What Are Adaptogens and What Do They Do?

what are adaptogens

“Hack your stress and sex with these seven adaptogens.” “Calm your nerves and invigorate your mind!” “Herbal pharmaceuticals to boost your mood, increase your mental focus, and regulate your hormones.”

Nowadays there are a lot of claims floating about surrounding adaptogens and how they can benefit your life. With potions popping up left and right, adaptogenic lattes making an appearance on all the trendiest menus in town, and Instagram celebs repping their favorite tonics – what should you believe?

what are adaptogens

First – what exactly is an adaptogen?

The term adaptogen refers to a class of herbal plants or fungi (mushrooms!) that helps the body acclimate, or adapt, to stressful situations. In order to be considered an adaptogen, these herbs must satisfy the following criteria: 1) they must be safe for general consumption and non-toxic to the body’s normal physiological functioning; 2) they must have broad health benefits; and 3) they must assist your body in fighting the effects of stress, both mental and physical, thereby helping you to return to a natural state of equilibrium.

With adaptogens currently occupying such a high trend factor it would be easy to believe these herbal wonders are new to the health and wellness scene. Au contraire! Much like chia seeds, quinoa, and green tea, adaptogens have been in use for centuries.Eastern medicine and Ayurvedic tradition, especially, have a rich history of incorporating adaptogenic herbs in their healing customs.

But, hey – better late than never.

How do adaptogens work?

It’s all fine and dandy to propose that certain plants will miraculously better our lives by improving our ability to cope with the stressors we encounter on the daily – just because the ancients used them. The thing of the matter is that ancient medical traditions also involved bloodletting and the application of mercury as a topical ointment. What I’m trying to say is, where’s the proof?

what are adaptogens

In endeavoring not to take the internet’s word at face value let’s get a little nerdy. Because, as it so happens, there’s increasing scientific evidence that adaptogens do exactly as they’re touted to. Please don your spectacles.

Adaptogens are beneficial because they promote homeostasis by supporting proper function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA, also fondly known as the body’s “stress system”, is responsible for regulating stress hormones like cortisol as well as other hormones and, ultimately, the nervous system.

One of the ways in which adaptogens ease stress response is by stimulating the expression of Hsp70 and Hsp72, two “stress sensor” proteins. Hsp70 and Hsp72 help to mediate stress response by interacting with the stress-activated enzyme c-Jun N-Terminal protein kinase, or JNK for short. This interaction lowers cortisol and increases concentration, endurance, and performance, especially during times of exhaustion.

JNK is a stress-activated protein kinase, or a SAPK, that plays a roll in everything from gene expression, to cell death, to energy production. When left unchecked – like when we’re overly stressed, for example – JNK signaling has been linked to neurodegeneration, chronic inflammation, and cancer. Additionally, JNK decreases the production of energy providing molecules (ATP, if you want a lil’ Bio101 throwback) which causes proteins not to function correctly at the cellular level and fatigue to ensue.

Why are adaptogens necessary?

In short: because we’re stressed.

Stress developed as a survival mechanism to ensure we were able to outrun that saber-toothed tiger and proliferate the species. As such, stress was only meant to exist in small bursts. Now that overfull inboxes and schedules have taken the place of the tiger, with no distinction of the fact that they’re not life threatening, most of us exist constantly in a state of stress (for more on the functioning of the nervous system check this out). This constant stress, with no outlet for release, causes our adrenals to work in overdrive and takes a toll on the body.

This is where adaptogens come in. Through the mechanisms addressed above adaptogens support the adrenals and strengthen the body’s ability to cope with stress by creating internal balance. By regulating hormones, they encourage proper immune system function, promote healthy weight maintenance, offer antidepressant qualities, and are neuroprotective.

With 90% of all doctors visits now linked to stress induced ailments and chronically high cortisol levels being associated with depression, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function, adaptogens provide a natural means of treating the cause of these symptoms. Unlike popular pharmaceuticals that treat each symptom separately (insomnia, low-immune function, or digestive issues to name a few stress-induced illnesses), adaptogens treat the root of the problem.

Originally published at: www.ora.organic

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