Adaptogens, What's the Deal?

We can all agree that today’s world is full of stressors. Whether it’s running late for work (and spilling coffee down your shirt while you’re at it), a first date gone wrong, or never feeling fully caught up on your to do list, most people are in stress mode far too often.


The odds are stacked against us with our natural environment being replaced by urban chaos, the constant buzz of technology, and never-ending commitments. Not to mention the unspoken expectation we have to appear ‘cool and collected’ on social media. These psychological stressors paired with stress-inducing chemicals, such as pollution, pesticides, and plastic, cause increased oxidative damage in our bodies. This means our own proteins are being harmed (or ‘oxidized’) by toxins and our constant state of stress.


We do have internal mechanisms to fight oxidative damage, aka antioxidants, however we are currently living in a world that really pushes our ‘toxin tolerance.'


It’s no wonder then that adaptogens have become so popular as a classification of herbs that strengthens our ability to handle stressors.


Research continues to show that adaptogens can aid in our physiological response to stress, therefore improving our mood, energy, immunity, and overall sense of well being. According to a publication from the Swedish Herbal Institute Research & Development, “...adaptogens act like low molecular weight “vaccines” or stress-mimetics, which induce mild activation of the stress system in order to cope with more severe stress...”


Essentially, adaptogens activate a mild stress response that strengthens our cell’s ability to handle future stressors, similar to vaccines.


Though the benefits have been seen in clinical trials, the reality remains that a pill (even adaptogens) won’t magically take all of our stress away. Think of these therapeutic plants as a group of soldiers in the battle against stress. A group of soldiers alone won’t conquer a whole army, but their contribution to wider defenses is important. What are these other defenses you might ask? You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: sleep, nourishing foods, exercise, removal of toxins (from food, drugs, relationships, ect), and a sense of well being. To truly combat today’s stressors, we need to connect to our deeper selves in a way that isn’t possible when we’re undernourished, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed.

There is however, an important concept that often gets overlooked in the wellness world. You don’t want to overdo your ‘defenses’. If you think about our army analogy, your soldier’s won’t optimally perform if they’re constantly overworked. They want to be in shape for battle, but not bed-ridden with a leg cramp! So yes, adaptogens are great, exercise is great, practicing yoga is great, but you need to give your body time to re-coup and re-sensitize to these healing tactics (i.e. few days on, few days off).


Whatever it may be, it’s important for everyone to find a personalized way to effectively handle stress. Remember to be kind to yourself, don’t push yourself too hard, and always make time for the things in life that bring you joy, it’s worth it for your health!


Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity


✦ Article written by: Emily Bernstein