What Are Adaptogens?

We all live with stress. There’s no avoiding it. With the current pandemic, changes to the workforce, homeschooling our children, and pay-cuts has most of us stressed out. To deal with this stress as well a healthy and balanced diet is vital, with the proper supplementation. So how do we adapt to the ever changing world and maintain mentally clarity for whatever comes our way? Adaptogens, this category of supplements is essential to add to your diet. We’ll touch more on what are adaptogens later.

Living in a world where technology keeps blossoming with new innovations and artificial intelligence supporting our daily modern living isn’t always helpful for our mental and physical well being. We need to be aware of what we are providing our body to find balance in all forms of our regimen.  With the stressful lifestyle we face these days, we need more from our food. We need every advantage we can get to maintain proper stability of our bodies, down to the smallest of cellular processes. By adding adaptogens to our daily life, we are able to better handle the stressors of our daily life.

Now you’re probably asking, “well what are adaptogens”?

Adaptogens are defined as a unique family of herbs and botanicals that work with the body to promote homeostasis and stabilization of physiological processes. They are the balance key players of herbal allies.

For many centuries various cultures have praised the balanced power of adaptogens. Historically, these botanicals were used in traditional Indian practices as ayurvedic plant medicine with herbs including Amla, Holy Basil (aka Tulsi), and ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is unique as it is a tri-doshic botanical which promotes strength and vitality during physical and mental lows while also nurturing the adrenals for optimal rest. Another well known adaptogen is the reishi mushroom. In Traditional Chinese Medicine reishi, known as the “mushroom of immortality”, was offered to the Emperor and the royal family to help promote longevity. In modern times, reishi is commonly used for balance within the yoga community as it is touted to enhance concentration and meditation, as it was for the monks long ago.

Adaptogenic botanicals are the assistants behind the scenes working at the molecular level to help regulate the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These three glands play an important role in the stress response cycle.  When our body is stressed out we go through three phases of stress, the alarm phase, the resistance phase and finally the exhaustion phase.

Let's talk briefly about each phase and how adaptogens may influence them.

The alarm phase

This is classically known as the “fight or flight” response. We have all experienced this. Your heart beats faster, you breathe deeper, you become hyper-aware about what is going on around you. This is your body's way of preparing to either fight an oncoming battle or flee from a dangerous situation.

The exhaustion phase

This phase occurs when our hormonal response to the stressor has become depleted and we are in a stage of recovery. The exhaustion phase is marked by the inability to respond to an active stressor, as our bodies resources are depleted. This phase can last for an extended period of time and may be where a lot of us are currently living. If you have noticed feelings of hopelessness about a situation, overall low energy and even weight gain, you may very well be living in the exhaustion phase of the stress response.

The resistance phase

This comes shortly after the alarm phase and is classically the phase where we are most prepared, on a hormonal level, to deal with whatever situation has presented itself. The resistance phase is usually short lived, and we quickly advance into the final phase.

To help deal with the alarm phase, a great adaptogen to consider is Reishi

Let’s say you are practicing martial arts, combat mobilization, TRX training, or track cardio; or perhaps you have an unexpected problem come up at work, you are ultimately hit with the mental and emotional surprise on how to initiate problem solving, while physically having to serve your body to stand your ground and attack said problem. Reishi would be a great addition to your daily wellness protocol as it has been shown to promote oxygen delivery to the body and level out the initial stress response. Reishi also helps to reduce fatigue, emotional anxiety, and physical anxiety which may help when we get to the exhaustion phase with feelings of hopelessness.

what are adaptogens
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The resistance phase can be aided with the addition of Lion’s Mane mushroom.

Usually this phase is short lived, but every now and again, it is important to maintain a healthy level of readiness while mitigating the damaging effects of this heightened stress response by increasing speed of recovery from the alarm phase. Lion’s mane is a mushroom that stimulates nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain and spinal cord to potentially improve overall cognitive function. This allows us to stay alert and mentally aware for longer periods of time. In addition to speeding up recovery to our nervous system, many athletes use this traditional herb for activities where mental awareness and muscle support are needed. Individuals training in gymnastic, wrestling, or olympic settings or those who experience long hours of physical labor and/or mental stimulation can all benefit from supplementation with lion’s mane mushroom.

Finally the exhaustion phase can be mitigated by the addition of Ashwagandha.

This stage is marked by the depletion of the body’s resources, resulting in breakdown of physical tissue, suppressing the immune system, and causing bodily functions to deteriorate. If you have ever felt run down after a heated discussion, a strenuous workout, or following an exceptionally emotional situation, then you have experienced this stage of exhaustion. And like we stated earlier, this stage can last for a long time. Most of us are living here and don’t even realize it. Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) the King of ayurvedic herbs, known for its rejuvenating and restorative qualities is considered a nerve tonic. Supporting the body after physical and emotional stresses. Lowering the rate of inflammation and assisting with sleep cycle.

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Adaptogens are crucial for three main reasons.

1. They enhance mental awareness for improved decision making

2. They support continued physical energy

3. They enhance over rest and recovery

Adaptogens form a synergistic relationship with proteins. Together they work to promote proper cellular function, balance out cellular processes, and keep mental and physical stress in check. A partnership where protein supplies the building blocks of amino acids while adaptogens create a foundational balance of healing within the body. We can all benefit from plants as they have the ability to adapt and thrive.

Guest Author, Jesse Garcia

Master Herbalist & Health Educator

Jes has worked as a Nutritionist for over a decade focusing on sports nutrition and holistic health education. With a background in traditional herbalism and home health care, his focus is powered by community education. As a master gardener and family herbalist he provides youth classes on healthy living and fundamentals on physical education nutrition.

Jesse Garcia

Herbaculture Herbalist & Herbal Farmer

what are adaptogens

what are adaptogens

what are adaptogens