Maybe You’ve Never Heard the Word, or Maybe You’re Dying to Know: “What are Adaptogens Anyway?”
In our current Western society, stress is the cause of many ailments. We are a society fueled by stimulation, starting our morning off with caffeine, the radio buzz and traffic. We are bombarded by stressors on a daily basis. Externally we battle toxins, weather, and radiation, while internally we resist food intolerances, viruses, hormonal imbalances, and pain. We can’t completely prevent all stressors, but we can try to control and support our responses. This leads to the question: what are adaptogens and how can they support the stress response?
Stress and the Body
To dive into the land of adaptogens, it is first essential to understand how the stress response is elicited in the body. When we feel internal or external stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, secreting epinephrine and norepinephrine which alert the body by increasing heart rate and perspiration.
About 10 seconds later, the HPA axis is activated. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a complex system of chemical communications between the organs and these three glands. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are located just above the brainstem, and adrenal glands are positioned on top of the kidneys.
With raised norepinephrine levels, the hypothalamus begins to secrete Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which then tells the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels to the adrenal glands via the HPA axis, which then secrete glucocorticoids like cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is the body’s built in alarm system, which acts on a checking system through negative and positive feedback.
Cortisol is best known for fueling the body’s ‘fight or flight’ instincts in an extreme situation. It works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear, but cortisol is also important for its roles with metabolism, inflammation, the sleep and wake cycle, and blood sugar levels.
What happens when there is chronic stress? The body decides that functions, like reproductive activity, that do not help deal with the stressor at hand, become less important and put on the back burner. Elevated cortisol levels also interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, and increase blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease.
What are Adaptogens?
In 1946-7, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev began researching chemical compounds that could improve health by decreasing the negative effects of acute or chronic stress. He proposed the term ‘adaptogenic herb’ in 1957 to refer to a plant that medicinally increases the state of nonspecific resistance to all kinds of stress including physical, mental, emotional, and environmental.
Adaptogens help the body respond to and resist acute or chronic stress and then restore the system to equilibrium and balance. Scientific studies show that adaptogens work on re-regulating the HPA axis and SAS (sympathoadrenal system), as well as inhibit cortisol-induced mitochondrial dysfunction.
Adaptogenic plants and mushrooms work on a cellular level to regulate metabolic function, modulate and/or enhance the immune system, and support stabilizing effects on the neuroendocrine system with antistress properties.
Want to learn more about what adaptogens are all about? Check out this blog post: Herbal Energy Supplements: The Power of Adaptogens
Supporting the Stress Response
The term ‘adaptogen’ was coined in the mid-1900’s, but this medicine has been used traditionally long before the name or definition came about. Check out our energizing Manifest blend including adaptogens like Cordyceps, Holy Basil and Ashwagandha, or our tasty and detoxifying Myco-Cleanse blend with the five-flavored fruit Schisandra berry!