What are Adaptogens, Exactly?
Adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, so they’re backed by ancient use as well as recent studies too. They are becoming increasingly popular, but do they work? Are they safe to use? What does the research say about them, and would you benefit from taking them?
Adapt and Survive
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that can increase the body’s ability to adapt to stress in its many forms. These natural stress-protective compounds or plant extracts increase the adaptability, resilience, and survival of organisms by supporting hormone, immune and cognitive health. Adaptogens are stress-response modifiers that increase an organism’s nonspecific resistance to stress by increasing its ability to adapt and survive. They are believed to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes, supporting the stabilization of physiological processes and promotion of homeostasis.
According to an article published by the New York Academy of Sciences, current and potential uses of adaptogens are mainly related to stress-induced fatigue and cognitive function, mental illness, and behavioral disorders. Their prophylactic use by healthy subjects to ameliorate stress and prevent age-related diseases appears to be justified. Science has shown promising results for the remarkable neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, mood-regulating, and nootropic benefits of adaptogenic herbs.
Adaptogenic herbs can work on stress in one of two ways: they work to help the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, our body’s central stress response system, better adapt to stressors, and produce fewer stress hormones.
Adaptogens are also considered beneficial for the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections by supporting a challenged immune system, increasing resistance to viral infection, inhibiting the progression of severe inflammatory, and promoting effective recovery. The evidence from pre-clinical and clinical studies of a combination of adaptogens suggests they can be useful in prophylaxis and treatment of viral infections at all stages of progression of inflammation and provide the following benefits:
- modulating innate and adaptive immunity
- anti-inflammatory activity
- detoxification and repair of oxidative stress-induced damage in compromised cells
- direct antiviral effects to inhibit viral replication (Viruses must first penetrate and enter the targeted host cells before they can replicate)
- improving quality of life during convalescence
In a nutshell:
1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology
Should you be taking adaptogens?
Adaptogens are for anyone looking to improve their overall health. Today’s modern lifestyles and current challenges leave many of us susceptible to low energy and a weakened immune system. Researchers agree our bodies are existing in a prolonged state of stress. In addition to the kind of anxiety that comes with deadlines, hectic agendas, and burning the candle at both ends, there’s also stress at a physiological level. Stressors like sleep deprivation, sedentary jobs, and overexposure to toxins through food and the environment can have a huge impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
How fast will you see results?
Some people experience instant effects after taking certain adaptogens, but it can take weeks before you notice any real changes. When starting any food supplement, it’s best to take it for 10-12 weeks and keep a diary of symptoms. This allows subtle changes to be acknowledged and allows a comparison between weeks one and twelve. Adaptogens come in powders, teas, tinctures, and pills, but not all are created equal. Quality, purity, and potency matters as well as taking the correct amounts. When added to your normal healthy diet, they can offer big benefits.
Some common adaptogens include:
Bacopa Monnieri – improves memory and cognition – Studies suggest bacopa monnieri may slow cognitive decline and improve memory, attention, and cognition. A study conducted on participants over age 65 produced fascinating results. One group was given 300 mg of Bacopa daily for 3 weeks while another was administered a placebo. The group taking Bacopa showed significant improvement in working memory, attention, and anxiety. Bacopa isn’t just for the elderly, though. In another study involving 107 people aged 18-60, participants who took bacopa for 90 days performed significantly better on working memory tests, especially memory accuracy.
Andrographis – natural immune booster with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Supports respiratory health
Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng) – boosts the immune system, improves memory, helps adapt to stress, fights fatigue, boosts physical performance. Studies also suggest it improves the overall quality of life.
Ashwaghanda – fights stress and stress related weight gain, reduces anxiety
Rhodiola Rosea – anti-fatigue, boosts cognitive function, and regulates mood
Panax Ginseng – anti-fatigue, improves wellbeing and happiness, cognition, brainpower, DNA protection, anti-stress, and blood glucose regulation
Holy Basil – builds muscle, improve your mood, protect your liver, and boost libido
Reishi Mushrooms – supports immune health, rich in antioxidants, has detoxifying properties, and protects cells
Cordyceps – promotes energy, enhances memory, supports brain function
Maca – boosts libido and fertility, supports energy levels and mental focus.
How long should you take adaptogens?
Adaptogens are considered to be one of the most important remedies for long-term systematic health and are generally taken throughout one’s whole life. Because they can have either a sedative or stimulating effect, it is important to address your short and long-term goals as well as acute and chronic health conditions when supplementing with adaptogens, depending on your individual needs.
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