Simply put, adaptogens are plant-based substances that help your body adapt to stress (however stress shows up in your body), by regulating and supporting adrenal function.
What does this mean?
While we may think of stress as the feeling we get before we have to meet a deadline, or what happens to our body after an intense workout, in fact stress essentially includes anything that disturbs homeostasis (equilibrium) in the body. Unlike other drugs and herbs that specifically target one symptom or disease, adaptogens provide “non-specific” protection and resistance to physical, chemical and biological stressors, supporting the body with whatever it needs at that specific time. Whether this is to boost immunity, or to help decrease anxiety, adaptogens work synergistically with the body’s systems to constantly tip it back into balance.
Functional medicine doctor Dr. Frank Lipman offers a helpful analogy, comparing adaptogens to thermostats: “When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high it brings it down; when the temperature is too low it brings it up. Adaptogens calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over-stimulating.”
Though adaptogens each serve multiple purposes, certain ones are more effective for specific uses, as they can be stimulatory or calming. For example if you’re looking to increase your energy, stimulating plants like Rhodiola rosea, maca (both of which we use in our Energy Booster) and ginseng are your best bet. However, if you want to calm your mind and body, adaptogens like reishi (found in our Stress Fighter), holy basil and ashwagandha are good options.
While adaptogens can offer immediate results, they are most effective when taken on a regular basis. In the same way that consistent exercise increases our endurance and performance, consistent use of adaptogens trains the body to become more resistant to stress, helping to strengthen our immunity, or even increase libido. It’s also important to keep in mind that adaptogens do not work unidirectionally, meaning that they don’t target specific things like overworked muscles or a cough, rather they respond to whatever is stressing the body by working with the adrenal glands to bring the body back into balance.
While there’s no magic pill that can eliminate stress and offer us boundless energy, adaptogens may just be the next best thing. As we are increasingly starting to seek out long-term versus quick-fix solutions to our health problems, adaptogens offer a natural way for the body to heal itself and reach optimum health. Instead of simply masking symptoms, or stimulating the body only to have it crash hours later -- which is the case with substances like caffeine and sugar -- adaptogens intuitively sense what our bodies need and work with them to help us feel our best.
Please note: Although adaptogens are known to generally be safe and non-toxic, as with any herbs or medicinal foods, it’s always best to check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner about any contraindications, particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have pre-existing medical conditions.
By: Kylie McGregor