What Are Adaptogens?

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What Are Adaptogens and How Can They Help?

When it comes to health, things like eating healthy and working out tend to steal the spotlight. While your diet and exercise habits are certainly important when it comes to your well-being, there are a few other often-overlooked pillars of health. These heavy-hitters include your sleep, your stress levels, and your mental well-being.

Addressing and optimizing these pillars of health can sometimes be much easier said than done. But fortunately, there are some ways you can simplify and shortcut your way to better sleep, less stress, and improved mental health. And one of these shortcuts is by tapping into the power of a class of extraordinary compounds known as adaptogens

In this blog post, we’ll explore exactly what adaptogens are, adaptogens’ benefits for your health, and how these incredible compounds can be game-changers for your sleep, stress levels, and mental health. And most importantly, we’ll cover how to pick the right adaptogens for you. Let’s dive in.

These health-enhancing plants were officially coined with the name “adaptogens” in 1948 by scientist Nikolai Lazarev. The term adaptogen is rooted in the Latin term adaptare which means to adjust.

Adaptogenic Definition

So what are adaptogens? Adaptogens or adaptogenic substances are compounds found in certain plants and mushrooms that can impact your body’s stress response. These plant extracts interact with what’s known as your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or your HPA axis.1 

Your HPA axis is a complex and intricate system of glands, hormones, signaling molecules, and receptors – creating a sophisticated feedback loop designed to maintain a delicate balance that helps you maintain homeostasis. When you experience some form of stress, your HPA axis is activated – setting off a cascade of changes in the body to help you respond appropriately. Normally, your HPA axis is designed to be activated – allowing you to respond to or neutralize the source of stress – and then return to equilibrium.2

But in our hectic, stress-filled, sleep-deprived modern-day lives, many of us have an HPA axis that is a little off balance. This elevated stress and chronic sleep deprivation can have some serious and far-reaching consequences on your health. To learn more about just how serious chronic stress and sleep deprivation can really be, head over and read our article Importance of Healthy Sleep and Reduction of Chronic Stress.

This imbalance in your HPA axis is where adaptogenic herbs can help. Let’s dive a little deeper into the history of these remarkable extracts and exactly how they work.

History of Adaptogenic Herbs

The history of adaptogens is rich. These powerful plant extracts have been used in Eastern Medicine for centuries. Our ancestors used herbal preparations as a restorative and rejuvenating medicinal concoction to activate healing and energy in the body. 

These health-enhancing plants were officially coined with the name “adaptogens” in 1948 by scientist Nikolai Lazarev. The term adaptogen is rooted in the Latin term adaptare which means to adjust. Lazarev landed on the name after discovering that these plant-based medicines were able to help the human body resist and bounce back from stress by adjusting and adapting physiological responses.

While humans have been harnessing the power of adaptogens for many years, we’re just now truly beginning to understand how beneficial these plant-extracts really are. 

list of adaptogen benefits

Effects of Adaptogens on Stress, Anxiety, and Sleep

Conventional medical paradigms approach medicinal therapies as one disease, one drug – with medicines being formulated to target and address very specific imbalances in the body. But adaptogens work by altering how your entire system functions – exerting whole-body medicinal properties. As a whole adaptogens’ complex ability to influence a whole-body response has been found to:4

  • Stimulate your central nervous system to enhance cognitive performance, learning, and memory
  • Enhance energy metabolism and physical performance
  • Protect and shield your organs from oxidative stress and damage from toxins
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Balance blood sugars
  • Boost your immune system
  • Combat inflammation and allergies
  • Induce relaxation
  • Reduce anxiety and depression

Adaptogens’ potent effect on your entire HPA axis subsequently influences your nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, metabolism, and more. While adaptogens have an impressive effect on health in general, where these plant extracts really shine is when it comes to combating stress, supporting mental well-being, and promoting a healthy sleep cycle. 

Now let’s take a little deeper look at a specific list of adaptogens and benefits associated with each of these powerful plants. 

