The American Psychological Association defines stress as “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors.”
Everyone feels stressed from time to time, but chronic stress is more prevalent than ever in the 21st century. With longer work hours, less familial support, plus added economic tensions, it’s almost become normal to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and permanently stressed.
Stress causes our bodies to release more cortisol — commonly known as the most abundant stress hormone. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is the part of the brain that produces cortisol. The HPA axis represents the interaction between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
Chronic stress may contribute to various physiological disorders such as headaches, digestive issues, trouble sleeping, sadness, anger, and an increased likelihood of developing infections.
And if that’s not enough, high levels of cortisol are shown to suppress the thyroid hormone, contributing to hypothyroidism.
So, how do we combat stress? Aside from prescription drugs (and other treatments such as ketamine infusion therapy), adopting a healthier lifestyle and reducing consistently high cortisol levels are the answers.
Adaptogens are another potential solution. Adaptogens are a class of herbal medicine thought to improve our body’s response to stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Although adaptogens are not an alternative to modern medicine, they can help when things go wrong. Stress-mitigating medicinal herbs may improve general wellness, and we’ll touch on that more shortly.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens, also known as adaptogenic herbs, are synthetic compounds or plant hormones that may help the body cope with stress and increase physical load tolerance without increasing oxygen consumption. These herbs help bring your body back to homeostasis, or optimal bodily functioning, and can be taken orally in multiple ways.
Herbs and adaptogens are often confused. Herbs refer to the entire catalog of medicinal plants, whereas adaptogens focus on a subset of plants that possess stress-relieving properties.
Natural adaptogens (derived from plants) have a rich history. Individuals take adaptogens to recover from illness, physical weakness, and impaired mental function. Today, the most common uses of adaptogenic herbs are to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Some foods also behave as adaptogens, including turmeric, mushrooms, holy basil, and maca.
How do adaptogens work? Adaptogens help the body return to homeostasis by increasing or decreasing chemical reactions within the HPA axis. Adaptogens reduce stress-related impairments in the neuroendocrine and immune systems. They may also support increased focus during times of fatigue, as suggested in a 2010 study.
Types of Adaptogens
Some of the most popular types of adaptogens are:
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Siberian Ginseng
The many different adaptogens come from different plants and plant parts (i.e., roots, stems, leaves). Keep reading to learn more about adaptogens, their origin, and what they’re used for.
Ashwagandha, also known as “Indian ginseng,” is a herb commonly used to help alleviate stress and improve wellbeing. It’s one of the more well-known adaptogens.
A 2019 study investigated ashwagandha’s stress-relieving and pharmacological activity in 60 healthy adults. Participants were randomly allocated to the placebo group or given 240mg of standardized ashwagandha extract daily.
Compared to those who took a placebo, patients experienced significantly reduced anxiety and depression (according to 2 widely used scales). Cortisol levels reduced in the morning, and testosterone levels increased in males but not females.
These results indicate that ashwagandha may effectively reduce anxiety and stress responses and may combat depression.
Rhodiola grows in cold regions at high altitudes in both Asia and Europe. Historically, this adaptogen was used in European countries to increase endurance, energy, work performance, and mental performance.
Today, rhodiola is thought to increase energy and stamina, help combat stress, and may even alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms.
The HMPC/EMA has approved rhodiola — it influences the release of stress hormones and boosts metabolism, according to animal literature. Although, more clinical research is required on humans to draw significant conclusions.
Siberian ginseng, also known as eleuthero, is a traditional Chinese medicine that may help combat fatigue and improve cognitive function.
For instance, in one study, 20 hypertensive volunteers aged over 65 years received 300 mg/day of Siberian ginseng while the other 10 participants received a placebo.
Those who consumed the adaptogen benefited from improved mental health and social functioning, these improvements eventually went away after patients stopped taking the supplement”. Both groups saw no significant difference in blood pressure control.
