Tell me about these adaptogens.
Adaptogens are a class of plants that help us resist stress and fatigue. While modern research dates back to Russian studies on during WW II, many of these substances have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. They may be roots, herbs, and even mushrooms, and can be consumed as part of a meal, brewed in a tea, or in capsules or powders. Holy basil and ginseng are some names you may recognize, but other adaptogens like rhodiola and schisandra have also shown powerful effects in clinical trials (1). They fight mental fatigue and improve concentration, increase physical performance and endurance, and, in theory, increase our lifespans by reducing the harmful effects of stress (2).
What are the benefits of adaptogens?
Several pharmacological studies have helped us understand how these substances work at the molecular level. Homeostasis is a state of balance, meaning your body is not overworked or stressed in any key area. Adaptogens first work by raising our resistance to stress to help us maintain this state of balance longer. The secondary effect is increasing stamina so we can keep going longer, and then recover more quickly when we push ourselves to our limits. In terms of a workout, this means improved performance and faster recovery. Adaptogens also help our bodies use fuel—glucose, proteins, oxygen—more efficiently, doling out a steady dose of energy to our cells (3).
But it’s not just your muscles that benefit from adaptogens. Because they have neuroprotective, anti-depressive effects on the central nervous system, clinical trials have shown that adaptogens “increase mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue”(4). Simply put, adaptogens also help your brain stay cool under pressure.
The bottom line: Do adaptogens really work?
Science says yes. We ask so much of our bodies, from juggling schedules to intense workouts after hours spent at computers, and adaptogens seem to offer the tonic we need for modern lifestyles. Although they shouldn’t be considered a cure-all, adaptogens consistently show benefits in clinical trials: reduced fatigue; improved attention; increased physical fitness; better sleep (5).
Different adaptogens are more strongly associated with specific benefits. For example, schisandra is more strongly associated with combating physical fatigue (6), rhodiola more with mental performance and attention (7), and ashwagandha (8) with lowering cortisol, a stress hormone associated with weight gain.
Will adaptogens give you an immediate shot of energy to get you through this workout? In most cases, no, although rhodiola has shown a short-term boost to performance without the side effects of over-the-counter stimulants (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16261511). But adaptogens are best used as part of a daily routine for long-term health and wellness. By tempering our bodies’ response to mental and physical stress, adaptogens power up our workouts—and our lives.
So how can I get more adaptogens in my life?
You’ve got options. Consume some adaptogens in tasty preparations like golden milk, a soothing turmeric-based drink, or fresh ginger in stir-fry. You could even grow your own holy basil for use in salads, cooking, and herbal infusions. And when herb gardens and learning new dishes aren’t an option, you can easily incorporate adaptogens in supplements and powders, such as the Alaya Naturals Green Superfood powder (https://alayanaturals.com/collections/all-products/products/green-superfood).