagandha increases thyroid function, it is not recommended for people with hyperactive thyroids.
  2. Aids in Reducing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Ashwagandha is known as one of the best natural remedies for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Ashwagandha works by reducing inflammation, balancing hormone levels, and stabilizing moods. It is comparable to commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs but lacks the common and sometimes discouraging side effects such as drowsiness, insomnia, loss of sexual desire, and increased appetite.
  3. Supports Adrenal Function: Ashwagandha has been shown to support adrenal function when overcoming adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is caused after exposure to long-term stress. Your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol in response to stress. When you have long periods of stress, your body’s reaction is to produce extra cortisol to feel better. Your body is unable to continuously produce cortisol, which can lead to adrenal fatigue.
  4. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels: With the presence of phenolic compounds, like flavonoids, Ashwagandha is said to have anti-diabetic effects. These include normalizing blood sugar levels, improving insulin sensitivity, and reducing inflammatory markers.
  5. Boosts Memory and Cognitive Function: The withanolides that are found in Ashwagandha are a naturally occurring steroid that increases brain function and improves cognitive function. Researchers found that the withanolides help improve cell outgrowth, reverse behavioral deficits, decrease plaque buildup, and reduce amyloid beta burden. Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve attention, help with information processing, and overall progress mental skills.

If adding Ashwagandha to your supplements routine seems like it’d be beneficial to you, there are many options available online and in-store. You can find Ashwagandha in both capsule and powder form and easily incorporate the supplement into your diet. It is recommended to take at an increasing dosage of 750mg per day to 1,250mg with the maximum amount of withanolides, 5% HPLC. Capsules might be the best option for most people, especially if they are sensitive to smells. When translated, Ashwagandha literally means “smell of horse” which can be unappealing in powder form. If you do choose to use the powdered Ashwagandha, you can easily incorporate it with other foods and drinks.

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