Lately we have heard the term “adaptogens” thrown around a lot. It has turned into a buzzword that we hear on the news, TV shows, health blogs, health food stores etc… With both mainstream medical doctors and holistic, nutritionist doctors standing behind them we can trust that there is a reason for all of this buzz, but what exactly is it about adaptogens that is creating the buzz?

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are plants that are non-toxic and used for medicinal purposes aimed at helping the body manage, and more effectively deal with the most common stressors — biological, physical or chemical. They have been a go-to in the medicine cabinet for practitioners of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries.

There are dozens of known adaptogen herbs and each one can help treat a number of ailments; one may be great at specifically treating anxiety, and another may be better at combating a lethargic, low-energy feeling. Among the somewhat large inventory of known adaptogens, each one has it’s nuances, but one thing they all have in common is that they help the body deal with, and combat stress.

It is no wonder they are gaining popularity in the Western World considering our fast-paced, always-moving lifestyle. Sitting in long lines of traffic, meeting strict deadlines at work, not getting enough sleep etc… are all sources of stress that build up and wear us down over time.

How Effective are Adaptogens?

Many of the people who take them, and doctors who study them will swear by their benefits. The research and tests that have been done on them show very promising results, but more research is needed to reach a conclusive decision.

Some doctors say to think of them this way; if you are training for a marathon, then the training will be difficult in the beginning, or you won’t be able to run very far, but as you train, your body becomes accustomed to the physical stress and over time you can run further with less effort. Adaptogenic herbs work in the same way, but on your adrenals. The adrenals are responsible for regulating stress hormones and take the brunt of the work when dealing with daily stressors. Adaptogens train them to be “stronger” over time so they learn to more effectively deal with stress. Because of this, adaptogens work as great herbal supplements for anxiety.

Doctor Brenda Powell says the plants interact with the sympathoadrenal system as well as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and both of these determine how the body handles stress.

What are the Most Popular Adaptogens?

1. Ashwagandha – Ashwagandha is Known as the king of adaptogens. It is soothing to the nervous system and helps with anxiety, fatigue and insomnia. It gives a boost to both the nervous system and endocrine system, and helps with fertility in men due to its balancing effects on the functioning of the testes. It is also effective in helping women with heavy periods due to its high iron content.

Additionally, ashwagandha can stimulate the thyroid, helping with an underachieve thyroid.

Fun Fact: Ashwagandha means “smell of the horse” in Sanskrit because of it’s unique smell and ability to increase strength.

2. Maca – Maca is also a nervine tonic that is native to Peru and is often used as an aphrodisiac. It boosts fertility in men and women, increases sperm count, and helps with hormonal health.

Fun Fact: In the U.S. maca pills are the main form of ingestion, while in Peru it is eaten as a vegetable.

3. Eleuthero – Long term use of eleuthero appears to help with stress, endurance and increases overall mood. It has a balancing effect over time and can help to enhance thymus gland function.

Fun Fact: Eleuthero is sometimes called “Siberian Ginseng” although it is not truly a type of ginseng.

4. Rhodiola – Rhodiola Rosea is native to the arctic regions of Europe and it can help with athletic performance, boost energy, and fight stress.

Fun Fact: Rhodiola has been used in Greek and Chinese medicine for centuries and it’s use may date back to the first century A.D.

Adaptogens may be a great addition to your daily life if you are looking for any of these benefits. They all have a slightly different effect so try out a couple of them and see which one is best for you.