Adaptogens 101: Why Dietitians Love Plant Based Adaptogens and You Should Too

by Danielle McAvoy
Adaptogens 101: Why Dietitians Love Plant Based Adaptogens and You Should Too

Adaptogens are super buzzy right now. But what are they?

What Are Adaptogens?

Put simply, adaptogens are plants that help your body deal with stress. They are typically herbs or roots that help us “adapt” to all kinds of stressors and bring us back to a level of homeostasis. Stress can be mental, physical or emotional and affect many different systems in the body.

Some adaptogens are better for keeping the immune system strong, while others are helpful for easing mental stress and anxiety. Alternatively, in a situation of fatigue and lower than normal response, adaptogens can help restore normal energy levels. Well-known adaptogens include ginseng, maca, turmeric, ashwaganda and reishi.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

The chemical compounds in adaptogens interact with the stress-response systems in our bodies, namely the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis (HPA) and the sympathoadrenal system. When we see a tiger in the wild (insert tiger king joke), our brain tells those systems to pump out cortisol – a hormone that preps us to fight or flee when faced with danger. Our brain also tells them to pump out cortisol when we look at our to-do list, watch troubling news, or don’t get enough sleep. We don’t need to be pumped with hormones in those situations, but our stress response system has one speed.

Adaptogens act like a modern-day update to this primitive stress software.

Brain sees a long line at the store sends the signal to pump cortisol because it’s do-or-die, baby adaptogens calmly explain that waiting in line is not a matter of life or death and dim the response less cortisol is produced.

It is through this mechanism of reducing the stress response that adaptogens have been used for calming anxiety, improving sleep, boosting immunity, improving memory and focus, and balancing hormones. This makes sense, as anxiety, sleep, brain function and immunity are all deeply affected by stress.

True to their name, adaptogens help us adapt to the lows just as well as the highs. Some adaptogens can be stimulating and improve mental work capacity if we are fatigued.

While research in humans is limited, a few studies have found that adaptogens have a variety of protective effects and promote adaptation to various types of stressors.  Adaptogens have been used in Eastern and Ayuredic healing for centuries.

Why is Keeping Stress Levels Low Important in Times Like These?

In the short-term, stress can weaken your immune system. Stress can disrupt sleep, which further heightens cortisol levels and weakens the immune cells. A fatigued, over-worked immune system cannot properly protect you from illness.

Overexposure to cortisol can be pretty toxic in the long run. While occasional stress is normal, it becomes a problem when cortisol is released in heavy doses every day. Being chronically stressed can result in weight gain, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep disorders, a weak immune system and can actually damage the structure of the brain. The impact of long-term stress on the brain is reduced cognition, memory, and concentration. Unlike adaptogens, there is plenty of human research showing the dangerous impacts of chronic stress. 

The Power of Managing Stress Naturally Through Adaptogens

While adaptogens won’t cure the source of stress, they can help your system become better adapted to dealing with it. Adaptogens are NOT anti-anxiety medications. They don’t “work” right away, but they gradually help your system operate in a more calm and balanced way. Consistently using adaptogens can gradually reduce the severity of the response to stress and ultimately support a longer, healthier life.

Some of the most well-known adaptogens and their benefits include:

  • Ginseng: reduce overall stress and help balance hormones, boost immunity
  • Ashwaganda: reduce overall stress and help balance hormones
  • Maca: boost energy and libido
  • Holy basil/tulsi: lower stress levels
  • Rhodiola: may help mediate the fight-or-flight response, improve energy and memory
  • Reishi mushroom: boost immunity
  • Cordyceps mushroom: boost energy and stamina
  • Licorice root: lower stress levels
  • Turmeric: reduce inflammation & boost brain function

Order Prepared Meals with Adaptogens Now

Some Territory fresh prepared meals include adaptogens, look for meals on Territory‘s menu like Golden Noodles with Coconut Grilled Tofu and Veggies, Blueberry Matcha Muffin Pack, and more. Order now!

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