Adaptogens are having a moment and they’re here to stay. The powerful plants are standouts for helping with everything from stress, energy, brain fog, and more. Often, you hear adaptogens mentioned as a way to balance the body and adapt to life’s stressors. And they do! But while they share some things in common, the term “adaptogen” encompasses a wide range of plants and fungi, each with unique effects. For example, while some adaptogens are fantastic at supporting immunity others excel at lifting mood and banishing brain fog. So, they’re not one-size-fits-all.
The good news: Most people can benefit from adaptogens, which are quite safe—you just need to figure out what ones will benefit you the most. Here, we break down exactly what an adaptogen is and some top picks from doctors and herbalists for immunity, hormone balance, mood, and more.
The term adaptogen refers to certain herbs and mushrooms that have a unique balancing effect on the body. They help you react to and recover from physical, mental, and environmental stressors and restore homeostasis by adapting their functions to your body’s specific needs. For example, the same adaptogen may have a calming effect on one person or a subtly energizing effect on another. Adaptogens are also considered non-specific, meaning their effect is widespread and influences many bodily systems.
“When people go through stress, they can feel it in so many different places in the body—some might get migraines, some might get an anxious stomach, some might get joint pain,” says Sara-Chana Silverstein, RH (AHG), IBCLC, master herbalist and author of Moodtopia. “Adaptogens seem to go where they’re needed in the body based on how stress affects you, whereas non-adaptogenic herbs and drugs tend to fulfill a specific role or target a specific area every time.”
The proposed benefits of adaptogens may be subtle, but research suggests they do, in fact, exist. According to Silverstein, they’re a great option for people who need a little support for low moods, fatigue, poor focus, or frequent infections, but whose symptoms aren’t necessarily severe enough to require an actual prescription medication. And while the science isn’t always clear on the exact mechanisms of action through which they work, it’s widely believed that adaptogens help regulate the production of cortisol—one of the body’s main stress hormones. (More on that mechanism in the next section.)
Even though adaptogens are experiencing a surge in popularity, they’re not new—many have been staples of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds if not thousands of years, even though they weren’t always referred to as adaptogens. The term “adaptogen” dates back to the 1940s or so when researchers in Siberia were looking for ways to keep soldiers and workers more productive and resilient in extreme climates, according to Lise Alschuler, ND, naturopathic physician and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine. This prompted research into plant medicines, which eventually led to the classification of local plants like Siberian ginseng and Rhodiola rosea as adaptogens. From there, other plants have been categorized as adaptogens as well, based on their similar properties.
Every adaptogen is different, so each will have slightly different ways in which they achieve their full range of unique benefits. However, there does seem to be some overlap between most adaptogens—and that’s their effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis.
When you experience stress (whether that’s a looming deadline, someone cutting you off in traffic, or any type of perceived or real danger), the body responds in the same basic way—the HPA axis fires up and prompts the release of hormones, including cortisol, that prepare your body to take on the stressor.
Over time, if stress levels are chronically elevated and the HPA axis is constantly activated, cortisol becomes chronically elevated, too, “and with that, the cells throughout our body become resistant to cortisol,” Alschuler explained on a recent episode of the Body of Wonder podcast. “Under this constant barrage of cortisol, we start to experience more inflammation. We start to, over decades, actually degrade the quality of our tissues. We can develop digestive issues, joint disorders, even cognitive issues and mood disorders.”
So where do adaptogens come in exactly? Adaptogens can essentially hit the reset button and help our bodies turn off or rebalance the HPA axis system, thus helping curb the downstream effects of an out-of-control stress response—whatever that might look like for you.
Additionally, some research shows that certain adaptogens help improve our ability to make ATP (a molecule that provides energy to cells) and have a protective effect against oxidative stress, which can be beneficial in terms of improved physical and mental energy and healthy aging.
Wondering what herbs and medicinal mushrooms you’ve heard of fit into the category of adaptogens? Below is a list of some of the most common and widely available adaptogens on the market. Many can be found in supplement blends, stand-alone capsules or tinctures, teas or powders, or packaged beverages.
Below, we dive into the research-supported health benefits of a variety of adaptogens. Just keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of all adaptogens or their benefits. So it’s always a great idea to consult a medical professional, registered dietician, or herbalist to guide you toward your ideal adaptogen or adaptogen combo if you’re unsure.
For most people, there’s really no wrong time to try an adaptogen. Keep in mind, the best adaptogen or adaptogens for one person won’t necessarily be the best ones for you—and your needs may change over time. (For instance, not all will be safe for use during pregnancy.)
Adaptogens can be beneficial when you’re stressed, tired, and generally feeling unbalanced. “Most of us would benefit from having an adaptogen or adaptogens in our daily life,” says Alschuler. “That’s primarily because the degree and nature of stress that we each now experience in this world is pretty unheard of.”
And although specific safety concerns will depend on the particular adaptogen, both Silverstein and Alschuler agree that many are considered very safe for long-term use. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re purchasing your adaptogens or adaptogen blend supplements from a reputable brand, such as HUM Nutrition, with good safety and testing practices and that uses clinically proven ingredients in amounts that have been studied.
The post Adaptogens 101: The Best Adaptogens for Stress, Energy, Mood, and More appeared first on HUM Nutrition Blog.
By: Stephanie EckelkampTitle: Adaptogens 101: The Best Adaptogens for Stress, Energy, Mood, and MoreSourced From: www.humnutrition.com/blog/what-are-adaptogens-herbs/Published Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2021 16:46:42 +0000