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Adaptogens have recently become something that is trending in the North American wellness community. However, it has been something that has been used for years to treat different issues in Asia. As our understand of adaptogens grow, I believe the use of adaptogens as supplements will grow as well.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plant and mushroom substances that might have an impact on how your body is able to deal with stress and anxieties of all kind. They help our bodies manage the stress and maintain your homeostasis. They help make your internal system stronger and thereby promote your vitality and stabilise your mood and focus.
Although they are meant to help your body become stronger and reduce the effect of stress on your body, they are not a cure and do not work as like a medicine that gives you immediate results. They are essentially supplements that you can take as a tincture, tea or capsule.
How do adaptogens work?
When you take adaptogenic herbs, it will interact with your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is a term that is used to show the interaction between your hypothalamus, pituitary glands and adrenal glands. It is important in helping your body respond to stress as this is the pathway in which leads to the production of cortisol.
What is the HPA axis?
When we experience something that is stressful, our sympathetic nervous system immediately releases epinephrine and norepinephrine, both of which work to create changes such as increased heart rate and perspiration. After around 10 seconds, our HPA axis is stimulated.
The HPA axis is then activated to help secrete glucocorticoids such as the cortisol hormone. Cortisol has a number of effects on your body that helps your body deal with a stressor that will last longer than a few minutes. It also helps increase the circulating levels of glucose in your bloodstream and thereby providing you with extra energy to deal with the cause of the stress.
When your HPA axis is stimulated too much (eg. someone who is stressed everyday), it might lead you to develop physical and mental issues. For example, if your cortisol levels are too high, your immune system might become more compromised and lead you to catch the flu easier than a regular person. In addition, high cortisol levels in your body is also known to be associated to developing mood disorders such as depression.
It is important for your HPA axis to function properly because it is very important in helping us deal with stress. Constant stress has the ability to disrupt your HPA axis and make your HPA axis more sensitive, leading to a higher cortisol exposure after each stressful event.
How does adaptogens help with stress and anxiety?
There has been research done that state that adaptogenic plants and mushrooms have the ability to interact with your HPA axis. By consuming these substances, the organic properties work with your HPA axis to help balance your system. For example, if you have too much of one hormone, it will help decrease it and if you do not have enough of one hormone, it will help increase the levels.
Adaptogens are able to help us stay in fighting stage of response to stress longer. Through stimulation, it allows for you to help fight through the stress and prevent exhaustion from appearing sooner. Therefore, instead of crashing in the middle of your stressful event, you are able to hold it off longer and persevere longer.
Each adaptogen will have a different effect on your body, therefore you should choose the adaptogen that best match your needs. Regarding about dosing, you should always follow the instructions that come with the product. It is best to consult your doctor or registered dietitian to help plan out how and when you should take these adaptogens. Although adaptogens are generally safe, we are all different people and therefore you might react differently to each adaptogen.
Adaptogens for stress and anxiety
This is an evergreen shrub that grows mainly in Asia and Africa. It is traditionally used as an adaptogen for conditions related to stress. Ashwagandha contains chemicals that might have the ability to help calm your brain, reduce the swelling and lower your blood pressure.
There has been studies that suggest that it might control the mediators of stress such as cortisol, heat shock proteins and stress activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase. In addition, it also helps reduce the activity of your HPA axis.
Although it has been used traditionally in Ayurveda medicine and is considered to be effective for reducing stress and anxiety symptoms, you should take note that more research is still necessary to form a consensus on whether it is beneficial for reducing stress like symptoms.
Rhodiola is a plant that grows in Europe and Asia and has long been used in traditional medicine. Some studies suggest that rhodiola extract might be able to help protect your cells from damage and regulate your heartbeat.
Rhodiola has also been suggested to be able to help improve your symptoms if you get burnout from stress. One study that was done with 118 people found that those who took 400mg of rhodiola everyday for 12 weeks had improvement in symptoms that were associated with stress and depression.
If your stress is causing you to lose sleep, then rhodiola might help reduce the fatigue you experience from the lack of sleep. Studies show that some people found that a reduction in fatigue happened as early as 1 week of taking rhodiola supplements.
The holy basil is native to Southeast Asia and is commonly used in Indian medicine for many conditions. The whole holy basil plant is considered to be an adaptogen. In addition, there has been research that suggest that the holy basil has pharmacological properties that will help you cope with stress and anxiety.
Holy basil is often compared to have similar properties to antidepressant drugs as it has been suggested that it has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. It has been promoted to be able to help with reducing your stress and cortisol levels, while also improving your physical endurance.
People commonly drink holy basil as a tea using their leaves. It is a nice herbal tea that can be drank everyday to help you relax. If you do not prefer drinking tea or do not like the taste, you can also take holy basil as a supplement.
Lion’s mane is known as a mushroom that has both culinary and medicinal usage. It grows primarily on trucks of dead hardwood trees. They contain bioactive substances that is beneficial to your brain, heart and gut.
Studies have suggested that lion’s mane extract has anti-inflammatory effects that also reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Another study done on animals suggest that it might even be capable of regenerating brain cells and improving the function of your hippocampus. This is the region in your brain that is in charge of processing your memories and emotion response to it. Studies done suggest that improving the function of the hippocampus may reduce the anxious and depressive behaviours.
Before you start taking any adaptogens, it is best for you to check with your doctor or registered dietitian. A lot of herbal supplements have the ability to interact with your prescription medication and might cause a side effect.
There are many different types of adaptogens, some might work better for you than another. This is just a list of a few that is known to work great for stress and anxiety. However, there is still is not enough scientific evidence. We still have a lot to learn about the impact of adaptogens to our body, although there is not a lot of evidence that suggest about the negative effects it has on our body, there is still not enough studies done on the long term impact.
Furthermore, you should not use adaptogens as a cure for all. It might be useful for coping with short term stressful situations and keeping you alert and energised. In the end, it is just a supplement. You should always do your research before you buy so you know what you are taking is safe for you. Start slowly and stick to one adaptogen before trying a different one or mixing.
Have you tried adaptogens? What do you think?