Adaptogens are one of the most unique naturally occurring medicinal compounds in the world. Adaptogenic herbs are termed from the word ‘adapt‘. They activate our energy systems and enable us to adapt and sustain high levels of physical and mental distress.
These are a group of herbal ingredients which improve the functioning of the endocrine system. The adrenal gland is in charge of managing the hormonal stress response.
Therefore, it makes sense to say that these compounds strengthen the stress response. Thus, they help our body cope up with anxiety and fatigue.
Adaptogens are not just another one of those ‘theories’ around out there. Multiple research works have shown that adaptogens have tremendous benefits to stress, hormone balance and your overall health.
In this post we will look into the benefits of adaptogenic herbs and foods, how do they work, 10 highly beneficial adaptogens and how you can include them. Let’s get started!
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Health Benefits of Adaptogens
To name a few, here are some of the benefits you can derive from adaptogens.
- Possesses anti-aging properties
- Increases metabolism
- Helps to build vital organ strength
- Improve energy levels and emotional stability
- Known to increase the life span
- Nourishes the nerves and support mental acumen
- Improve endocrine function
- Have no negative long term side effects
- Increased metabolism
- Enhanced immunity
- Better sleep
The beautiful thing here is that in Ayurveda, adaptogens are applied either as wholesome herbs in their natural form or they are prepared with minimal processing of herbs.
Thus in Ayurvedic medicine the benefits of adaptogens are maximized by keeping them in their most natural form.
How do Adaptogens Work?
- Adaptogens alter a variety of stress-induced hormonal pathways. They help produce more proteins that fight stress-induced physiological reactions. A good track record of these compounds is that they are said to increase longevity.
- They can even help in calming the energy levels down at the same time boosting them without stimulating. They normalize the body’s imbalances. By supporting adrenal function, they counteract the adverse effects of stress.
- They enable the body’s cells to access more energy. They help cells eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic processes and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently.
We’ll learn more about how Adaptogens work further down the page. Then, we can better understand how these adaptogens can help with stress and hormone balance.
Which Adaptogens should you use?
1. Ashwagandha / Withania Somnifera
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine.
- it increases vitality, energy, endurance, and stamina
- promotes longevity
- strengthens the immune system
- reduces blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome,
- alleviates impotence associated with anxiety or exhaustion and promotes libido and is beneficial in treating fertility challenges
- enhances the endocrine function, especially the thyroid and the adrenals
- prevents premature aging.
- has a calming effect and stabilizes mood
- possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
- it is used to improves sleep and memory and reduce anxiety
- reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (damage from inflammation).
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 1-4mL, mixed with water, to be taken three times daily
CAUTION: Ashwagandha is generally safe, but pregnant women or those who have hyperthyroidism should be wary of it.
2. Licorice root
Licorice tones the spleen. Rich in both saponins and flavonoids.
- it is anti-inflammatory due to the presence of saponins, which are similar to corticosteroids
- enhances immune system functioning
- Stimulates the adrenal cortex
- inhibits the breakdown of cortisol hormone by the liver, thereby naturally increasing corticosteroid levels in the body
CAUTION: Licorice should be limited in consumption by patients of high blood pressure.
Ayurveda considers Shatavari to be the ‘Queen of Herbs’. Its role in women health cannot be overemphasized. As an adaptogen, it harmonizes the complex interplay of hormones and hormonal processes going on in the body. This is essential for hormonal balance.
- it is nutritious
- useful for irritability and moodswings that arise from hormone imbalances, like in PMS and menopause
- helps improve sleep problems in perimenopause.
- useful as a fertility tonic as it removes vaginal dryness and boosts libido,
- it reduces the level of acid in the stomach, thus preventing ulcers
- improves insulin secretion, thereby helping to regulate blood sugar
- helps lower cholesterol
- serves as a phytoestrogen
- improves immunity and antioxidant activity
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 2-4mL in water to be taken two or three times daily
CAUTION: Avoid if you have a history of estrogen-receptor-positive cancer.