There are over 750 identified cordyceps, an adaptogen found worldwide, though typically harvested from South Asia, Europe, and North America.
Like other adaptogens, cordyceps help the body maintain balance while stressed. Studies using forced swimming to induce stress on rats and mice suggest increased stress tolerance after consuming cordyceps.
Further research on humans is needed to assess the benefits, but the results are promising from current research on rodents.
Reishi is an adaptogenic mushroom that grows in certain hot countries, including Asia. The reishi mushroom can be eaten raw, but typically, these come in powder form.
The benefits of the reishi mushroom are well researched, with potential benefits including improved immune function, reduced fatigue, and lessened anxiety and depression. Some research also indicates a positive antioxidant effect in the body, though other studies found no change.
In particular, one study investigated the effect of Ganoderma lucidum (also known as reishi) on 48 breast cancer patients experiencing fatigue. Results showed statistically significant improvements in the physical well-being of the experiment group. Those in the experimental group also experienced less anxiety and depression plus a better quality of life than the control group.
What are the different ways to take adaptogens?
Since adaptogens are derived from plants, there are numerous ways to take them. Some of the more popular methods of supplementation include:
- Adding adaptogens directly to tea or soups
- Taken in tincture form
- Supplementing with adaptogen capsules
- Eating raw mushrooms
- Adding adaptogenic herbs to a beverage
Add your Chosen Adaptogens to Tea or Soups
A popular supplementation method is to add adaptogen powders to tea or soups. Adding adaptogens to tea or soup will remove bitter tastes.
But if you don’t finish your tea or soup, you won’t receive the full benefit of the adaptogenic herb.
Tinctures are a great option if you have trouble swallowing capsules. If you find it has a bitter taste, try adding it to food or a beverage.
Oral capsules are convenient and typically taken just once per day. Supplement companies use widely varied doses and additives, so it’s important to ensure you purchase from a reputable brand. It’s also recommended to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best dosage for your body.
Mushroom Form (Raw)
Some adaptogens, mainly cordyceps, can be taken in mushroom form and eaten raw. However, these can be difficult to chew, may not taste great, and are the least preferred supplementation method for most people.
Add to Another Beverage
You don’t have to take your adaptogens with a cup of tea or a hot soup. Add powder or tincture drops to another beverage, whether a glass of water or a smoothie. You can also buy adaptogenic drinks.
Make it part of your routine — the more convenient it is, the more likely you will stick to it.
Some Supplements Include Multiple Adaptogens
Many supplements include a mix of adaptogens, such as reishi and ashwagandha, or another combination.
While this may seem convenient, if you experience any side effects, it can be challenging to determine which adaptogen caused the side effect. Be mindful of what you’re taking and always seek the support of a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Some adaptogenic herbs are not for everyone. For example, ashwagandha is not recommended for those who are pregnant, as it may unexpectedly end your pregnancy.
Some adaptogens are not recommended for people on certain prescription medications or withhealth conditions such as cancer, as they can interfere with treatment.
Always seek the help of a qualified professional before taking any supplements of adaptogenic herbs.
Aside from more severe risks, some users may experience mild side effects such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, and stomach issues. If you’re suffering from frequent headaches, the amino acid 5-HTP might help.
Your experience with adaptogens is very individual — you may experience no side effects, while another person may encounter several.
If you choose to take adaptogens, taking the correct dosage is essential. Otherwise, you may encounter side effects. Moreover, the food and drug administration (FDA) does not monitor the supplement industry, so ingredients and doses may vary by product and brand.
Reduce the Effects of Stress, Find Relief For Your Mind
Stress affects the body and its organs in multiple ways. But you don’t need to live with the harsh effects of stress forever.
When you choose PrimeHealth, we perform a comprehensive consultation with you. We may suggest an adaptogen to combat your body’s overreactive response to stress and to improve the regulation and balance within the HPA axis.
If you want to reduce the effects of stress on your health and wellbeing, schedule a free consultation with Prime Health.
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