Adaptogens promise to tackle stress and boost the immune system. You may have seen them cropping up everywhere, from health food shops to smoothie bars.
Before we get caught up in the hype generated by lifestyle bloggers and influencers, let’s explore if these botanicals are worth the buzz.
And if they are legit, could they be added to your daily routine, just like CBD oil?
This article will explore the benefits and uses of adaptogens and how you can learn more about these ancient herbal remedies.
What's in this Guide?
What is an Adaptogen?
If you’ve never heard of adaptogens before, don’t worry. These are growing in popularity in health food and fitness circles, but they haven’t entirely made it to the mainstream yet.
Adaptogens are a group of non-toxic plants that are often sold as “immune-boosting” and “stress-busting”.
In short, they are supposed to help the body adapt to meet your needs.
The number of claims made by adaptogen retailers is extensive. This group of over 70 plant extracts is supposed to help manage your temperature, energy levels, concentration, reduce headaches, prevent dry eyes, and manage blood pressure.
Although adaptogens are enjoying a moment in the limelight now, this isn’t the first we are hearing of them. Traditional ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used adaptogens for thousands of years.
Although they haven’t always had this name.
The term “adaptogen” was coined in 1947 in the Soviet Union. Russian soldiers used adaptogens as they believed it would help increase focus and help their bodies to adapt to stress.
They used a flowering plant called Rhodiola Rosea to help to increase the body’s resistance to stress.
They also used Siberian ginseng in an effort to boost physical performance and mental clarity.
It’s worth noting that the term “adaptogen” cannot be used in marketing literature in Europe.
The European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration are wary of companies selling supplements with “adaptogenic” claims due to the lack of research supporting many of the medical claims.
Is CBD an Adaptogen?
Although CBD oil might sound similar to many adaptogens, it is not considered part of the group.
Perhaps the main distinction is that CBD describes a molecule, while adaptogens are the whole plant extract.
CBD may one day be classified as an adaptogen if we think about it as a whole plant extract. So, for example, CBD in a hemp seed carrier oil may one day be considered an adaptogen.
While CBD may not be an adaptogen, some believe that it can enhance the effects of adaptogens.
Therefore, adding adaptogens to your daily routine alongside CBD may offer some benefits.
More research is needed to understand how CBD and adaptogens might interact.
How do Adaptogens Work?
Since there are many different adaptogens with different functions, it’s difficult to generalise and say how they work.
However, it seems that adaptogens work at a molecular level to provide neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressant, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity.
What does this mean exactly?
Adaptogens can interact with the body to help improve its resilience to stress and help with the regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms. In short, adaptogens help your body to cope with whatever modern life throws at it.
If you’re feeling stressed, this mental state can lead to physical manifestations.
Adaptogens may help your body increase its capacity to handle stress, so it doesn’t feel the effects quite so acutely.
What Scientific Evidence is There to Support This?
Yes, many adaptogens have been studied extensively. This review of clinical studies confirms there are several true adaptogens available.
It also outlines some of the most promising studies available:
- Adaptogens can increase the effectiveness of adrenal gland secretion, eliminating the need for excess hormone production.
- Adaptogens can reduce arthritis-associated inflammation and pain.
- Adaptogens help produce cortisol and relieve stress.
- Adaptogens can increase the rates of oxygen, protein, fat and sugar utilisation.
These are just a few of the studies available to support the use of adaptogens in our diets. It’s important to note that many of these studies isolate specific functions and then study how adaptogens impact this function.
Not all studies are large-scale studies in humans, and none of them are long-term studies in humans.
This means that we don’t fully understand the long-term effects these plant compounds could have on the human body.
There is still so much we don’t know about the human body.
And since it is such a complex system, it’s difficult to say with certainty how adaptogens will impact every person who takes them.
Are Adaptogens Safe?
Adaptogens are non-toxic and thought to be safe for human consumption. However, as with any supplement, it’s essential to pay close attention to the origins and quality of anything you add to your daily routine.
Anything that can be exploited to make a quick profit should be approached with caution.
Supplements are not as heavily regulated as medicines, so it’s far easier for poor-quality products to reach the shelves.
Online shopping also opens up a world of potential problems, as the source of your supplements can become much murkier.
For example, shopping on Amazon could lead to individuals using counterfeit adaptogen supplements, believing them to be a reputable brand.
If you decide to explore adding adaptogens to your diet, it’s important to get clued up before handing over any money. Look for brands you recognise in shops that you trust.
You should also be wary about potential interactions with other medications you might be taking.
For example, ashwagandha may interact with thyroid medications. There is also evidence to suggest it could be harmful in pregnancy.
If in doubt, always ask your GP or pharmacist before adding any supplements to your routine.
You should also pay close attention to the potential side effects and make sure you follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
What are the Most Common Adaptogens?
There are around 70 adaptogens available, and these may appear under many different brand names. However, for the sake of clarity and brevity, we’re going to focus on the few adaptogens that have been extensively studied and proven to be safe.
This small woody shrub is found in Northeastern Asia. It isn’t the same as ginseng but could work similarly. It is thought to help individuals to manage stress, fatigue and depression.
This herb is sometimes referred to as “rose root”. It is native to cold climates in Asia and Europe. It is commonly used in Russia and Scandinavia to help ward off headaches and colds.
This vine plant is native to Northern China, Russia and Korea. It is commonly sold as a herbal adaptogen that can help to normalise blood sugar levels and control blood pressure. It is also thought to boost the immune system.
This common herbal supplement is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is commonly sold as a remedy to help individuals to manage stress.
This mountain-grown herb is popular in Russia and Scandinavia to help with anxiety, depression and fatigue.
This Peruvian root is thought to help boost energy and balance hormones.
How Can You Add Adaptogens to Your Diet?
Adaptogens are available in many health food shops and online.
They are commonly taken in capsule form, although you may also find powdered supplements that you can add to drinks or smoothies.
Before adding adaptogens to your diet, consider what you are hoping to achieve. While adaptogens sound like a tempting prospect, it’s unlikely that overloading your system with a tsunami of new supplements is likely to offer overnight relief from all ailments.
Instead, choose single supplements to add to your routine or explore blended adaptogen supplements that offer synergistic benefits.
You should also pay close attention to the side effects listed with your supplements.
Some adaptogenic supplements are not suitable for long-term use. For example, ashwagandha is not recommended for longer than three months.
It’s also important to pay close attention to how your body reacts to the supplements.
This will allow you to develop an ideal supplement schedule to help you make the most of the adaptogenic benefits.
Above all else, prioritise high-quality supplements and be ready to question the origins.
If you have doubts about a company, don’t part with your money until you feel confident that you are buying a high-quality product from a reputable source.
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