Adaptogens are substances that help the body to respond to stress by bringing the adrenal system back to normal levels. Many herbs fill this role, and can help to normalize physiological functions. The adrenal glands are the body’s mechanism for responding to stress. (1) When we are stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol, “the stress hormone,” but constant stress and high cortisol levels can affect every system in your body.
When cortisol levels are elevated, the “fight or flight response” is turned on, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands (2). When the sympathetic nervous system is ready to go, blood pressure increases (try to pay attention the next time you are stressed), and the digestive system even slows down to focus on managing cortisol levels. The body, drawn to homeostasis, helps respond to the stress response and brings cortisol levels back down. Chronic high cortisol levels can cause anxiety, weight gain, acne, sleep problems, disorders, hormonal imbalances, fertility problems and more major problems like disease. The good news is that adaptogens can help the body to balance cortisol levels. Below we take a look at some of the more common ones you might see around.
Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng has been shown to modulate the immune system and to help with anxiety. Additionally, it has been linked with memory and brain health, mood, and thyroid health. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects (2), and in studies, men who took 5g of ashwagandha daily helped to improve infertility problems (4).
Studies have supported Asian Ginseng for helping a person to overcome stress and fatigue, and to increase the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (1). In studies, mood, well being, physical and mental performance increased in those who took ginseng supplement regularly and it was even compared to the effects of taking a Valium (4). Additionally, Asian Ginseng was found to protect against many cancers (1).
Astragalus Root, which you may have heard about for cold maintenance and the immune system during cold season, is linked with vitality and boosted immune system (1). It also is sad to help manage the stress response (3) and has raised the white blood cell count in those with chronic low levels.
Maca, which I featured last week, can be considered an adaptogen for the way that it balances hormones. Maca can reduce menstrual cramping, PMS systems and hormonal imbalances. It is known to boost energy and stamina, libido and athletic performance.
Reishi, Shittake, and Maitake mushrooms have been shown to help the immune system and are used in non-traditional cancer treatments to shrink tumors. Reishi mushrooms are known as the elixir of immortality (1)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)
Rhodiola is used to reduce stress-related fatigue as well as depression, and helps with memory. Rhodiola stands out from other adaptogens in its process of working on neurotransmitters and endorphins. It is said to produce a stronger feeling of relaxation and anti-anxiety. (4)
Companies are hopping on board with these new superfood adaptogen supplements! While you can find capsules of most of these supplements individually, I’ve seen many adaptogen blends that look interesting.
Here are two brands that I trust and like, though I have not tried these products myself.
Have you tried supplementing with an adaptogen? What was your experience?
(1) Wallace, Edward. http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/Adaptogenic_Herbs.shtml
(4) Murray & Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine