There have been a lot of health fads over the past decade, often revolving around some new scientific discovery or unearthing of ancient health practices.
One such hot topic is adaptogens, a collection of herbs which reportedly have the ability to aid in all kinds of physiological and biological processes.
But perhaps most notable are adaptogen’s ability to help manage and reduce stress, something they’re particularly efficient at.
But what exactly are adaptogens? And are the benefits real or is this just another pseudo-science fad?
What are adaptogens?
I mentioned that adaptogens are a category of herbs that can help reduce stress, among other benefits. But what exactly are they and where did they come from?
Adaptogen herbs have been in use for hundreds of years, if not longer, in Asian cultures such as India and China for use in medicinal practices.
They include not only herbs but even some mushroom species and have a central quality with regards to their benefits: they increase the body’s resistance to certain psychological and biological factors and help maintain balance by regulating hormones.
How do they work?
Research hasn’t laid all the details to bare, however, whether it’s Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, maca root, or another adaptogen herb, the basic idea is that adaptogens help restore the body’s “stress stem” (hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis) which manages the connection between your brain and the stress hormones within your body.
By way of intense mental stress and other forms of literal physiological stress we place our body under, this connection is damaged and causes the release of cortisol– which is supposed to help manage stress within the body and make us feel good– to get out of whack.
The benefits of adaptogens
Now that you know how adaptogens work, why have they become popular?
Research has shown that adaptogens have the potential to:
- Reduce stress
- Increase attention
- Improve endurance
- Reduce inflammation
- And reduce fatigue
Quite a list, isn’t it? But before you get too excited, there are a few things to keep in mind. For now, research is sparse. However, what research there is shows promise.
Also, the one thing to keep in mind about adaptogenic herbs is that each herb has been shown to have a different effect on the body. They don’t all have each of the positive effects listed above. Tumeric is anti-inflammatory while ginseng and maca root enhance mental performance as well as physical endurance. And holy basil has been shown to reduce stress, among other herbs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the benefits of adaptogens have to do with critical functions in the body. Adaptogen’s ability to reduce stress doesn’t just have to do with mental stress but also physiological stress such as inflammation from physical exercise, in combination with increasing endurance making the right combination of adaptogens a great work out supplement.
How to get more adaptogens into your diet
The benefits of adaptogens are few, however, they’re tied to some of the most important systems in the body– and some of the most intense, continuous challenges we’re faced with in day-to-day life.
By contrast, the sources of adaptogens are many. However, most high-density sources are artificial, i.e. pills, tablets, and extracts.
If that’s fine with you then go wild, it’s as easy as doing a quick search for adaptogen [method of intake (pill etc.)].
However, if you prefer like I do to consume vitamins naturally as much as possible then tea or veggie juice is generally your best option as herbs like turmeric, ginger, and rosemary are adaptogenic and easy to add to either. That is unless you’re willing to brave the kitchen and cook up something with the aforementioned roots, which can require some skill (definitely more than I have in the kitchen).
While experts still suggest focusing on the basics of a healthy diet, consuming more adaptogen-rich herbs can help reduce stress throughout the body, a welcomed addition to the average person’s diet in a world where it’s the norm to push and stress our physical body and mind to incredible lengths.