Ashwagandha Benefits

Ashwagandha is sourced from the root of an evergreen shrub. Ashwagandha has many benefits, but has been found to be particularly adept at:5

  • Improving sleep quality
  • Soothing your HPA axis activity – helping reduce feelings of anxiety and stress
  • Minimizing stress hormones and stress-related health conditions
  • Reducing symptoms of depression

Using ashwagandha for stress management is one of the most potent ways to tap into the power of this plant. Ashwagandha is one of the more well-known and well-researched adaptogens and we’re continually revealing just how beneficial this amazing adaptogen really is. 

Ginseng Benefits

Ginseng can be found in two forms – Asian ginseng and American ginseng. Both forms have been found to have some remarkable energy-promoting properties. It’s speculated that certain components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, can help combat oxidative stress and amplify energy production in your cells. This in turn can help fight feelings of fatigue and boost energy levels.6,7 

Holy Basil Benefits

Holy Basil is a perennial adaptogenic herb that has many health-boosting benefits. But Holy Basil really shines in two distinct ways – detoxification and mental well-being.

Holy Basil has been found to assist your body in detoxification – protecting your cells from toxin-induced damage and helping your detoxification pathways package up and eliminate free-floating toxins. This is crucial because an accumulation of toxins can stimulate your stress response, disrupt your sleep, alter your hormones and neurotransmitters, and trigger a wide variety of health conditions.

Holy Basil is also great at combating another type of toxin – stress. Chronic stress is like poison to your body. But Holy Basil can help calm your nervous system – alleviating feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, when it comes to addressing depression, Holy Basil has been found to have effects comparable to some prescription anti-depressants.8 

Rhodiola Rosea Benefits

Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogen that was used in ancient times by Vikings to enhance their strength and stamina. But Rhodiola Rosea can do more than simply improve your physical performance. Rhodiola benefits include:9,10

  • Combatting fatigue and increasing energy production
  • Enhancing mental sharpness, cognitive focus, and memory
  • Modulating the hormones and signaling molecules involved in the stress response – soothing your HPA axis and combating chronic stress
  • Promoting a healthy circadian rhythm and quality sleep
  • Managing depression and anxiety and promoting mental health

As you can see, this adaptogen has some potent effects on your overall health and well-being.

Schisandra Berry Benefits

Schisandra berries have been found to have both sedative and hypnotic properties – meaning this adaptogen can help calm and relax your nervous system. This makes Schisandra berry particularly adept at promoting sleep – helping gently lull you into a deep restorative slumber. 

These soothing properties also make Schisandra berry excellent for your mental health. Schisandra benefits your health by helping to alleviate stress, minimize anxiety and depression, increase mental sharpness, and enhance your ability to focus.11 This combination of effects makes Holy Basil one of the most potent adaptogens for stress and anxiety.

Eleuthero Root Benefits

Eleuthero root is sometimes called Siberian ginseng, but isn’t related to true ginseng and has its own unique health-enhancing compounds. In addition to shielding you from the effects of stress, Eleuthero root is also known to increase energy while alleviating both physical and mental fatigue.12 Eleuthero root is one of the best adaptogens for stress relief and minimizing your body’s response to stressors. 

Adaptogenic Mushrooms Benefits

Don’t let the term mushrooms scare you off – adaptogenic mushrooms are very different from the hallucinogenic variety of mushrooms. Adaptogenic mushrooms encompass several species of mushrooms such as Lion’s mane, Cordyceps, and Reishi to name a few. 

Adaptogenic mushrooms like Lion’s mane benefits include potent modulation of stress-stoking neurotransmitters and hormones. By downregulating stress-promoting signaling molecules and upregulating those that promote feelings of calm, contentment, and well-being, these mushrooms can help you mitigate the effects of chronic stress, sleep better, and feel happier.13

Possible Adaptogen Side Effects

Adaptogen Side Effects

If you’re thinking these adaptogenic plants sound almost too good to be true, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that these powerful plants come with minimal side effects. Adaptogen side effects may occasionally include things like:14

  • Digestive upset like nausea or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness

When taken in recommended doses, adaptogens are generally quite safe and have limited side effects. If you do begin incorporating adaptogens into your routine and notice any strange side effects, it may be beneficial to consult with an herbalist or functional medicine practitioner to help you figure out what’s going on and ensure you’re on the best supplement regimen to support your health.

