Adaptogens Explained: What Are They? How Do They Work? What Are Their Benefits?

Lately, “adaptogens” has been a buzzword and popping up everywhere, from health food stores and food supplements to smoothie packets and juice bars. Adaptogens have been gaining attention because of their purported benefits, such as combating stress and improving energy levels. 

But are they legit? We’ll tell you about what adaptogens are, how they work, and what their benefits are, along with a brief look at popular types of adaptogens, including mushrooms and ashwagandha. 

What Exactly Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are non-toxic super-herbs that are intended to boost your body’s resilience against stressors of all kinds, whether biological, chemical, or physical. As the name suggests, adaptogens help your body adapt to external stressors, thus improving overall well-being. 
Simply put, these herbs restore the body’s natural functioning, improve performance, stabilize mood, and promote vitality by strengthening your internal systems. 

Adaptogens have been a feature of Ayurvedic healing traditions and Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Since adaptogens are too bitter about being consumed as food, they are added in smoothies, herbal drinks, and supplements or often integrated into tinctures. Moreover, adaptogens work best when combined with adequate hydration and a balanced diet. 

How Do Adaptogens Work?

Your body is negatively influenced by everyday stressors, such as exposure to toxins, sedentary workplace environments, and sleep deprivation. How your body responds to stress is highly controlled by a complex system of hormones, glands, and receptors, called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

The HPA axis connects your brain to your hormone system to regulate everything, from modulating immunity and homeostasis to regulating mood and sex drive. The HPA axis is also central to the body’s response to stress. 

Adaptogens work by interacting with the HPA axis to stabilize our internal systems. For example, if there is too much cortisol, adaptogens will help lower them. On the flip side, if your body is depleted of a hormone, adaptogens will bring the hormone level back up. It means they will help your body reach equilibrium again.

Studies also report that adaptogens maintain strong immune defenses and energy levels by interacting with the immune-neuro-endocrine system.

What Are The Benefits Of Adaptogens?

The following are some potential benefits of adaptogens:

1. Reduce Stress and Anxiety: 

Adaptogens are known to help your body thrive by combating stress and easing anxiety and depression. They are reported to decrease stress sensitivity and increase stress resistance by working with the HPA axis. Adaptogens also stabilize levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, resulting in reduced stress to your body.

2. Promote Weight Loss:

We all know that chronic stress due to elevated cortisol levels can cause an imbalance in the body, leading to weight gain. Various types of adaptogens can help lower stress levels to burn off visceral fat - the most dangerous fat that usually settles into your thighs and belly. Adaptogens also burn stored fat in the body by speeding up metabolism, leading to effective weight loss.

3. Promote Quality Sleep:

Our ability to sleep well is highly affected by both emotional and physical stress and depression. Adaptogens mitigate the effects of depression, overcome emotional instability, and improve insomnia, thus providing you with sound sleep. 

4. Boost Energy Levels: 

Exhaustion and fatigue can sometimes drain energy, and you end up having mood swings. Adaptogens have been reported to boost energy levels and improve mood by improving overall physical and mental levels.

What Are Different Types Of Adaptogens?

The following are some well-known types of adaptogens:

1. Adaptogenic Mushrooms:

Different fungus mushrooms, such as reishi, lion’s mane, and cordyceps, are some adaptogens that are used in supplements to promote a healthy sleep pattern and reduce stress.

Reishi: Reishi is a specific type of mushroom considered a fungus adaptogen. Benefits of reishi include:

  • Promoting peaceful night’s sleep.
  • Reduces the body’s response to stress.
  • Enhance immunity.
  • Habitual consumption of reishi can reduce the size of the tumor in liver cancer patients. Studies have also confirmed that reishi tends to increase the number of white blood cells in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Cordyceps: Cordyceps is another type of mushroom largely used for its ability to combat stress and improve stamina. Cordyceps has also been reported to improve erectile dysfunction in men, promote longevity, and improve sexual desire in women.

2. Adaptogenic Roots

Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha, mostly used in Ayurvedic medicine, is also famous with names called Indian Ginseng and Withania Somnifera. Oxidative stress in the body can lead to cell damage and premature aging. Ashwagandha manages stress and anxiety levels by reducing stress responses.

Valerian Root: Valerian root is another adaptogen that is known for its relaxing benefits on the body. The excellent sedative properties of Valerian root calm the central nervous system, overcome anxiety and depression, and lower blood pressure. Valerian root is good for people with depression, nervousness, sleep deprivation, and mood disorders. 

3. Adaptogenic Herbs

Rhodiola: Rhodiola often used as a source of energy for centuries. Astronauts aboard the Russian Space Station used the this plant to elevate their moods while floating through space.

4. Adaptogenic Compounds from Plants

L-Theanine: L-theanine is an adaptogenic compound found in tea leaves and is known as a stress response inhibitor. Supplementation of L-theanine has been reported to reduce stress under stressful conditions by increasing Alpha Waves in the brain. Improving sleep patterns, stabilizing mood, promoting mental sharpness, and overcoming anxiety are some benefits of L-theanine.

There are many more plants, herbs, roots and fungi that have adaptogenic effects!

How Do You Take Adaptogens?

You have to incorporate adaptogens into your diet in their raw form or as powders. Adaptogens are also available in the form of supplements, tinctures, and teas. It is important to note that adaptogens are not an immediate antidote to stress, fatigue, or anxiety. They make your body resistant to stress over time.

Adaptogens should be taken every day for several weeks. Instead of trying all herbs (adaptogens), it is wise to stick to one herb. This will help you decide whether one adaptogen is beneficial for you or not.

In most cases, it is suggested that you take adaptogens in the morning because your cortisol levels are at their peak in the morning. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re taking ashwagandha for a peaceful night’s sleep, you should take it in the evening. 

The Final Verdict:

If you’re feeling tired or your sleep pattern is disturbed from everyday stress, you need to work on your health and wellness. Incorporating adaptogens into your healthy diet routine can solve many health issues, including stress, anxiety, insomnia, and mood disorders. Adaptogens is an umbrella term for more than 70 plants that are known to help your body adapt to a stress response.

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