What You Need to Know About Adaptogens:
The Full Guide - Benefits, Uses, and More
Today, being in a continual state of stress may start to feel normal for many of us, especially when living in a fast-paced world. As our schedules grow increasingly packed, we adapt to a more chaotic way of life without even realizing it. This never-ending state of tension may compound over time into a slew of physical and emotional problems, such as developing a chronic stress condition.
It may sound scary, but it’s true. Over time, stress can become a real danger to your health and well-being, especially if not treated in a timely manner. In fact, there are various signs that stress may already be disrupting your well-being and overall health. These symptoms include:
- Inability to remain focused
- Sharp jaw and/or tooth pain
- Irregular periods
- Digestive problems
- Sore and tense muscles
- Dry mouth
- Sleeping disorders
These are just some of the most common ways stress affects your body and mind, but the list can be much longer depending on your personal health history and lifestyle. Your body is designed to produce cortisol when stressed, but chronically elevated cortisol levels can harm every bodily system, including your thyroid and adrenal glands. This might result in changes that ultimately reflect the body’s response to an unanticipated and unhealthy hormonal imbalance. At first, these changes can come in the form of weight gain, brain fog, and sluggishness before later developing into more severe conditions.
While most researchers and doctors agree that the best way to fight chronic stress is with multi-layered treatments, lately, there has been growing scientific and medical interest in the potential of adaptogens to help regulate cortisol levels and better manage stress naturally.
What Are Adaptogens?
While adaptogenic substances have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, the first recorded use of the word “adaptogenic” was in 1947 by Russian scientist N.V. Lazarev, who used it to describe this increase in the body’s tolerance to stress. The term “adaptogen” was formally defined a decade later by a team of Russian research scientists in 1958. In their definition, adaptogens “must be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism, must have a nonspecific action, and usually [have] a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state.”
The effect was observed in animal studies that focused on the use of various adaptogens. The results confirmed that adaptogens have the natural ability to create this generally increased resistance to stress.
Modern Day Application
Adaptogens belong to a unique class of plants and fungi. Many of these include foods and herbs you may already be familiar with.
They are an essential part of “phytotherapy” (a plant-based approach to healing) though today, they are more widely used as a natural alternative to treat stress and other conditions. Adaptogens don’t have one specific action, and each type of adaptogen has unique properties and benefits. Their primary purpose is to help balance, restore, and/or protect different biological systems and processes.
Just like the name implies, adaptogens can help you adapt to many forms of stress. They help your body create a healthy response to any influence or stressor, regulating various physiological functions. In other words, they help to restore many of the body’s processes to keep the body in homeostasis.
Modern research suggests that they can effectively promote restful sleep, support mental clarity, boost energy levels, and help with other aspects of your life impacted by continuous stress.
One way adaptogens help to “normalize” biological functions is by interacting with the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which regulates the release of various hormones, including cortisol.
When cortisol levels rise, they trigger a “fight or flight” response, which stimulates your adrenal glands, and your sympathetic nervous system, which directs your body’s involuntary response to stress. Those who experience the fight-or-flight response frequently, on a daily basis, are subject to a state of continuous stress that may significantly affect adrenal glands, the digestive system, and cause numerous problems such as fatigue, weight gain, low sex drive, and acne.
Some people at the highest risk for these types of issues include:
- Young parents
- University students
- Recent Hires starting a new position
- Primary caregivers, like nurses or family members who care for invalid relatives or patients
Types of Adaptogens
Adaptogens generally fall under one of two categories: herbs and mushrooms. Both types of adaptogens contain powerful properties and can be highly beneficial. Additionally, both herb and mushroom adaptogens are incredibly versatile, meaning they can be consumed as capsules, gummies, teas, and more.
Some of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs include:
- Panax ginseng
- Holy basil
- Astragalus root
- Licorice root
When it comes to adaptogen mushrooms, some of the most well-known types include:
- Cordyceps mushroom
- Reishi mushroom
- Chaga mushroom
- Turkey tail mushroom
- Lion’s mane mushroom
- Maitake mushroom
Where to Find Adaptogenic Herbs and Mushrooms
Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and ginseng are extremely popular and can be found in numerous plant-based supplements. They are also used as “booster” ingredients in smoothies or juices. Today, herbal adaptogens are sold in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Adaptogenic mushrooms are also known as functional mushrooms. The medicinal use of mushrooms has a well-documented tradition in Eastern cultures, dating back thousands of years. While functional mushroom products are not as common, you can still find them in many supermarkets and online retailers.
How to Get Started with Adaptogens
If you are interested in learning more about adaptogens and what they can do for you, we recommend looking at the different types of adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms and learning more about their potential benefits. You may want to start with some of the most popular adaptogens, like Reishi or Lion’s Mane, which are known to support stress levels and cognitive function, respectively.
Alternatively, you may want to consult with a healthcare professional for more personalized recommendations tailored to your individual health goals and needs.
Looking for Adaptogens?
Find out more about adaptogens and functional mushrooms with Zahav’s collection of plant-based products. Their flavored gummies and capsules offer people multiple alternatives to help improve their quality of life naturally.