Adaptogens have been around for centuries. They are commonly used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and have been for years. It's only recently that they've gained popularity in the United States. Someone asked me recently if they really work. So I decided to do some research. I assume that substances that have been used in healing for centuries must work, but how?
Adaptogens are used to help the body adapt to all kinds of stressors, hence how they got their name. They are known to help defend the body against physical, biological and chemical stressors. They support equilibrium of the body. Adaptogens are not harmful to most people, though it's true that certain individuals may not reap the same benefits from each one. None of them are known to have serious side effects when consumed at proper doses.
Some people report that adaptogens help them overcome fatigue, enhance their mental performance, boost immunity, reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression, and overcome other life stressors. Adaptogens do this by targeting the central nervous system. They are plants that contain complex phenolics or tetracyclic triterpenoids, meaning they have powerful chemical plant compounds that can stimulate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Essentially, the body adapts with the ingested plant compounds on a molecular level.
Here are my top five favorite adaptogens and some things they can help us with:
Reishi is part of the mushroom kingdom. It has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory and immune boosting effect. It has also been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. I love using Host Defense's Reishi Extract daily.
Holy Basil (aka Tulsi)
Organic India has a whole line of Tulsi teas. Not only are their teas delicious, they are also very beneficial because of the tulsi. Tulsi has been used for over 5,000 years to aid in stress relief and detox support. Tulsi has also been used to help reduce anxiety and depression and aid with immune function.
Ashwagandha is a well-known adaptogen that has been used to reduce stress for thousands of years. It can help with overall physical and mental health, boost moods, lower cortisol levels, and help balance blood sugar. Ashwagandha is a nightshade, so if you are sensitive to the compounds in nightshades, please consult a functional health specialist before starting to supplement with it.
Maca's claim to fame is that it helps to boost libido and support fertility. But that's not all it's good for. Maca is also a powerful stress reliever. It has been shown to reduce the negative symptoms of menopause, increase feelings of happiness, boost sports performance, and improve cognition as well.
Not only is the word 'schisandra' fun to say, but it is also a powerful adaptogen that has been shown to improve overall physical and mental health, increase health span, balance blood sugar, stabilize blood pressure, and protect the liver from toxins. Schisandra is a berry. And just like most berries, it can produce powerful antioxidant compounds to help the body combat stressors.
Other popular adaptogens worth researching include echinacea, amla, turmeric, lion's mane, rhodiola, astragalus, ginseng, cordyceps, bacopa, eleuthero, and milk thistle.