4. Amla – Indian Gooseberry
Rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants, Amla prevents memory loss and promotes youthfulness. It restores appetite, relieves nausea and liver dysfunction.
Bioactive compounds present in it support healthy blood sugar levels, adrenal health, and enhance immunity. Amla also aids in liver detoxification and helps to lower cholesterol levels.
5. Tulsi – Holy Basil
Holy Basil or Tulsi as is commonly known in India, contributes significantly to areas of stress response and anxiety.
- prevents an increase in corticosterone levels attributed to stress
- acts as a natural antidepressant
- lowers blood sugar, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels
- improves antibody production
- possesses anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- protects the liver
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 2-3mL in water, to be taken three times daily
It is a powerful detoxifier used commonly in traditional Chinese medicine.
- exerts calming, anti-anxiety effects
- improves mental focus,
- boosts energy and stamina
- enhances athletic performance and endurance
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 1-1.5mL in water, taken once or twice daily
CAUTION: Schizandra is not suitable for pregnant women
7. Asian Ginseng Root
One of the most stimulating adaptogens, Ginseng root is traditionally used in Chinese medicine.
- reduces fatigue levels, including cancer-related fatigue levels.
- treats impotence
- alleviates low back pain
Maca is a food item that is particularly excellent for hormone balance.
- promotes mental acuity
- reduces anxiety and depression
- enhances physical vitality, endurance, and stamina
- rich in many nutrients, including essential amino acids, iodine, iron, magnesium, and sterols
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: Eat about 75-100mg of maca per day.
Rhodiola is very effective in calming the senses and improving focus.
- optimizes the immune system to function effectively
- plays a huge role in reducing anxiety
- reduces stress and burnout helps you sleep better
- it has anti-inflammatory properties
- useful for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic stress headaches
- protects against colds and infections
- improves mental and physical stamina
- boosts the appetite
RECOMMENDED DOSAGE: 2-3mL in water, taken two or three times daily.
CAUTION: Not suitable for patients with bipolar disorder
Several mushroom species serve as excellent adaptogens. Some of them are thus:
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Lion’s mane
These mushrooms do have their specific benefits, but generally, mushrooms are beneficial as adaptogens in the following ways:
- support immune function
- improve cognitive function
- reduce anxiety
CAUTION: Some mushrooms are not good. While there are the medicinal ones, there are also toxic mushrooms(poisonous) and psychedelic mushrooms.
The link between Adaptogens, Stress and Hormone Balance
The grand connection between the three things is the HPA axis. The HPA axis(Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis). It is a complex system of glands, hormones and, receptors in the human body.
It is central to the body’s homeostasis (balance), stress responses, and energy metabolism. Thus, the HPA is like the main connecting trunk.
You can see there are three components here. Let’s get an idea of each.
The word ‘hypothalamic’ is derived from ‘hypothalamus.’ Hypothalamus is a part of the brain. And of course, basic knowledge of biology tells you that the brain is the Central Processing Unit of the body.
This refers to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a hormone-producing gland that is located in the brain and is associated with the hypothalamus.
It is fondly called ‘the master gland’ because the hormones it produces control much of all the other hormone production from the other glands all around the body. Simply, the pituitary gland is all about hormones and regulating hormones.
The adrenal gland is another hormone-producing gland that you can find just at the top of the kidneys. It secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which are involved in response to stress and regulation of stress. So, simply, the adrenal gland is all about stress.
How do Adaptogens help the HPA Axis and Stress Response?
Here, we have the components of hormone balance and stress response spelled out. This HPA axis is very important. You will agree that anything affecting it will have wide-reaching effects on the body as a whole.
Where do the adaptogens come in then? Adaptogens affect the HPA axis, thus, they can affect the whole body.
So, when we consume adaptogens, they interact with the interplay of hormones in the HPA axis and thus exert their beneficial effects.
Adaptogens and their benefits for Stress Reduction
Stress is anything that causes strain and reduces your comfort. It can arise in any of three forms:
- Emotional Stress: like due to an overbearing boss, loss of a loved one, etc.
