While adaptogens are certainly a buzzword in the health industry, they are far from a wellness fad. Adaptogenic herbs have been used to treat a wide range of conditions for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions and they are currently experiencing a revival within modern health practices.
In this article, we’ll explore what adaptogens are, how they can benefit you and how to include them in your wellbeing routine.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are rejuvenating, non-toxic plants (herbs and mushrooms) that help the body resist biological, chemical and physical stressors and maintain balance. Adaptogens can encourage us to better adapt to external stressors by enhancing focus and performance, regulating mood and encouraging vitality.
We are frequently exposed to stress as a result of many factors including refined sugar, air pollution, pesticides in food and household chemicals. When the body struggles to cope with external stressors, consequences can include fatigue, low mood, insomnia and anxiety. Adaptogens help the body build resilience to stress and soften the subsequent effects on the body. They function best when combined with healthy lifestyle choices such as obtaining adequate sleep, a balanced diet and sufficient hydration regularly.
Adaptogens can be added to food and drinks, or taken as oils, tinctures or supplements. Adaptogens can only do so much and should not be regarded as a cure, especially for those suffering from extreme depression or anxiety.
What Do Adaptogens Do?
Adaptogens bring your body back to a natural state of balance (known as homeostasis). Physical and mental balance can be achieved by adaptogenic herbs responding to chemical reactions of the body and regulating the release of hormones. They interact with a complex system of glands, hormones and receptors known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is fundamental for homeostasis and the body’s response to stress.
For example, if the body is stressed, cortisol levels are elevated. An adaptogen responds to this by interacting with the HPA axis and subsequently reducing levels of the hormone. Likewise, if cortisol levels are too low (such as when the body is chronically fatigued), adaptogens can stimulate an increase in cortisol.
Types of Adaptogens
There are many adaptogens and each one has a marginally different function. Some of the most popular adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha – an excellent adaptogen for managing long-term stress, ashwagandha calms the brain and energises the body. It can help to balance hormones, regulate metabolism and act as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to protect cells.
- Rhodiola – well received as a tonic for acute anxiety and stress, Rhodiola can enhance performance in stressful situations by helping to mediate the fight-or-flight response. It is believed to reduce symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and stress, boost energy and improve memory.
- Tulsi (Holy Basil) – Holy Basil is known for calming the mind, boosting circulation, promoting digestion and offering immune support.
- Maca Root – is often used to boost energy, reduce anxiety, lift the mood and enhance focus.
- Ginseng – this adaptogen can be used to lessen fatigue, increase energy levels and improve brain function.
- Black Pepper – a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that may stimulate digestion.
- Ginkgo Biloba – this adaptogen can reduce stress and anxiety whilst improving focus, concentration and brain function.
- Turmeric – high in flavonoids, potent turmeric can boost circulation, prevent ageing, lower inflammation, heal wounds and provide protection for organs such as the liver.
- Passionflower – a natural relaxation herb regarded for alleviating pain, reducing anxiety symptoms and improving sleep quality.
- Chamomile – this adaptogen is known for helping to relieve anxiety, reduce depression and improve sleep.
- Echinacea – a natural herb that can increase white blood production, boost the immune system and fight infection.
Is CBD an Adaptogen?
CBD (cannabidiol) derives from the hemp plant and has become popular due to its wide range of wellness benefits including pain relief, anxiety and stress relief, reduced inflammation, better sleep and improved focus. While CBD adopts the same traits as a lot of adaptogens, there is no scientific evidence to date stating that CBD can be classified as one.
The fact that CBD is a molecule rather than a plant extract is likely to be the reason that CBD isn’t officially an adaptogen. In terms of a natural plant substance that improves health, however, CBD certainly offers many adaptogenic qualities. Furthermore, it is believed that using CBD alongside adaptogens can enhance the combined benefits of each substance. For instance, you might use a CBD oil to improve focus which also contains ashwagandha; this adaptogen could further reduce anxiety levels and provide an overall greater benefit to wellbeing.
Why Should I Be Taking Adaptogens?
By moderating our stress hormones, adaptogens can rejuvenate and revitalise the body and enhance overall wellbeing by:
- Regulating hormonal balance
- Boosting energy
- Reducing stress and anxiety symptoms
- Improving blood sugar levels
- Reducing levels of inflammatory cortisol
- Improving cholesterol
- Elevating protein synthesis
Do Adaptogens Work?
Naturopaths and many users believe that adaptogens work, and some research provides evidence that adaptogens can potentially improve focus, battle fatigue and help lower stress and anxiety. However, much more scientific research is required to fully determine the impact of adaptogens on human health, as much of the research carried out to date is based on animals or human cell samples.
How to Take
It’s easy to add adaptogens to your daily routine. You can sip herbal teas brewed with adaptogens, or purchase powders to sprinkle on meals. Adaptogens can be taken as capsules, and you can buy adaptogen-infused tinctures or oils, such as Night + CBD Oil which contains chamomile, passionflower and CBD.
Adaptogens are generally safe to use and tolerated by most people. Any side effects are rare and vary based on the adaptogen. Rare but possible side effects may include:
- Stomach pain
- Allergic reaction
Adaptogens are non-toxic plant extracts which can potentially boost health and wellness by promoting homeostasis (a balanced state) in the body and increasing our resilience to external stressors. Many adaptogens can be taken as capsules, in oils or foods and beverages. While CBD is not officially classified as an adaptogen, it offers many of the same wellness-boosting qualities and may even enhance effectiveness when used alongside adaptogens.