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Adaptogens: What they are & how they can contribute to our well-being

Lately, in the health and wellness industry, there is a growing talk on adaptogens. To be exact, we see them almost everywhere. From nutritious smoothies, tea and supplements to beauty and cosmetology products they come with promises for less stress, enhanced wellness, and even better sex !. But what exactly are adaptogens, how do they work, how can they benefit us and most importantly, are they for everyone? 

A Brief History of Adaptogens

It is important to mention that the plants and mushrooms categorized as “adaptogens” have been used in medical practices for centuries by Ancient Greeks, Chinese and Ayurveda professionals as a way of protecting against stress-related issues like anxiety or insomnia. However, the term adaptogens was officially coined in 1957  by the Russian scientist Nikolai Lazarev while researching substances that increase a state of “nonspecific resistance” against multiple stressors, in order to improve the performance (improve stamina, memory, focus, restore energy levels etc) of athletes and soldiers. 

Approximately a decade later, pharmacologists Brekham and Dardymov expanded this definition by identifying a list of specific criteria that need to be fulfilled for a substance to qualify as an adaptogen: 

  1. Adaptogens are not toxic. Adaptogens should be safe and non-toxic exhibiting no significant side effects
  2. Adaptogens produce a nonspecific response, i.e., increase the power of resistance against multiple (physical, chemical or biological) stressors
  3. Adaptogens have a normalizing influence on the body. Simply put an adaptogen will perform as needed to help the body maintain homeostasis or return (in case of stress) to a normalized state.

This last characteristic is actually rather exceptional as it means that the adaptogen will act or adapt to what the body needs. For example, although Ashwagandha root is commonly recommended as a “stress relief” option and does manage to act accordingly by offering calming effects to people dealing with stress it can actually work as an “energizer” to someone who feels drained or exhausted. See what happened there? It’s effect is adjusted to the body’s needs!

So, what exactly are Adaptogens?

In a nutshell adaptogens are powerful botanicals (plants, herbs, roots & mushrooms) that help the body ‘adapt’ to all kinds of stressors, restore balance and bring it back to a level of homeostasis. Adaptogens can boost vitality, promote mood stabilization, and improve focus and performance by strengthening our internal systems. They operate holistically and differently in each person adjusting to each organism’s needs helping to balance mind, body, and spirit.

What are the most important Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are mainly divided into two major categories. The primary and the secondary ones. The primary adaptogens are the ones whose properties are supported by the most scientific research. The secondary ones, although they still meet the criteria to be justified as adaptogens, are not yet supported by significant scientific research. The most common from both categories are:

Primary Adaptogens

  • Ashwagandha
  • Cordyceps
  • Eleuthero
  • Ginseng
  • Holy Basil (Tulsi)
  • Licorice
  • Rhodiola
  • Schisandra
  • Shilajit
  • Ginseng

Secondary Adaptogens

  • Amla
  • Astragalus
  • Dang Shen
  • Guduchi
  • He Shou Wu
  • Maca
  • Mucuna
  • Reishi
  • Rhodiola
  • Chaga

How soon can you feel the benefits?

Generally speaking, you will feel an immediate mild effect like relaxation (if that is what you need) after consuming an adaptogenic latte (latte infused with adaptogenic substances) although that also depends on the quantity of adaptogenic substances used. 

In any case please be very cautious with this kind of adaptogenic cocktails, and smoothies sold in various wellness bars, since you cannot control either the amount or the quality (no GMO’s etc.) of the substances used and in most cases, you end up just paying for an overpriced beverage with no actual benefits. 

Truth is that as with all supplements, you can actually experience and benefit from their properties after a couple of weeks of taking them on a daily basis. 

Since every organism is different our advice is to start with one type of supplement on low dosage so that you can actually see how it works on your body and adjust to its maximum suggested dose gradually. The key is to be mindful. Listen to your body.

When should you Be Cautious before adding Adaptogens to your diet?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or take prescription medications you should always consult with your doctor before adding any herbal supplement and especially adaptogenic substance to your routine. 

A 2018 study found that common herbal supplements can interact negatively with prescription medications, it is therefore very important for people to advise their doctors which supplements or even over-the-counter drugs they are taking.

Especially if you're on immune-modulating or thyroid hormone drugs, you should be cautious and not pile on more immune modulators in the form of adaptogens. 

In cases like this it should be up to the doctor that manages your prescription to check and advise you on what you can or cannot take.

Final Thoughts

Adaptogens are some of the most powerful allies nature has to offer to our overall wellness and can help us restore and maintain our body's balance and vitality, 

However, although we are devoted advocates of the power of plants it is important to mention that they are not a cure-all solution. They are here to help us. But especially when it comes to stress and its effects on our wellness, we believe in a holistic approach that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and mindfulness practices. Including a supplement will help you, give an extra boost. But they work best synergistically, and it is your overall lifestyle choices that will actually make the difference and help you live your best life.

 

 

Sources

https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/other/overview-comments-reflection-paper-adaptogenic-concept-emea/hmpc/598048/2007_en.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/ 

Adaptogens: Herbs for Longevity and Everyday Wellness (Volume 1) (Ritual Wellness) Hardcover – Illustrated, November 5, 2019 by Adriana Ayales

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