What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a select group of herbs that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because these herbs aid our bodies in adapting and responding to, or recovering from, both short-term and long-term physical or mental stress. Some also have other medicinal properties and are known to boost immunity and overall well-being. Research shows that the benefits of adaptogens include combating fatigue, enhancing mental performance, easing depression and anxiety, and helping you thrive rather than simply just maintaining.
Adaptogens point to the fundamental connection of the mind and body, and how by supporting the health of our bodies, we can support our mental well-being as well.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands—all of which are involved in the stress response. Essentially, they work by “hacking” the stress response in the body.
When we face a stressor, whether physical or mental, our bodies go through what is called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and can move through it.
When we can adapt to stress, we perform better and feel better despite what is stressing us out, and this ability to maintain equilibrium can also significantly improve our health and well-being. When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland releases the stress hormone cortisol, which then signals numerous biochemical reactions in the body that energize you and prepare you to take action. This plays an essential role in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, however, too much cortisol released too often can be taxing on our bodies, and can lead to numerous health issues.
The body changes in the following ways during stress:
- blood pressure and pulse rate rise
- breathing is faster
- the digestive system slows down
- immune activity decreases
- the muscles become tense
- a heightened state of alertness prevents sleep
When these physiological changes become a regular part of our life due to chronic stress, it interferes with the body’s natural functioning and has many adverse health effects. This is why it is so important to manage stress and to learn how to experience life without it overwhelming us or causing us stress and anxiety. While there are many necessary and useful psychological approaches to managing stress, adaptogens are a helpful ally that can help dramatically. Not only do adaptogens support the body’s ability to adapt to stress, they often have many other medicinal and nutritive properties.
Common Adaptogenic Herbs
Ashwagandha is one of the most revered naturall adaptogens and is a wonderful supplement for stress and anxiety. It has been used as a natural stress relief supplement for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It can reduce anxiety and stress, help fight depression, boost fertility and testosterone in men and may even boost brain function. Supplementing with ashwagandha may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.
Cortisol is commonly known as “the stress hormone,” given that your adrenal glands release it in response to stress, as well as when your blood sugar levels get too low. When we experience stress cortisol levels may become chronically elevated, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
Studies have shown that ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol levels. In one study in chronically stressed adults, those who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly greater reductions in cortisol, compared with the control group. Those taking the highest dose experienced a 30% reduction, on average.
Researchers have reported that it blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. Also, several controlled human studies have shown that it can reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders. In a 60-day study in 64 people with chronic stress, those in the group that supplemented with ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.
Tulsi the Adaptogen Known as Holy Basil
Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is another adaptogenic herb revered for centuries for its many medicinal uses. All parts of the tulsi plant act as an adaptogen. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, tulsi has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties comparable to diazepam and antidepressant drugs. These studies examined the leaves. One study found that people who took 500 milligrams (mg) of tulsi extract each day felt less anxious, stressed, and depressed.
Gotu Kola, known as the “herb of longevity” for its many health benefits and medicinal properties, is another adaptogen that also has a long use in traditional Indian medicine. Researchers in an animal study from 2016 found that gotu kola had an anti-anxiety effect on male mice that were sleep deprived for 72 hours. Mice that were given gotu kola for five consecutive days before undergoing sleep deprivation experienced significantly less anxiety-like behavior. They also experienced improved locomotor activity and less oxidative damage.
Gotu kola’s positive effect on brain function may also make it an effective antidepressant. A review from 2016 supports these findings, in part due to a study on 33 people with a generalized anxiety disorder. The participants were asked to take gotu kola in place of their antidepressant medication for 60 days. They self-reported decreased stress, anxiety, and depression.
The Powerful Adaptogenic Formula
These herbs, along with several other potent adaptogens, are included in our Relaxation Blend. We formulated this blend with high-quality adaptogenic herbs to serve as a wonderful remedy for many modern ailments—including stress, anxiety, depression, mental imbalance and instability, sleep deprivation, adrenal fatigue, and a range of other physical and psychological issues. This blend was designed to offer deep nourishment to the body, and true relaxation for the mind. According to thousands of years of traditional use of these herbs, research in modern scientific studies, and personal experience from our team of nutritionists, this is exactly what it does.
In a society that suffers from excessive stress, overstimulation and constant activity, one of our greatest needs is to make time to fully and deeply relax our bodies and minds. Though they have been used for millennia, adaptogenic herbs are more beneficial to us now than ever. With the ability to help the body better manage stress, as well as offering nourishment and healing on various levels, adaptogenic herbs are something that everyone can benefit from including in their diet.