What Are Adaptogens?
Most people deal with stress daily. We even find ourselves reminiscing about days gone by and decry that we were stress-free in those days. This lament is true. According to a 2020 report by the American Psychological Association, over 78% of survey respondents have said they feel stressed because of the pandemic. 67% say that COVID-19 has become an increased source of stress for them.
Given the statistics, it is no surprise that stress is rapidly becoming a constant in our lives. The presence of stressors, or stimuli that increase stress, is everywhere. There has to be a way to combat stress and adapt to it since we cannot make the stressors disappear. Fortunately, there is. We return to nature again with the increasing shift towards environmentally friendly foods and natural medicine practices. And with that shift, we have learned about compounds called “adaptogens.” As an added snippet of information, green tea and ginseng, which are everywhere, also qualify as adaptogens. But what exactly are they, and how do they help us gain control over ourselves and manage how we respond to stressors?
Adaptogens are plants or herbs that help promote and strengthen your body’s response to stress, aiding your body to “adapt” to external stressors, manage them, and lessen their effects on your overall health.
While adaptogens have become increasingly mainstream as more people look toward natural therapies instead of pharmaceuticals, they have been used for thousands of years in herbal medications. Ayurveda, the medicinal and therapeutic use of herbal preparations, deserves mention here. Ayurveda uses the natural qualities of plants to prepare powders, oils, and spices for various treatments and medicinal use. In fact, in Asia, herbal preparations are prevalent, for example, in Chinese medicines. Some examples of common adaptogens in use are American and Asian ginseng, Rhodiola, Eleuthero, and Ashwagandha.
Adaptogens must meet three criteria before being used as such:
* All adaptogens work by inducing a state of homeostasis within the body.
* All adaptogens must be non-toxic at regular doses.
* All adaptogens help with managing stress levels in your body.
You should keep in mind that research on adaptogens is not extensive, and adaptogens are promoted as means to prepare your body for daily stress, not as a cure-all. One idea focuses on how adaptogens alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls stress, metabolism, and immune responses. These adaptogens are thought to keep your stress levels in a more neutral condition by modulating the HPA axis.
If you are planning on using adaptogens, you should note that the FDA has not approved the use of adaptogens and therefore doesn’t regulate them. Adaptogens are considered dietary supplements, which don’t require as much oversight as prescription medications.