Adaptogens are defined as natural occurring plant based extracts that help the body “adapt” to stress by helping to bring about a state of homeostasis or balance in the body. These herbs have their origins in ancient medical traditions, such as Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, where they have widely been used. In this blog we’ll go over the purported benefits of adaptogens, and discuss how adaptogens can be incorporated into your diet. 

Benefits of adaptogens

Stress is the body’s normal response to a potentially dangerous situation. Stress can be acute or short term or it can be chronic. Chronic stress has been shown to have negative effects on the body and may contribute to chronic disease. Adaptogens are defined as herbal extracts or preparations that increase tolerance to stress. As mentioned, they have their roots in ancient medicinal traditions, such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, who believed because these adaptogens grow in harsh conditions, they have adapted to environmental stressors, and impart that strength in those who take them. Modern medical studies have shown that adaptogens appear to exert their stress-protecting effect by regulating the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and thus affect the body’s homeostasis.

In addition to buffering the stress response, adaptogens may also reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, increase energy levels, help manage anxiety, enhance sleep and cognition.

Adaptogens examples

There is an extensive list of adaptogens, here are  some of the most commonly used adaptogens. Ashwagandha, Maca root, ginseng, astragalus, and moringa are all examples of adaptogens that experience some level of popularity. Other examples include bacopa monnieri, holy basil, schisandra, rhodiola rosea, and licorice (not the candy, the root!) 

How to add adaptogens to your diet

This one is a highly individualized choice, but there are many ways to get your adaptogens in. Some adaptogens can be used to flavor certain dishes. For example, turmeric is an adaptogen often added to cooking in some cuisines. By flavoring your foods with different beneficial herbs and spices, you’re not only getting more tasty dishes and broadening your palate, but you can also get a lot more variety in than if you were taking supplements or other methods. 

Many adaptogens are available in supplement form. Be sure to look for whole versions of these supplements. For example, turmeric is an amazing spice. When in supplement form, it’s sometimes stripped down to its most beneficial component, curcumin. However, studies have shown that the entire spice (as opposed to just curcumin) makes the supplement more bioavailable. 

Some adaptogens can be taken as tea. There are also more concentrated ways to take adaptogens, such as tinctures and infusions. If you choose to go this route, it is best to do so under the guidance of someone knowledgeable about adaptogens, and obtain from a trusted source to ensure safety and purity.

Considering this, adaptogens may be helpful supplements to add to your regimen!  Keep in mind that while natural, adaptogens can have unwanted effects and many interact with prescriptions drugs and medications. Also keep in mind that many herbs and supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Make sure to consult with your physician or health care professional.