So, now that this adaptogens list has given you an idea of how powerful these plant extracts are, you’re probably wondering how exactly you go about picking the best adaptogens for you. 

Our Favorite Adaptogenic Blends

Each adaptogen can have some potent effects on its own. But the magic really happens when you combine these incredible plant extracts. Let’s take a look at some of the most potent adaptogenic blends that we love and recommend:

  • Adrenal Super Tonic: Cymbiotika’s Adrenal Super Tonic combines Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, and a blend of other health-promoting plant extracts to help relieve stress, balance your mood, promote sleep, and improve overall health and vitality. 
  • HPA Axis – Homeostasis: Gaia Herbs has several carefully calibrated adaptogenic blends. Their Homeostasis blend fuses Rhodiola Rosea, Cordyceps mushroom, Ginseng, and licorice (another potent HPA axis-supporting plant extract) for a potent temporary supplement program to help bring your HPA axis back to equilibrium during times of intense stress or exhaustion.
  • HPA Axis – Daytime Maintenance: Gaia Herbs Daytime Maintenance blend is a daily supplement designed to nourish your HPA axis – helping your body maintain a healthy response to daily stress. This blend combines Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, and Schisandra berry to provide comprehensive support. 
  • HPA Axis – Sleep Cycle: Gaia Herbs Sleep Cycle blend is carefully calibrated to help promote a healthy circadian rhythm and deep, restful, high-quality sleep. By nourishing your adrenals and HPA axis while you rest, this blend helps your body react in a more calm and balanced way while promoting feelings of peace and contentment. 

You can find all of these powerful adaptogenic blends through our online store by clicking right here. You can even get 10% off your first order in the RHT shop by joining our newsletter.

Ready to Experience the Power of Adaptogens for Yourself?

Your stress levels, your sleep quality, and your mental health are powerful and often overlooked pillars of health. Adaptogens can be game-changers when it comes to optimizing these areas of your life, but at the end of the day, they are only a piece of the puzzle. There is no amount of adaptogens or supplements that can make up for less-than-ideal overall lifestyle habits.

So if you’re really looking to optimize your sleep, diminish stress, and supercharge your mental health, adaptogens are best paired with some other strategies. To learn some of the most potent hacks to manage stress and optimize your sleep you can download our free RHT Guide to Stress Management & Sleep Optimization. It’s like a cheat sheet that’ll help you shortcut your way to less stress, better sleep, and improved mental well-being. 

Truly abundant health requires a big-picture approach that encompasses all the pillars of health. If you’re looking for more ways to optimize your well-being from every angle, we’ve got you covered. After you download your cheat sheet to manage stress and optimize your sleep, you can head over and check out the blog, our podcast, and the Wellness Vault to arm yourself with the knowledge and resources to create abundant health and longevity. 

Resources:

  1. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. Frontiers | The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis: Development, Programming Actions of Hormones, and Maternal-Fetal Interactions (frontiersin.org)
  3. Plant Adaptogens—History and Future Perspectives – PMC (nih.gov)
  4. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity – PMC (nih.gov)
  5. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda – PMC (nih.gov)
  6. Anti-Fatigue Effects of Small Molecule Oligopeptides Isolated from Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer in Mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Anti-fatigue activity of the water-soluble polysaccharides isolated from Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons – PMC (nih.gov)
  9. Rhodiola | NCCIH (nih.gov)
  10. Rhodiola rosea: A Versatile Adaptogen – Khanum – 2005 – Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety – Wiley Online Library
  11. The effect of Schisandra chinensis extracts on depression by noradrenergic, dopaminergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic systems in the forced swim test in mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Bioactivity-guided fractionation for anti-fatigue property of Acanthopanax senticosus – PubMed (nih.gov)
  13. Medicinal mushroom: boon for therapeutic applications – PMC (nih.gov)
  14. What Are Adaptogens and Are They Healthy? – Cleveland Clinic

RHT Guide to Stress Management &
Sleep Optimization

Two Essential (and often ignored) Aspects of Building Health in One Simple Guide!

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