Adaptogens 101: Part of Natural Stress Management

If you haven’t heard of adaptoens, you’re in for a treat! This is one group of supplements that anyone can benefit from. Their name says it all – they help your body adapt to stress. Adaptogens work in a unique way, by helping you perk up or calm down, depending on what your body needs. They’re like the chameleons of the supplement world.

Read on to discover the different types of adaptogens and how they can support you.

You may hear the word ‘STRESS’ and immediately think of the mental and emotional aspects along the lines of feeling overwhelmed, overly busy, and/or anxious.

In reality, the body actually encounters different forms of stress every day and is always working to restore homeostasis (the body’s happy place, or natural equilibrium).

Your body is constantly being bombarded by stressors – even when you don’t feel stressed. In fact, you probably won’t feel stressed day-to-day from some of these ongoing sources of stress because your body is adept at dealing with them.

Here are some examples of common, daily stressors:

  • Exercise – yep, it’s good for you, but it’s a form of stress the body has to deal with!
  • Lack of sleep
  • Toxins - like exposure to environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and chemicals in personal care and cleaning products
  • Viruses/Colds
  • Anxiety - which can be caused by stress or exacerbates existing stress
  • Stimulation – in the form of light, screens, loud or constant noise and bombarding visuals
  • Negative thoughts – patterns of thinking that affect your emotions and body’s hormonal response

Decreasing stress is critical for good health. There are many effects of ongoing stress including: weight gain, poor digestion, increased inflammation, accelerated cellular aging, hormonal imbalances, including adrenal dysfunction - your adrenals are responsible for your body’s response to stress.

Good news - there are plenty of ways to reduce the impact of stress in your life, including:

  • Getting to bed before 10:30 pm and getting enough sleep
  • Keep up with a regular exercise routine
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of whole foods
  • Consuming enough healthy fats to support your hormones
  • Practicing tried ‘n true stress relief techniques
  • Processing your emotions (through talking, journaling and personal reflection)
  • Yoga, meditation and other practices that calm your nervous system

But, if you’re looking for something to naturally supplement your diet with, in a way that can minimize the impact that daily stressors have on your body, you might want to consider adding an adaptogen (or two) to your health plan.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens - or Adaptogenic Herbs - are plant-based supplements (usually in pill or powder form) that do just what they sound like: they can help your body adapt to the stressors of your personal environment.

Adaptogens have a long history of use in ancient medical practices, like TCM - Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practices.

Current research has found that Adaptogens boost mental function, attention span, and energy during times of stress and reduce the overall production of inflammatory stress hormones, like cortisol.

Here are 5 common adaptogens:

  • ASHWAGANDHA – decreases anxiety, calming effect
  • ASIAN GINSENG – decreases fatigue, calming effect
  • MACA – boosts energy levels, balances hormones
  • RHODIOLA ROSEA – boosts energy and immune system function
  • SCHISANDRA FRUIT – enhances energy and cognitive function

How do Adaptogens work?

The molecular pathways involved in the body’s stress response are complex.

The 3 glands responsible for regulating stress hormones:

  • Hypothalamus
  • Pituitary
  • Adrenals

These glands function in your body’s stress response. This is called the HPA axis which refers to the cascade of hormone secretion and effects that your body launches to cope with stress in your body.

Contrary to what you might think, your body’s stress response isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a helpful, adaptive mechanism that supports you in living your best live. When you’re experiencing prolonged stress this healthy sequence of events can be disrupted (something called HPA Axis Dysfunction) which is when you’ll start seeing negative symptoms (like hormonal imbalance) resulting from stress.

Research has found Adaptogens help support these glands in achieving equilibrium or homeostasis – a fancy way of saying that they help stress hormones get back into balance.

Unlike caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs, Adaptogens can gently help reduce stress hormones, decrease anxiety levels, and prevent fatigue without any crazy spikes or crashes in energy.

How do you take Adaptogens - and are they safe?

Adaptogens are available in pill or powdered form, of which powders can easily be added to teas, smoothies, soups, and other recipes - see our recipe at the end!

The best part about these herbal supplements is that it’s not necessary to take every Adaptogen every day, and choosing just one to add to your routine can still provide health benefits.

It’s recommended to rotate between Adaptogens, using one at a time for several weeks and then switching to another, if desired, to reap the benefits of several varieties.

You should follow the dosing instructions on the product label or consult with a Natural Health Practitioner for specific Adaptogen recommendations related to the health conditions that you may be experiencing.

It's important to note, though, that while most adaptogens are generally safe for nearly everyone, please supplement with awareness.

RECIPE

Maca Mocha Smoothie

Ingredients

¾ cup coconut or other dairy-free milk
¼ cup brewed coffee, cooled
1 banana, frozen in chunks
1 tsp maca powder (can work up to 2 tsp per day)
1 tsp - 1 Tb cacao powder, raw & unprocessed (non-Dutch)
Optional: 2 tsp raw cacao nibs

Preparation

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender.

Blend until frothy and desired consistency.

Add in cacao nibs for last 10 seconds of blending for added texture. Crunch with benefits!

REFERENCES

Healthline: Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits

Healthline: Smart Girl’s Guide to Adaptogens for Hormonal Balance and Stress

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2017: Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals

Pharmaceuticals, 2010: Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity

Selina Rose
A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).
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Author: Selina Rose

A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).