If you've ever chilled in a salt cave or stockpiled vitamins and supplements, you've definitely heard about adaptogens. They're the supposed panacea for anxiety, depression, insomnia, hormonal issues, sex drive, skin conditions, gut health, and the list goes on. But do you really know what an adaptogen is? And, more importantly, do you know how to use them?
What is an adaptogen?
The term brings together plants and herbs that have been used medically for many, many thousands of years. However, they were not given a classification or a name in the West. A Russian scientist, Lazarev, coined the word ‘adaptogen’ in the 1950s. What are adaptogens? In short, an adaptogen is a compound which can intervene in the stress reaction and alter it.
Further, for a plant to be called an adaptogen according to this early definition, any substance must meet three basic criteria. First, adaptogens must work in an encompassing way rather than on specific symptoms. In other words, they must be able to help ward off stress from any type of source. This includes environmental stress and physical illness or unhealthiness. Further, it encompasses stress caused by interaction with others. Second, adaptogens must be able to help people get back into balance. This is regardless of which way they have been tilted off-balance previously. Don’t worry, we tell you more about this later on in this piece. And lastly, adaptogens will not affect the other functions of our bodies. The definition has since been altered and sometimes expanded. However, these three points still lie at its heart and core.
How do adaptogens work?
The human body reacts to stressors by first raising an alarm. This sets off a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol prompts the fight-or-flight response and other related responses. These include increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Then comes the resistance stage. Your body either returns to its condition prior to the stressful incident. Otherwise, it continues to fight off stress for a prolonged period. If you keep on fighting stress, the cortisol keeps coming. This can be harmful if it continues for too long. That’s when the exhaustion stage kicks in. This is just what it sounds like. Your immune system suffers. You are left without energy. Depression and anxiety may come into play.
Adaptogens have normalising influence on the regulatory systems in the body that enhance it's capacity toward homeostasis. Their bi-directional effects have the capability to tone down over-functioning systems and tone up under-functioning systems.
Benefits of Adaptogens
Anabolic & Muscle Rebuilding
Anti-Fatigue & Energy
Cognitive Function & Performance
Adaptogens and stress
Stress is normal and necessary. However, we live in chaotic times. Our bodies experience increased stress. This stress may come from our environment or from within as we struggle to adapt emotionally and mentally. In addition, there are more and more toxins in our environment. They are in our daily food too! Our bodies must work against the toxins. We are then less resilient. For many people, the exhaustion stage may become a normal part of life, when it should not be. Adaptogens can help increase our resistance. They can assist our bodies in warding off the exhaustion stage. Dealing gracefully with both environmental and internal stresses in all kinds of ways might be easier. To sum it up, adaptogens can help us find the eye of the storm and stay in it. No matter what type of storm it is.You may wonder what adaptogens lower cortisol? Cortisol is linked to both short-term and long-term stress. Thus, adaptogens that combat either or both of these things will lower cortisol.
Adaptogens for short term stress and anxiety
A study looked into the effects of Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola, and Schisandra on short-term stress and anxiety. All three have a “beneficial stress-protective effect” at the molecular level. Moreover, all seem to help regulate homeostasis. This means they restore the natural equilibrium of the body. In addition, these herbs appear to support focus and stamina in situations where stress-related fatigue kicked in. Long-term disorders triggered by stress were also reduced.
Adaptogens for long-term stress
Short-term stress and long-term stress are related. However, their effects on the body are different. Chronic stress may lead to effects which are equally long-term. For instance, your heart, muscles, blood pressure, and breathing mechanisms may be forced to intensify at all times to combat chronic stress. Therefore, solutions which work in deeper ways may also be needed. Research has looked into how adaptogens like Holy basil, or Tulsi in the Ayurvedic tradition, may be helpful. Scientists observed that regular consumption of Tulsi may enhance calm and mental and emotional clarity. These qualities clear a path through the buildup of chronic stress. No wonder Tulsi is “a goddess incarnated in plant form” in Ayurveda.
Other adaptogens to turn to include Ashwagandha, one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda. In a study which looks at subjects with chronic stress, those given ashwagandha showed substantial lessening of all stress-related indicators. Further, Asian ginseng was looked at alongside five other adaptogenic plants in a study. It was found to have the most success at reducing symptoms of chronic stress.
An interesting characteristic of Ashwagandha? It is a wonderful representative of the adaptogenic ability to right balance in either direction. To clarify, ashwagandha not only helps calm and soothe. It also energises. Seem contradictory? It is also beautiful and real. Just like human beings at our best!
Adaptogens to improve brain function
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a growth hormone within the brain. Decreases in BDNF link to age-related decline in workings of the brain. Lower levels of BDNF also connect to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Further, depression may be related as well. Studies have looked at the effect of Curcumin on the brain. They found that Curcumin combats decreases in BDNF. It improves spatial memory and lessen oxidative damage in the brain due to aging. A winner!
Moreover, Brahmi is another powerful adaptogen supporting brain function. Indian medicine sees Brahmi as a brain tonic. And it has for many hundreds of years! Studies have looked into how the antioxidants in Brahmi are neuro protective.
Adaptogens for immunity
Adaptogens seem to impact white blood cells in diverse ways. White blood cells are central to the immune system. They help combat disease and infection. The traditional Ayurvedic preparation of Triphala is a powerful immunity booster. A study observed many different healing compounds within Triphala, including phenols, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and more. Triphala is a mixture of Indian gooseberry, chebulic myrobalan, and beleric myrobalan. All of these ingredients are immunomodulatory on their own. In other words, they help you and your immune system stay in balance.
Combinations of adaptogens are regularly given in Ayurveda, and adaptogenic herbs are often blended in teas, cooler herbal drinks or simply taken as pills. At the core of Ayurveda is the belief that “food is medicine and medicine is food.” Ayurvedic thought also holds the conviction that “when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” That has new significance in our world.
As the world’s oldest healing tradition, Ayurveda has influenced others, such as Chinese medicine. In Auyrveda, practitioners combine herbs and create specific formulas for each individual. Age, gender, temperament, dryness of skin, energy levels, and many more factors will be considered. Synergistic blending, or how the herbs work together rather than the characteristics of individual herbs, will also come into play.
Why should I take adaptogens?
Adaptogens safely bring us back into balance & alignment by helping to build resistance and become attuned to handling the negative affects of stress.They fit easily into busy lifestyles and can be consumed as teas, tinctures, pills, powders or foods.
Adaptogens work to nourish your unique physiology
Adaptogens support acute stress on the body
Adaptogens help to preventatively build up vitality
Adaptogens support Well-Being
Well-being is all about the journey toward finding a balance in the mind, body & spirit. It can be a challenge in today's world, but the benefits of Adaptogens enhance our ability to resist stress.But, Adaptogens aren't a silver bullet! They're only one piece of a broader holistic lifestyle, and they take time to build up our systems in order to truly support our well-being.
How do I take adaptogens?
You may agree, it’s become fashionable to add adaptogens to your drink, and you might get minimal effects from that, but you’re not going to see those benefits from a one time use. Instead, we recommend consuming adaptogen powder or pills daily over a period of at least 40 days to several months. There are traditional ways to take specific adaptogens depending on key factors as your age and gender, your body-mind constitution (dosha), any current health imbalance, the season of the year and many more. Adaptogens are restorative when you are going through these stressful periods. You know, when everything and anything crowds in on you. They ease you back to the balanced middle. However, nothing substitutes for long-term stress management. In other words, adaptogens complement a healthy diet, exercise, regular and high-quality sleep, and general wellbeing rather than stand in for these things.
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