Adaptogen might not be a word on your health and wellness radar yet, but it should be. Adaptogens, also known as adaptogenic herbs, are a form of natural pharmaceutical that can help humans and animals beat stress and lessen symptoms when taken in a tablet or capsule form. Though adaptogens are not new by any measure, these natural remedies are just now beginning to gain popularity and attention from the fitness community.
If you’re curious about how adaptogens work and what the benefits are, keep reading to find out more.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
The human body evolved for short bursts of vigorous energy, stress, and sleep. Modern day has put a tax on our systems, meaning that most people are under constant stress with no sign of relief. This leaves modern humankind in a perpetual struggle with their “fight or flight” response, swimming in cortisol, the stress hormone, and draining their adrenals.
When this happens, the body undergoes three stages of stress:
- The alarm phase
- The resistance phase
- The exhaustion phase
Now, stress just doesn’t come from worrying about paying off your student loans. Stress can also come from physical activity, say lifting weight in the gym. When you start pumping heavy, hormones like adrenaline start to flow and increase your concentration and focus, bringing the body into the resistance phase of stress. You are, in essence, resisting the weight, which is stressing your body.
Exhaustion phase is when you can no longer resist the burden of the stress, and you burn yourself out.
A List of Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogenic herbs are often broken up into 3 categories: those for acute stress, those that assist with chronic stress, and the rest that bolster the immune system.
Here is a list of adaptogenic herbs:
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- Tulsi (Holy Basil) – Used to Ayurveda and beyond; considered a sacred plant in India. Tulsi is often infused in tea and drank, but it can also be used in food or around the house. Tulsi works to reduce acute stress.
- Ginseng – Not all ginseng is adaptogenic, so make sure you are getting it from Southern China, Korea or Russia for the best anti-inflammatory properties. Ginseng also promotes relaxation, lowers blood glucose, and boosts energy.
- Ashwagandha – This herb has been used for constipation, rheumatism, and everything in between. Ashwagandha can also reduce anxiety and boost concentration. However, it’s part of the nightshade family, so some people can’t consume it.
- Reishi (Ling Zhi) – These mushrooms can be used as coffee and also help modulate the immune system. Reishi also contains ganoderic acid, which reduces the amount of histamine released during an allergic reaction.
- Schisandra (Five Flavor Berry) – Works to stabilize blood sugar levels; improves blood pressure; boosts the immune system; improves liver function.
- Arctic Root (Rose Root) – Found in cold climates around Asia and Europe, artic root is known to treat flu and minor headaches.
- Tribulus – Popular with bodybuilders, Tribulus promotes healthy testosterone levels, boosts prostate health, increases libido and fertility, and can even encourage muscle development and weight loss.
- Maca Powder – Peruvian maca is a powerful adaptogen that regulates hormones, increases libido, balances focus and energy, and helps increase endurance and stamina.
- Rhodiola – A powerful antioxidant that is known to increase stamina and strength; boosts memory; invigorates the cardiovascular system; lowers blood pressure; normalizes heart rhythms; improves blood flow; and has also been used to reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs. Rhodiola has also been used to treat depression.
- Eleuthero – Part of the ginseng family, eleuthero increases energy, improves immunity, helps protect the heart, reduces LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and helps control blood sugar. In a Russian study, eleuthero also help strengthen the immune systems of people afflicted with cancer.
Are Adaptogenic Herbs Beneficial?
A study in 2010 that was published by MDPI Pharmaceuticals found that adaptogens have positive effects when used as a supplement alongside other traditional medications for some health conditions and problems. For example, those with cardiovascular problems or neurological disorders saw mitigation of their symptoms.
Adaptogenic herbs boost mental clarity. For instance, arctic root could be used alongside an antidepressant to boost mood and productivity with no side effects. The same herb helped people overcome the flu faster and feel more energized.
The adaptogen called schisandra might be beneficial to weightlifters and runners because it helps people overcome exhaustion and low mental and physical performance.
Other benefits of adaptogen herbs include:
- Balance reproductive hormones
- Balance endocrine system
- Aid in maintaining homeostasis
- Reduce stress
- Boost immune health
- Lower blood pressure
- Treat headaches and colds
- Alleviate flu symptoms
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Increase concentration
- Stimulate the central nervous system
Most adaptogen capsules and tablets are meant to be taken on a daily basis, but the amount you take will be dependent on the milligrams per dose. However, you should anticipate an immediate effect. Because these are a natural substance, you may need to wait about a month before you start to notice any effects.
Do keep in mind that adaptogens do have properties that may interfere with any medications that you are taking. Be sure to check with a medical professional before you start taking adaptogenic herbs.
Also, if you have any gastrointestinal problems, you should introduce adaptogenic herbs slowly into you diet to ensure you don’t cause any flare ups. Eleuthero, in particular, has been known to make people drowsy and cause some anxiety.
Do not take any adaptogens if you are pregnant or can get pregnant or are nursing.
Adaptogens have been around for thousands of years, but their benefits are just becoming clear now. These medicinal herbs and roots have benefits like regulating energy, mood, hormones, and increasing your energy and attention span in a natural way. Though research is still gathering information on just how useful adaptogens are, getting the one-up on your stress is definitely worth giving them a try.
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