Adaptogens, the ultimate guide.

We all deal with stress every day, and our bodies strive to adapt and keep balanced and healthy. There is a category of herbs called adaptogens that help the human body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes, and restore balance. They increase the body's resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and promote normal physiologic function.

In the past some of these herbs have been called rejuvenating herbs, qi tonics, rasayanas, or restorative tonics. Modern research has proven that many of these herbs are important medicines that can be used for the prevention and treatment of a variety of common ailments. One might say these adaptogenic herbs sound too good to be true. The wide range of health benefits they offer covers almost every area of the body. Yet, if we study medical history, we see that these herbs have been used for thousands of years for a very good reason. The physicians and herbalists of the past knew these herbs well and used them often to effectively treat disease. Now it is up to us to renew and expand upon that knowledge and help these herbs regain their appropriate place in modern health care. Adaptogens are unique from other substances in their ability to restore the balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system and nervous systems and allow the body to maintain optimal homeostasis. The use and knowledge of herbs we now call adaptogens dates back thousands of years to ancient India and China, but serious scientific study of these herbs did not begin until the late 1940s, when Soviet scientists explored the benefits of some of these substances for relieving stress, preventing and reducing illness, maintaining homeostasis and strengthening the body. In 1968 Israel I. Brekhman, PhD and Dr. I.V. Dardymov formally gave adaptogens a functional definition. In the most simplistic terms, adaptogens are relatively nontoxic, produce a nonspecific defensive response to stress, and have a normalizing influence on the body. As defined, adaptogens constitute a new class of natural, homeostatic metabolic regulators.

Ginseng is a well-known adaptogen for stress resistance and hormonal balance.

What types of adaptogens exist?

There are several types of adaptogens. Common adaptogens include:

  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): American ginseng offers immune system support (immune-modulators) that helps reduce inflammation to relieve pain (anti-inflammatory). In addition, this type of ginseng combats stress and boosts your nervous system, which improves how your body responds to stimuli (fight or flight). Some studies suggest American ginseng can reset dopamine levels and regulate your mood.

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Ashwagandha has a positive effect on the endocrine, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems by regulating your metabolism and helping you relax by calming how your brain responds to stress. Ashwagandha offers protection for your cells as an antioxidant and reduces swelling (an anti-inflammatory reaction).

  • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng): This type of ginseng helps relieve both mental and physical fatigue. Ginseng can improve your energy and performance during stressful activities.

  • Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Similar to ginseng, eleuthero relieves stress and fatigue. This adaptogen helps boost immune function as an immune modulator.

  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Rhodiola alleviates symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression. Studies show that rhodiola helps improve performance during stressful situations like at work or during physical activity.

How do I take adaptogens?

Adaptogens come from plants, so you can take them in several different ways including:

  • Adding adaptogens to food or beverages.

  • Taking adaptogens as capsules.

  • Using tinctures: a liquid form of a plant extract.

Can I drink adaptogens in tea?

Drinking a cup of tea is a great way to pause and reduce stress with each warm, calming sip. Some adaptogenic plants can be dried, ground up and steeped in hot water in the same way you would steep your favorite tea. There are several different types of tea blends on the market that use some adaptogens as the main ingredient. Be sure to read the label to see what the intended effects of the tea are, how long you should steep the tea in water and how often you should drink it.


Why should I take adaptogens?

Adaptogens support the way that your body handles stress. Some people consume adaptogens to:

  • Alleviate anxiety.

  • Reduce fatigue and/or increase energy.

  • Cope with trauma.

  • Regulate emotional reactions to stress.

  • Boost your immune system.

How long should I take adaptogens?

Studies show that adaptogens work best for a short duration (less than six months) because your body could build a resistance to adaptogens and their intended effects, proving them ineffective over time.

What are the side effects of adaptogens?

Adaptogens are generally well tolerated. Side effects are rare but possible and vary based on the plant.

Side effects of adaptogens include:

  • Allergic reactions.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Constipation.

  • Nausea.

  • Diarrhea.

It's also important to understand the purpose of the adaptogen you are taking and how it will affect your body. For example, certain adaptogens increase energy and you wouldn’t want to take that type of adaptogen before going to bed because it would be difficult for you to fall asleep.

Adaptogens could react with medicines

Adaptogens could impact how certain medicines work if you have medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, insomnia, hypothyroidism and depression. Interactions with adaptogens include:

  • Increasing blood pressure.

  • Decreasing blood sugar levels.

  • Disrupting sleep patterns.

  • Increasing thyroid activity.

  • Counteracting antidepressants.

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