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Adaptogens

August 13, 2021

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help your body resist and build a tolerance to emotional and physical stress. According to The American Institute of Stress, 33% of people report feeling extreme stress. The physical effects of stress on your body can affect your day to day life and while adaptogens don’t always work, it is worth understanding what the benefits of them could be. Along with dealing with long and short term stress, adaptogens can also help improve immunity and overall wellbeing. Adaptogens are starting to gain popularity now, but actually there is research going back to World War II times. When soldiers needed to find a way to deal with stress in natural ways, scientists found that adaptogens like rhodiola helped dull mental and physical fatigue that is known to cause stress. Recently, adaptogens have gone through rigorous scientific studies which have resulted in all positive results. There still needs to be more research done on this topic but for now they are seeing a correlation between adaptogens and decreased stress. 

The adaptogen herbs interact with the sympathoadrenal system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which are a part of your endocrine system. The endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce and regulate hormones, including cortisol. When you’re stressed, your body overflows with different physical responses that affect your immune system, hormones, cognitive function and circadian rhythm. A common hormone response to stress is an increase in cortisol levels, which is released from your adrenal glands when your body is in fight or flight mode. Excess cortisol can make you gain weight, especially in the stomach area. When you reduce stress, your cortisol levels will decrease meaning you are less likely to gain weight from being stressed. When our bodies are faced with stress, it goes through something called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS has three stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. The adaptogens job is to help your body stay in the resistance phase longer to hold off exhaustion. This allows your body to work through stressful moments instead of crashing in the middle of one.

Adaptogens like Holy Basil and Licorice Root can help decrease your cortisol through reducing stress. The adaptogen Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory benefits and immune modulating properties that will boost white blood cells, fight fatigue, and improve autoimmune health that decreases when stress increases. Having a strong immune modulation response is very important when fighting off cancer cells. If your body is under too much stress already, a suppressive event will occur and cancer fighting abilities will be limited. This is why controlling your stress and possibly taking adaptogens could be very important to your overall health. There are many different kinds of herbs you can take so it is best to do research to understand which one is best suited for your needs. 

There are many forms adaptogens come in and many ways you can consume them. Some herbal supplements come in capsule form you can take or break up to add to smoothies. Another way to get your adaptogens in is to eat adaptogenic foods like dried root astragalus, which has an earthy flavor, in soups. There are also stimulating teas that can be made from licorice root, fennel seed, fenugreek seed and flax seed that have many nutritional benefits along with reducing stress and inflammation. It is important to note, in general liquid versions of adaptogens are better than powder. This is because when the liquid extract is made they have the ability to pull out all the important components whereas the powder version could just be the entire herb ground up. When they grind up the entire herb, it is not as pure as when it is in liquid form therefore you don’t know how much of the adaptogen you are actually getting versus fillers. It is important to be consistent when taking an adaptogen to get the results you wish. Taking it every once and a while will not give you the benefits you are wanting. With a few exceptions, adaptogens should be taken in the morning due to your cortisol levels being the highest. Taking them in the morning when you wake up will also stimulate your body’s natural rhythm to wake up, creating a better sleep schedule. One reason you would take an adaptogen in the evening is if you are taking it specifically to calm down for sleep. Adaptogens can be taken for days up to weeks and even longer if you are going through an especially chaotic time in your life. After about six weeks it is recommended that you switch adaptogens though to experience the subtle differences and benefits they offer. Also by doing this your body won’t get accustomed to it and lose the effectiveness. Like other supplements in the US, adaptogens are less regulated than prescription medication making it harder to find reliable and pure adaptogens. It is important to do research or have a doctor recommend specific kinds of adaptogens to gain the best results from taking them.

Adaptogens are not a cure-all medicine that should replace stress management techniques and other medical care, but evidence does show it can help ease stress. If you go through prolonged periods of times in life that you are extremely stressed like during the holidays or tax season, adaptogens could alleviate some of the stress to make it more manageable. Adaptogens should not be used as a bandaid for chronic stress when a lifestyle change is needed to be healthier in the long run. While adaptogens are generally safe, it is best to consult with a doctor before taking any because it could interact with other medications you are taking. Along with that, finding the correct dosage can be challenging so having someone observe your reactions and its effectiveness will help ensure the specific adaptogen and amount is right for you. If adding adaptogens to your wellness routine interests you, contact us for further information and guidance. 

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