Uses, Effectiveness and Side Effects

Adaptogens are compounds found in certain plants believed to help reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. They are often taken as dietary supplements.

Adaptogens increase your body’s resistance to physical, biological and chemical stress. These compounds also protect against stress-related damage.

Adaptogens have long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, but have recently gained popularity in Western homes.

So, are adaptogens a panacea? Not exactly.

Caution is advised when considering taking adaptogenic supplements. Absence of strict federal regulationsside effects and potential drug interactions are considerations to keep in mind.

Adaptogens are natural compounds found in certain plants and fungi.

As the name suggests, they help your body adapt and respond to various external and internal stressors. They can help you manage stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue when taken in specific doses for specific lengths of time.

How is it possible?

When you face a physical or mental stressor, your body reacts in the following ways:

  1. alarm
  2. resistance
  3. exhaustion

The alarm stage is more commonly known as the fight, flight, or freeze stress response. It is activated so that you can react to perceived danger.

During the resistance phase, your body releases hormones that help you focus and improve your physical performance, so you can rise to the challenge. You generally feel energized and lucid during this stage as you resist the stressor.

Adaptogens help your body stay in the resistance phase longer so you can push through and not crash during a stressful event.

Adaptogens affect your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis consists of three glands – the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These glands are responsible for sending messages that regulate the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in response to stressors.

Cortisol levels naturally rise in the morning to promote wakefulness and alertness. But, during times of stress, your body releases more cortisol. As stressors decrease, the HPA axis works to secrete less cortisol.

But if you’re under prolonged or frequent stress, your cortisol levels can stay elevated for an extended period of time. Long-term high cortisol levels can to contribute to various chronic diseases.

Adaptogens are believed to support homeostasis in your body by helping the HPA axis to keep your body in a state of balance.

For example, if you are stressed and your cortisol levels are already high, adaptogens can help reduce cortisol release. On the other hand, if you’re tired and your cortisol levels are low, adaptogens could help your body release more cortisol to increase alertness.

Adaptogenic supplements are commonly marketed as a way to:

  • boost the immune system
  • improve sleep regulation
  • improve cognitive focus
  • increase overall energy
  • manage chronic stress
  • manage symptoms of depression
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce fatigue
  • reduce chronic inflammation

Adaptogens come in many forms, including supplements, herbs, teas, and tinctures.

Being considered an adaptogena plant or fungus must have the following three characteristics:

  • It is non-toxic when taken in low doses.
  • It helps your body cope with a variety of external and internal stressors.
  • It helps your body maintain homeostasis.

Here is a list of popular plants, herbs, and mushrooms used as adaptogenic supplements:

  • american ginseng
  • rhodiola
  • ashwaganda
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • Reishi Mushroom
  • Schisander berry
  • Siberian ginseng or eleuthero
  • Tulsi or holy basil
  • curcumin

Adaptogens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Adaptogenic supplements do not need to meet the same federal quality or safety standards as pharmaceutical drugs. It also means that these supplements do not need to be proven to be effective in order to be marketed, unlike pharmaceutical products.

A 2018 review suggests that certain adaptogens, including Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng, may help some people regulate the release of stress hormones, particularly in the adrenal glands. Adaptogens can help you cope better with internal and external stressors.

Other varieties of ginseng seem to have this effect by reducing feelings of fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Other studies found that adaptogens, such as American ginseng and schisandra, may also help improve sleep.

To research published in 2010found that certain adaptogens, such as arctic root and holy basil, can help give you a boost when your body feels tired. They can also help you increase cognitive focus and concentration.

More research is needed to determine the overall effectiveness and safety of adaptogenic supplements.

Adaptogens aren’t quick fixes, and they’re not for everyone.

Adaptogens are not a substitute for adequate rest, stress management, mental health support, or professional health advice or treatment.

Consider discussing the pros and cons of starting any new supplement, including adaptogens, with a healthcare professional.

Adaptogens are compounds found in plants and fungi that can help your body adapt to stressors to reduce their potential effects on the body. These substances do not replace medication or professional treatment.

Adaptogens have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but more research is needed to determine their safety and effectiveness.

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