What Are Adaptogens, And What Are They Used For?

What Are Adaptogens, And What Are They Used For?
Adaptogens are active ingredients in certain plants and mushrooms that may impact how your body deals with stress, anxiety and fatigue. Plants and mushrooms provide adaptogenic actions. When consumed, these plants target specific stressors in your body.

There are three qualities that plants must have to be an adaptogen:

It is non-toxic when taken in normal doses.
It helps your body cope with stress.
It allows your body to return to balance (homeostasis).
Adaptogens work as a temporary bandage but aren’t the solution to long-term stress.

What do adaptogens do to my body?
The goal of taking adaptogens is to return your body back to a state of balance (homeostasis). The herbal action in adaptogens increases or decreases chemical reactions within your body.

For example, if you’re stressed (elevated cortisol), an adaptogen will respond by reducing cortisol levels. If you experience chronic fatigue with low cortisol levels, an adaptogen will increase the level of cortisol in your body.

Are adaptogens regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration?
While some adaptogens like ashwagandha and Asian ginseng have a number of studies on their varied actions, supplements are not regulated by FDA, and FDA approval does not equate to safety.

If you plan to add plants with adaptogenic qualities to your diet, talk with your healthcare provider to discuss how they could impact your health and if they are right for you.

What types of adaptogens exist?
There are several types of adaptogens. Common adaptogens include:

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): American ginseng offers immune system support (immune-modulators) that helps reduce inflammation to relieve pain (anti-inflammatory). In addition, this type of ginseng combats stress and boosts your nervous system, which improves how your body responds to stimuli (fight or flight). Some studies suggest American ginseng can reset dopamine levels and regulate your mood.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Ashwagandha has a positive effect on the endocrine, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems by regulating your metabolism and helping you relax by calming how your brain responds to stress. Ashwagandha offers protection for your cells as an antioxidant and reduces swelling (an anti-inflammatory reaction).

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng): This type of ginseng helps relieve both mental and physical fatigue. Ginseng can improve your energy and performance during stressful activities.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Similar to ginseng, eleuthero relieves stress and fatigue. This adaptogen helps boost immune function as an immune modulator.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Rhodiola alleviates symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression. Studies show that rhodiola helps improve performance during stressful situations like at work or during physical activity.

How do I take adaptogens?
Adaptogens come from plants, so you can take them in several different ways including:

Adding adaptogens to food or beverages.
Taking adaptogens as capsules.
Using tinctures: a liquid form of a plant extract.

Can I drink adaptogens in tea?
Drinking a cup of tea is a great way to pause and reduce stress with each warm, calming sip. Some adaptogenic plants can be dried, ground up and steeped in hot water in the same way you would steep your favorite tea. There are several different types of tea blends on the market that use some adaptogens as the main ingredient. Be sure to read the label to see what the intended effects of the tea are, how long you should steep the tea in water and how often you should drink it.

Why should I take adaptogens?
Adaptogens support the way that your body handles stress. Some people consume adaptogens to:

Alleviate anxiety.
Reduce fatigue and/or increase energy.
Cope with trauma.
Regulate emotional reactions to stress.
Boost your immune system.

What dosage strengths and forms do adaptogens come in?
Adaptogen dosage varies by plant and how you choose to take it. For example, the dosage to take a capsule of ashwagandha is 1 to 6 grams of dry root per day or a tincture dose based on concentration, which varies by brand. Capsules can also be made with plant extract, where the dose for standardized extract is 500 milligrams twice a day.

Before you start taking adaptogen supplements, check the label on how much and how frequently you should take them and talk with your healthcare provider to see if they have recommendations on which adaptogen is right for you.

How long should I take adaptogens?
Studies show that adaptogens work best for a short duration (less than six months) because your body could build a resistance to adaptogens and their intended effects, proving them ineffective over time.

What are the side effects of adaptogens?
Adaptogens are generally well tolerated. Side effects are rare but possible and vary based on the plant.

Side effects of adaptogens include:

Allergic reactions.
Abdominal pain.
It's also important to understand the purpose of the adaptogen you are taking and how it will affect your body. For example, certain adaptogens increase energy and you wouldn’t want to take that type of adaptogen before going to bed because it would be difficult for you to fall asleep.

Adaptogens could react with medicines
Adaptogens could impact how certain medicines work if you have medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, insomnia, hypothyroidism and depression. Interactions with adaptogens include:

Increasing blood pressure.
Decreasing blood sugar levels.
Disrupting sleep patterns.
Increasing thyroid activity.
Counteracting antidepressants.
What should I tell my healthcare provider before starting adaptogens?
Before starting adaptogens, discuss the following with your provider:

Current medications you take.
Medical diagnoses.
If you plan on becoming pregnant.
Types of adaptogens you are interested in taking.

No one wants to feel stressed when unexpected changes occur in life. Adaptogens are mediators to help your body minimize stress response and recover from anything that is putting you off balance. Check with your healthcare provider before taking adaptogens to make sure they won’t interact with any conditions you have or medications that you are taking so your body can reach a state of peace and balance.

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