- Physical Stress: like when there is a physical threat, or you’re being chased by an angry dog.
- Chemical Stress: like due to exposure to harmful chemicals, insecticides, poisonous substances in food, etc.
Stress and the normal response to stress
As part of evolution, the body has evolved to deal with stress. After all, deers know to run away from a pride of lions.
When stressed, the adrenal glands produce the hormones adrenaline(the emergency hormone) and cortisol(also known as the stress hormone).
These hormones immediately set in motion processes that will help us cope with stressful situations. For example, your heart starts to beat faster, your eyes open wider, you feel more alert, your body starts producing and utilizing more sugar so you can have energy, and so on.
These are all normal. After the stressful situation has been dealt with, things go back to normal. Excellent.
Stress heading on to distress?
For modern man(or woman, particularly), things don’t always run as smoothly. In fact, it is proven that women are more likely to be stressed and get higher stress levels. Blame it on combining work with parenting with social activities, etc. There is also the chemical stress from polluted air, food additives, GMOs, etc. We’ve not mentioned bills to be paid, loans to be settled, and more.
With our modern lifestyle, it seems we are constantly under a state of stress. The body thus keeps the stress response active(things never go back to the resting state).
And that is where the problem arises. When you’re in a constant state of stress for a long time, you can eventually burn out. Not to talk of other serious health effects like weight gain, high blood pressure/hypertension, cardiac problems, etc.
When your body is constantly overworked, it will retire before it is your due retirement.
How do Adaptogens reduce stress?
As earlier stated, the word ‘adaptogen’ is a derivative of the word ‘adapt.’ To adapt means to adjust, to get used to something, or a situation.
Therefore, we can say adaptogens help us adapt better to stress. They do this by acting on the adrenals, exerting a calming effect.
Here is another way adaptogens help with stress. Stress brings about a three-stage response called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). The three stages are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help you stay longer in the resistance stage before crashing into exhaustion.
These herbs act like vaccines that protect you from getting stressed out.
How do Adaptogens help with Hormone Balance?
If you recollect, hormones are a big part of the stress response. The adrenal gland releases hormones, and these hormones effect changes that help you cope.
But in this situation of perpetual stress that we’re talking about, the hormones are constantly produced. Adrenaline and cortisol are released continuously. However, the biggest culprit for bad effects is cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol, for example, cause the release of more sugar for energy. With more sugar, insulin comes in to take care of that. If this happens consistently, your body will fail to respond to insulin anymore. You become insulin resistant. The excess sugar causes you to store more fat in your abdominal area.
And the cascade goes on and on!
However, with adaptogens, stress levels are maintained and your body can better function to avoid all these. Cortisol won’t spike so high, insulin will not play around your body so much.
Your thyroid levels won’t climb as high either, and you will avoid the extra belly fat.
These are just a few of the benefits adaptogens hold for you.
Bonus Ideas on How to Eat Adaptogens
- Be creative with your adaptogens. If you cook your meals, add them in. Find ways to incorporate them into your diet, either as teas, cooking ingredients, or anyway it fits into your lifestyle.
- Mind “on-the-shelf” adaptogens. They might come mixed with other ingredients. Ensure those other ingredients are safe.
- Adaptogens are generally safe, but still, be moderate in your use of them.
- Adaptogens may react differently with different people, and with different medications. Be sure to follow your health adviser.
Check out Hormone Balance with Ayurveda, a holistic health programme. Receive personalized Ayurvedic treatment and step-by step guidance on diet and lifestyle to balance hormones and find relief from nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalance symptoms.
Before you Go!
Adaptogens greatly improve your body’s ability to adapt to stress physically and mentally. This elite class of herbs imparts strength, energy, stamina, endurance and they improve mental clarity.
Include them in your diet regularly and feel the difference right away.
Now we want to hear from you. Are you using Adaptogens in your day? If yes, then which ones are those and how you find them helpful to you?
Do write to us for any queries and feedback. We will get back to you the soonest.
Wishing you vibrant health!