In a nutshell, adaptogens are naturally-occurring herbs that help your body adapt to stress and resist fatigue in stressful situations by shifting your body’s hormonal responses.
You might be familiar with certain adaptogens, such as ginseng or rhodiola, since they’ve been used for centuries in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine – they might not be the Western medical strategies we’re used to, but there is some real science behind alternative medicine.
Adaptogens are particularly notable for their ability to strengthen stress response and enhance the ability to cope with anxiety in a very balanced and gentle fashion. One downside of the gentleness, though, is that sometimes the effects of adaptogens are imperceptible if you’re not paying attention. That doesn’t mean that they’re not doing anything, though! For some people, it can just take several days or weeks of consistent adaptogen use to feel the effects, instead of an immediate reaction.
One key place that adaptogens have an impact is the adrenal glands. Your adrenals take the hit when you’re stressed, and many adaptogens support adrenal function and reduce the stress burden on them. Taking adaptogens has been shown to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone that causes weight gain around your middle and help treat depression, amongst other psychological effects. The most active components in many adaptogens are called glycosides and glucuronides.
In addition to the stress-moderating effects, adaptogens are also great antioxidant sources, supporting your immune system and helping you to maintain health. Certain adaptogens like ashwagandha have been shown to reduce the development of stress-induced ulcers in the digestive tract as well!
For women, adaptogens can be particularly powerful when it comes to fertility and addressing hormone imbalances like PCOS. One big underlying cause of these issues is stress, and an inability to manage stress, which throws hormones out of whack. If your body is stressed, fertility and reproduction are not priorities for your body, so those systems start to shut down. Adaptogens that help your body tolerate stress can help restore hormonal function, like chasteberry, which balances hormones and reduces PMS symptoms.
Partially because of their historical role in alternative medicine, adaptogens are traditionally undervalued by conventional medicine, but can indeed be quite powerful. Today, scientists are further studying the uses of adaptogens, as some may be relevant for treating cancer as a complementary protocol with chemotherapy.
If you’re looking to give an adaptogen or two a try, the most well-known ones are ashwagandha, ginseng and bacopa. They’re all available in capsule form on Amazon (make sure to get them from a high-quality source!), and you can also find them in a variety of health products from kombucha to our very own Chocolate Hustle performance tea. Other adaptogens worth investigating include: eleuthero, maca, rhodiola, chasteberry, and schisandra.
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Tung-Sheng Chen, Show-Yih Liou, and Yen-Lin Chang. Antioxidant Evaluation of Three Adaptogen Extracts. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine 2008 36:06, 1209-1217.