The Truth About Adaptogens
Adaptogens: All you need To Know
Adaptogens have taken the health industry by a storm, and for good reason too. If you’ve just come across the term or are looking into effective adaptogens, or even if you stumbled here by accident, well, lucky for you, because we’ve put together everything that you need to know about adaptogens! Here are our answers to some of your questions:
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are naturally occurring substances, such as herbs and mushrooms, that help your body “adapt” to stress. Even though the term has been recently popularized, they have existed and been used for healthcare and medicine for centuries. Consider them as natural supplements to help your body deal with stressors, both internal and external. Whether the stress is physical, like fatigue, or mental, like anxiety, adaptogens strengthen our body to deal with it by keeping our body’s functioning and response in a balanced state. Adaptogens help to maintain focus, stabilize mood, decrease stress and strengthen our body’s natural immunity. So, from running a marathon to studying for an upcoming test, or even getting through the day, every day, adaptogens can positively improve your quality of life.(1)
How Do They Work?
In a state of stress, our body goes into overdrive. This overdrive is usually hormonally driven. In the short term, this can affect our productivity and function in dealing with the stressor, and in the long run, it can adversely affect the normal functioning of various organ systems in our body, in particular, the cardiovascular system.
Adaptogens exert their effects through various mechanisms that include stimulation of the CNS, protection against cell death, promoting glucose uptake by skeletal muscle cells, as well as antioxidant properties.(2)
According to Hans Selye’s theory of General Adaptation Syndrome, our body’s response to threat or stress occurs in three stages: stage of alarm, stage of resistance, and stage of exhaustion. Through their interaction with the Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis (HPA), the areas in the brain controlling the production and release of stress hormones such as cortisol, adaptogens regulate the stage of resistance and prevent the body from going into overdrive and reaching the stage of exhaustion. Instead, they help the body adapt to stress by reaching a state of heterostasis, which enables your body to maintain optimal functioning in both stress and relaxation.(3)
Adaptogens also have an antitoxin effect. They improve the body’s resistance to various noxious substances including microbes and chemicals such as benzene, phosphorus, and acetone, etc.(4)
Which Adaptogens Should I Take?
As a general rule, adaptogens help increase your tolerance to stress by decreasing fatigability, improving focus, and elevating mood. However, different adaptogens have various specific effects.
- Matcha: Green tea powder, or matcha, is one of the most potent adaptogens out there. It is a powerful antioxidant that prevents cellular damage caused by lipid peroxidation and reactive oxygen species. Apart from having antioxidant properties of its own, matcha also stimulates the production of endogenous antioxidant substances. Because of its qualities as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, matcha can be helpful in the prevention of various diseases and disorders and improves cognitive and emotional health. Matcha also helps to smoothen out the postprandial surge in glucose levels and encourages the metabolism of fat, thus helping in effective weight loss and prevention against diabetes.(1,5)
- Reishi: This mushroom boosts our body’s natural immune system and helps against various types of cancers by increasing the number of white blood cells. This can be particularly useful in patients undergoing cancer therapy. Reishi also helps our body in maintaining a healthy pattern of sleep and wakefulness, thus improving overall productivity and focus.(6)
- Lion's mane: This edible mushroom has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Because of its neuroprotective properties, it has been found to offer protection against dementia, as well as in the reduction of anxiety and depression by helping to repair nerve damage. It helps in preventing stomach ulcers and reduces the risk of heart disease. Lion's mane blocks the activity of alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for the digestion of carbohydrates. In this way, it helps control blood sugar levels, particularly in diabetic populations.(6,7)
- Ashwagandha: Been used for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is particularly effective against anxiety and stress and also serves as an antiaging agent. It strengthens our autoimmune system to fight against external influences and reduces fatigue.(6–8)
Adaptogens are fairly versatile substances that “adapt” well and offer benefits in various ways. As opposed to traditional allopathic medication, these are organically occurring supplements that help boost the body’s functioning without additional side effects. Depending on your preference and what you’re looking for, adaptogens can be incorporated into your diet in various ways. Matcha, for example, you can have in a drink, or incorporate it into your meal. Now that you know your adaptogens, it’s time to start taking them!
- Liao L-Y, He Y-F, Li L, Meng H, Dong Y-M, Yi F, et al. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021 Aug 25];13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/
- Alexander Panossian GW. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals . 2010 Jan;3(1):188.
- Jackson M. Evaluating the Role of Hans Selye in the Modern History of Stress. In: Stress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century. University of Rochester Press; 2014.
- Chen TS, Liou SY, Chang YL. Antioxidant evaluation of three adaptogen extracts. Am J Chin Med [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2021 Aug 26];36(6). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19051347/
- Jakubczyk K, Kochman J, Kwiatkowska A, Kałduńska J, Dec K, Kawczuga D, et al. Antioxidant Properties and Nutritional Composition of Matcha Green Tea. Foods (Basel, Switzerland) [Internet]. 2020 Apr 12 [cited 2021 Aug 25];9(4). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32290537/
- Suarez-Arroyo IJ, Rosario-Acevedo R, Aguilar-Perez A, Clemente PL, Cubano LA, Serrano J, et al. Anti-Tumor Effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Inflammatory Breast Cancer in In Vivo and In Vitro Models. PLoS One [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2021 Aug 25];8(2). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3585368/
- Lai PL, Naidu M, Sabaratnam V, Wong KH, David RP, Kuppusamy UR, et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mushrooms [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2021 Aug 25];15(6). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24266378/
- Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine [Internet]. 2019 Sep [cited 2021 Aug 25];98(37). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31517876/