Medically review by Kim Langdon
When it comes to health and wellness, we know how easily trends come and go. new buzzwords pop up almost daily and it sure can get a little confusing.
Is something a real deal or is there more hype than substance?
That's why we like to bread down the trends to give you a clear, objective answer.
Recently we've been hearing a lot about adaptogens (say what?), so we decided to find out what they are, how they work, and why there is so much hype around them.
Well, turns out there's not much bad to say about these guys.
What are adaptogens?
In 1947, a Russian scientist called N.V. Lazarev coined the term. Adaptogens are a class of herbs and mushrooms that offer up some serious protective benefits for the body.
Coming back to the origin of their name, these supplements help the body to adapt and increase our resilience to just about sort of stress the body experiences.
Essentially, they're thought to bring the body from imbalance to homeostasis which is where our body fights to be.
How do adaptogens work?
While specific adaptogens are assigned specific jobs, this is the criteria that any one member of the club must meet:
- The ability to produce a total body (nonspecific) response that increases resistance against damage from both emotional and physical stressors
- Producing a normalizing effect, which in turn improves the function of many systems in the body
- Nontoxic substance causing little to no side effects
That's not all...
Adaptogens support the adrenals. Not familiar?
They're the glands responsible for that 'fight or flight' feeling we get when we're under a whole lot of stress. They are located on the top of the kidneys.
When the stress is chronic, our adrenals get a bit exhausted... literally! Using adaptogens for adrenal fatigue helps to manage our body's hormonal response to stress.
Are adaptogens safe?
Adaptogens for stress relief
When it comes down to the basic facts, all adaptogens work in favor of our body's response to stress.
These adaptogens, in particular, have serious stress-relieving properties, mostly by the way of lowering cortisol levels.
Cortisol is rightfully known as "the stress hormone."
- Tyrosine has been shown to improve mental performance under bodily stress brought on by colds, anxiety, and fatigue.
- Reishi mushrooms are one of nature's greatest "tonics" which inherently means it has stress-fighting properties. By strengthening the immune system, reishi builds resistance to stress. Find out more about the benefits of reishi mushrooms and how to use them.
- Ashwagandha is best known for boosting the immune system, but it can be used to lower cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone," so lower levels mean less stress to the body.
- Rhodiola - arguably the most studied adaptogenic herb - has some convincing stress-fighting properties. This is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety because it contains a phytochemical called salisdroside which helps to relieve it. Rhodiola suppresses the production of cortisol while enhancing stress-resistant proteins in our bodies. Finally, it can help our bodies regulate after periods of intense stress which can affect our eating and sleeping habits.
Adaptogens for performance
While adaptogens are a fantastic tool for chronic, everyday stress and soothing anxiety, they can also act as a natural stimulant.
Adaptogens have a little yin for all that yang, making them suitable for most people's needs.
From combatting fatigue to increased physical performance in athletes, adaptogens can help you get to peak performance - specifically Rhodiola.
Say goodbye to tired eyes. In one study of 128 patients, Rhodiola was used to address fatigue. Their symptoms either improved significantly or disappeared entirely. Adaptogens > coffee?
Get that promotion. If your job requires physical labor, you know how much it wears you down over time.
One study examined the use of adaptogens in a heavy-duty work environment and both absences and disability claims decreased by 20-30% while reports of the flu dropped by 30-50%.
Ace that test. Adaptogens aren't only cut out for physical labor. Mental performance is important, too!
Using Rhodiola has been linked to an increased capacity for memorization, better attention span, and accuracy on tests and reports.
Go for the gold medal. Athletes might resort to using supplements before a workout and after a workout to enhance endurance and then to properly recover.
While this is sometimes necessary, those products' ingredients can get a bit sketchy.
Adaptogens can help to build up a reserve of energy that our bodies can draw from when necessary, like during a long/intense workout! In particular, Eleutherococcus is associated with improved energy and endurance.
How to use adaptogens
There are many ways in which you can consume adaptogens, but what's the best way?
Oh, and how often should I be using them?
Well, as we mentioned above, there are seldom any side effects from using these products, so you can't quite manage to overdo it, but here is what you should know.
- You can take most adaptogens in pill or vitamin form, but real food sources are always preferable as they are better absorbed by the body.
- You can often make adaptogenic tinctures by mixing food powders with water. You can also mix these powders into smoothies, shakes and tea.
- You should use adaptogens daily if you hope to see results and healing. Oftentimes, you're able to safely and effectively use them up to three times per day.
- It's recommended that you take a break from the adaptogens every once in a while (one day a week or one week per month) which helps the herbs to take effect in the system.
- You will notice no immediate difference. Adaptogens are slow-acting, and they require consistent use over long periods of time to make an impact in the body.
Do I need adaptogens?
Now that we've cleared up the how's, you might be asking WHY?
Good question. While nobody needs adaptogens, you might consider using them yourself if you're just not feeling so great.
If the pieces to the puzzle of your everyday life are suffering - think stress, libido, sleep, appetite, digestion - you might consider taking adaptogens to better bounce back from the toll it takes on you.
The little things DO add up!
Do you have experience with adaptogens, or a routine you'd like to share? We would LOVE to hear your story. Tell us below, or spread the word about these natural remedies.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Meerson F. Adaptation, Stress and Prophylax. Nauka; Moscow, USSR: Springer–Verlag; Berlin, Germany: 1981. 1984. (russ.)
Jafari M., Felgner J.S., Bussel I.I., Hutchili T., Khodayari B., Rose M.R., Vince-Cruz C., Mueller L.D. Rhodiola: a promising anti-aging Chinese herb. Rejuvenation Res. 2007;10:587–602. doi: 10.1089/rej.2007.0560.
Dardimov I.V. Ginseng, Eleutherococcus. On the Mechanism of Biological Activity. Nauka; Moscow, USSR: 1976. pp. 1–189
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.