What Are Adaptogens?

With google searches for adaptogen supplements hitting the quarter of a million mark during the last lockdown, it’s clear that we’re all looking for the next big thing in the wellness world. Here, we bring you the lowdown on the trend gaining traction.

How do adaptogens work?

Put simply, adaptogens are natural substances (plants, roots and herbs) that help the body adapt to stress. They do this by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands, thus altering how the body responds to the perceived threat. When we experience stress, whether it be in the form of an out-of-control inbox or attempting to juggle work and home-schooling, our bodies react to it by engaging the sympathetic nervous system and triggering the release of several hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Though stress impacts us all differently, it can have a monumental effect on everything from our sleep patterns to our eating habits and our immune system. Adaptogens therefore, are a useful addition to a general wellbeing plan, because they help the body adapt by calming and balancing our response accordingly.

Can apatogens work in any situation?

The great thing about adaptogens is that they can help the body readjust to the circumstances faced at any given time. That means they can provide energy when we’re feeling tired, fine-tune focus and concentration when we’re feeling sluggish and induce calm when we’re overstimulated.

What are some examples of adaptogens?

Although the category is wide ranging and features many obscure plants, there are plenty gaining in popularity that you will have heard of and none more so that ashwagandha. A herb native to India and sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has potent energising and anti-stress benefits and for that reason is often recommended to help combat stress, anxiety and fatigue. It can also be used to treat insomnia and enhance physical and mental performance. Its power is believed to come from the fact that it can relieve some of the cortisol elevation caused by stress. Another powerful adaptogen famed for its ability to balance energy is cordyceps, a mushroom traditionally used throughout Chinese medicine. It’s thought that it helps improve stamina and reduce fatigue thanks to two of its chemical constituents, cordycepin and cordycepic acid. Other well-known adaptogens include ginseng, rhodiola rosea and theanine, an amino acid found in tea. Theanine is thought to help combat stress and anxiety by increasing the brain’s production of alpha waves, or those which are associated with “relaxed alertness”.

How to take adaptogens

Given the huge variety of adaptogens out there that can have different effects on the body, it’s wise to follow instructions for usage carefully. While some can be taken in supplement form, other, such as cordyceps are available dried in powder form and can be added to soups, stews or smoothies; others can be boiled and taken as tea. When it comes to when you should take adaptogens, that all depends on what you’re taking and why. If you’re looking to boost alertness and increase productivity, then it’s best to take it before 3pm to align with your body’s natural rhythms. If, however, you’re taking an adaptogen to induce calm and help improve your state of mind for sleep, then it makes sense to take it in the evening or before bed.