What Are Adaptogens and Do They Work?

Adaptogens

You may have heard the term “adaptogens” lately – it’s been showing up more and more frequently in the health and wellness world. It seems everyone from yogis to foodies is hopping on the adaptogen wagon. But what exactly are they? And do they even work?

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens have been used for centuries as a part of Chinese and Ayurvedic healing methods. They’re essentially plants (herbs, roots, and mushrooms) that are believed to help the body resist different types of stressors. Each one claims to provide different benefits, from improved focus to increased energy.

They’re thought to do this is by interacting with the systems in our bodies that are involved with stress response, like the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). They work to “calm” the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, ultimately leading to a better response to stress.

Dr. Brenda Powell is the co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. She compares adaptogens to physical fitness. “…As we continue to train and exercise, our body becomes better at dealing with the stress of it, so we no longer get as tired or as high a heart rate,” she says. Adaptogens are believed to work similarly for our stress response system, “You’re training your body to handle the effects of stress.”

Should You Try Adaptogens?

Whether they work or not, is still a debated question. Some swear by them while others say there isn’t enough published research yet. It is generally accepted that diet can affect certain aspects of our health, but it may be too soon to tell whether or not adaptogens can have a significant effect on the body.

That being said, there are plenty of believers in the benefits of adaptogens. So, if you’d like to try them out for yourself, you’ll be in good company. They can be added to your diet through drinks, like teas and tonics.

They’re also sold in supplement form, but Powell cautions against this route since they’re oftentimes under-regulated. “A lot of supplement companies put small amounts of this and that in a pill,” she says. “I think they are just assuming or wishing for a synergistic effect.”

You should consult with your doctor before adding adaptogens into your diet. Typically, there are little to no negative side effects from taking them, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some herbal supplements can negatively interact with prescription drugs, so it’s always best to check with your doctor first.

Keep in mind, that adaptogens aren’t meant to be a panacea for chronic stress, but rather something to add to an already healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and effective stress management habits all lay the groundwork for adaptogens to have the best results.

RELATED: How Can I Reduce Stress?

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Barrie, Leslie. (2019, April 24). “What Are Adaptogens, and Should You Add Them to Your Diet?” Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/all-about-adaptogens-definition-functions-sources-risks-more/
Brusie, Chaunie. (2017, June 28). “Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits.” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/adaptogenic-herbs
Ducharme, Jamie. (2018, February 28). “What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?” Retrieved from http://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/