In the wellness community, adaptogens have graduated from a buzzy trend word to a routine staple as they continue to grow in popularity with no signs of slowing down. Whether you’ve noticed a coffee shop offering an ashwagandha-infused cold brew or a new lotion on the market involving red ginseng, adaptogens are popping up everywhere under the promise of various physical and mental health benefits with the primary being stress relief.
From powders that are added to food and drinks to new skincare products and supplements, it’s important to understand the basics of adaptogens before incorporating them into your wellness routine. Below we break down what adaptogens are, the different types, and their benefits.
What are adaptogens?
Although adaptogens have recently hit the mainstream, they’ve actually been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda practices to treat a variety of health issues from reducing stress and fatigue to improving focus and memory and much more. However, their effectiveness is just now starting to be corroborated by Westernized modern research.
“There are many studies that have been done on different adaptogens over the years,” says Keri Marshall MS, ND. “Namely, there are a number of patented ashwagandha extracts that have several clinical studies, showing that ashwagandha effectively reduces stress in adults and that when taken for 60 days improves depression, anxiety, and overall stress scores as well as decreased serum cortisol, the stress hormone.”
Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and fungi that work to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. They can improve or adapt the body’s resistance to stressors and restore the body to its normal physiological state. In other words, they are active ingredients in certain plants that are naturally occurring in nature and can help the body respond more efficiently to emotional or physical stressors.
“Adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which modulates the body’s stress response,” says Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, and RD, clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center. “Research seems to indicate that adaptogens may help the body regulate itself by improving mood, balancing hormones, fighting fatigue, and possibly boosting the immune system.”
Whilst adaptogens are known to be relatively safe, you should always consult your doctor before introducing any kind of supplement into your routine. “I usually tell my patients to not just go and take any herb or supplement that you hear of, because they may interact with your medication (especially if you have had an organ transplant),” says Hunnes. “Sometimes, your body’s reaction to these ingredients may do more harm than good.”
Common adaptogens and their benefits
There are numerous types of adaptogenic herbs with each having its own specific effect. “Adaptogens are especially beneficial for people looking to restore energy and stamina, as well as focus and concentration,” says Dr. Marshall. “In many cases, people who find themselves getting sick frequently, may benefit from taking adaptogens to help restore balance to the immune system.”
Here are just a few of the most popular and their benefits:
Ashwagandha: shown to help reduce anxiety and depression.
Ginseng: which refers to either American or Asian ginseng, and is used to combat fatigue.
Reishi: a type of mushroom adaptogen used to boost the immune system.
Rhodiola: to reduce fatigue, depression, and pain.
Schisandra: for improved concentration, coordination, and endurance.
Tulsi also known as “holy basil”: used to increase focus, decrease anxiety, and boost the immune system.
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