You may have heard the term “adaptogens” thrown around in the natural healing world. So let’s talk about what they are, how they work, and the benefits of adaptogens in plants.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are like nature’s little superheroes that help our bodies restore balance and cope with stress.
They’re amazing botanical treasures that boost our resistance to all sorts of stressors, whether physical, emotional, chemical, or environmental. They act as shields against both short-term and long-term stress, which we all want.
What makes adaptogens truly unique is their ability to normalize our body’s functions, especially when it comes to the endocrine and immune systems. Each adaptogen works its “magic” in its own special way for each person. But regardless, they help bring our body, mind, and spirit back in harmony.
Three Requirements for Herbs To Be Adaptogenic
For a plant to be classified as adaptogenic, it must meet three qualifications:
- Non-toxic: Adaptogens must be safe and devoid of significant side effects or contraindications.
- Non-specific response: Adaptogens exhibit a generalizing action to enhance resistance against all types of stress, such as physical, psychological, and environmental stressors.
- Normalizing impact: Adaptogens possess a bidirectional effect that allows them to adapt to the body's specific needs, helping to restore stressed physiological conditions back to a normalized state.
Adaptogens Have Been Around for Longer Than You Realize
Even though we only started using the term “adaptogens” in the late 1940s, these incredible plants have been used for healing for centuries. Almost every culture around the world has used plants as healing agents, usually in the form of microdosing.
For example, in Daoism, these adaptogenic plants are called “tonic herbs.”
In Chinese herbal medicine, they’re known as “qi tonics.”
Ayurveda calls them “rasayanas.”
In Western herbal medicine, people call them “nutritive tonics” and “trophorestoratives.”
Rainforest herbalism calls them “para-toda,” meaning “heal-all.”
The point is, people everywhere have recognized their healing powers for a long, long time.
Science Supports the Adaptogenic Magic
Modern research has been slowly uncovering the truth about these herbs that cultures have known for millennia.
Among all the healing wonders out there, adaptogenic herbs have received the most attention from scientific studies. Studies have found that adaptogens “enhance the resistance of human body under a wide range of external stress conditions.”
In other words, these herbs offer a wide range of benefits, supporting nearly every part of our body. The historical use and the current scientific evidence go hand in hand, proving why these herbs have been cherished for thousands of years.
Adaptogens and Our Stress-Response System
Adaptogens are like the BFFs of our bodies’ stress-response system. They have this incredible power to bring balance and make changes happen, especially in our neuroendocrine and immune systems.
The endocrine and nervous systems are so intertwined that they’re often treated as one unit called the neuroendocrine system. It’s all about the chemical communication in our bodies using hormones, which work together with our nervous system.
Our nervous system’s main goal is to bring everything back to balance and keep our bodies healthy and protected (AKA homeostasis). In the endocrine system, there’s something super important called the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands respectively). These are like the overseers of our body’s stress response.
The hypothalamus (H) is like the brain’s command center, also known as our “god center.” It communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system and hormones. It’s like the big boss who oversees everything happening in our bodies.
The hypothalamus then tells its “right-hand man,” the pituitary (P) gland, what to do. The pituitary then relays the orders to the “officers” (our organs), which then activate the “soldiers” (specific biochemical processes).
When we’re stressed, our bodies release hormones like cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” The adrenal glands produce it, and it plays a key role in how we respond to stress. Cortisol helps break down muscle protein, releasing amino acids into our bloodstream.
The liver then turns these amino acids into glucose, which gives our brain the energy it needs to function. Meanwhile, other tissues lower their glucose consumption. Cortisol also triggers the release of fatty acids, which our muscles use for fuel. Cortisol also helps regulate blood pressure, cardiovascular functions, and supports our immune system in fighting infections and inflammation.
But here’s the catch: if our stress response goes haywire and becomes chronic or unbalanced, it can seriously mess up our bodies.
What Happens When Our Stress-Response Goes Haywire
Unmanaged stress and messing with the flow of your HPA axis can lead to all sorts of health problems.
Basically, when your HPA axis is strong, your body can handle stress like a boss. It’s especially helpful for people going through pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause.
But if you keep activating those stress hormones over and over again, your fight-or-flight response can wear down your body. Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, gunking up your arteries, and even causing anxiety, depression, and addiction. There’s also some early research suggesting that chronic stress might lead to weight gain by making you eat more and interfering with your sleep and exercise habits.
When you’re constantly pumping out cortisol and other stress hormones, it affects pretty much everything in your body.
Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenal glands get worn out from too much cortisol. And this can cause many bodily processes to go haywire, and that's when you might start feeling sick.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:
- Feeling tired for apparently no reason
- Having a hard time getting out of bed, even after a solid night’s sleep
- Being unable to handle stress, where it seems like everything makes you irritable
- Dealing with brain fog, lacking creativity and focus
- Having a weak immune system and struggling to recover from illnesses
- Battling autoimmune issues
- Decreased libido
- Dealing with mood swings and depression
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed and anxious
- Having intense cravings for sweets, carbs, or salty snacks
- Overusing stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or tobacco
- Gaining weight for no apparent reason
How Adaptogens Can Help Your Whole Self (Not Just Stress)
This is where adaptogenic plants come into play.
Here are some of the main ways adaptogens can support your mind, body, and mental health…
Adaptogens are known for their ability to modulate the body’s stress response. They can help regulate cortisol levels and promote a balanced stress response. By supporting the adrenal glands and the HPA axis, adaptogens may help reduce the negative effects of chronic stress on the body.
Energy and Vitality
Many adaptogenic plants are believed to enhance energy levels, stamina, and overall vitality. They may help combat fatigue and increase physical endurance by supporting optimal energy production and utilization in the body.
Adaptogens are often used to support cognitive function and mental clarity. They can help improve focus, concentration, and memory. By reducing the impact of stress on the brain, adaptogens can help promote mental resilience and enhance overall cognitive performance.
Immune System Support
Some adaptogens have immunomodulatory properties, meaning they can help regulate and balance the immune system. By supporting immune function, adaptogens may help the body resist infections, reduce the risk of illness, and promote overall immune health.
Mood and Emotional Well-Being
Adaptogenic plants are known to have mood-stabilizing and antidepressant properties. They can help balance neurotransmitters and promote a sense of calm and emotional well-being. By reducing anxiety and improving mood, adaptogens contribute to overall mental and emotional balance.
Many adaptogens have a regulatory effect on the endocrine system, which is responsible for producing and regulating hormones. They can potentially help balance hormone levels, particularly in cases of hormonal imbalances such as menstrual irregularities, menopause, or low libido.
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects
Adaptogens often possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body. These effects may contribute to overall health and longevity.
The Best Adaptogenic Plants
If you’re looking to start benefiting from adaptogenic plants, below is a list of the most powerful ingredients. So when you’re looking for plant-based tinctures to consume, look for these ingredients. Soul Drops uses all of these elements in our tinctures.
- Chaga Mushroom
- Cordyceps Mushroom
- Eleuthero Root
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Ginseng Root
- Golden Root
- Gotu Kola
- He Shou Wu Root
- Lion's Mane Mushroom
- Reishi Mushroom
- Shisandra Berry
Get started with adaptogens – try Soul Drops here!