Your guide to adaptogens
Burnout has become an epidemic of the 21st century – and no wonder. Modern life has become increasingly challenging in recent years. Demanding work schedules, familial responsibilities, stifling societal pressures, the cost-of-living crisis, global atrocities – the list could go on.
Against this frenetic backdrop, it’s not surprising everyone is in the market for some much-needed relaxation, with many people turning to meditation, yoga, and journaling to unwind and zen out.
While all of these self-care practices are helpful, we also believe adaptogens deserve a place in your wellness arsenal. These functional herbs have been used in traditional preparations for thousands of years. And they have the potential to keep you grounded amidst the chaos.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and other plant compounds that help restore physical, emotional, and hormonal balance (1).
Researchers believe adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis (2).
As the name would suggest, adaptogens help us adapt and adjust: their properties may support energy levels when we’re tired, restoration when we’re overwhelmed, and calm when life is challenging.
What are the origins of adaptogens?
Although adaptogens have long been a therapeutic staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, two of the oldest systems of medicine, the term itself is relatively young.
In 1948, Soviet toxicologist Dr. Nikolai Lazarev and his colleagues were searching for an all-natural elixir to give Cold War soldiers and Olympic athletes as a performance tonic. He officially coined the name ‘adaptogens’ to describe the plant-originated compounds that enhance a state of ‘non-specific resistance’ in the human body (3).
What defines an adaptogen?
Dr. Nikolai Lazarev defined an adaptogen as having the following qualities (the four ‘Ns’).
Nourishing – bringing nutritive strength
Normalising – raising what’s low and lowering what’s high
Non-specific – acting on multiple areas of the body simultaneously
Non-toxic – safe to use over a prolonged period
What are adaptogens used for?
Adaptogens aren’t a quick fix; they help the body build resilience to support long-term health and wellness.
Some of the adaptogenic applications include (4):
Supporting energy levels
Supporting overall wellbeing
Blood sugar regulation
Regulating hormone balance
Nurturing inner strength
Supporting organ function
Supporting immune function
Our top five adaptogens
The natural world is teeming with these impressive plant compounds. Here are some of our favourites.
Native to India and Southeast Asia, Ashwagandha is one of the most revered and widely studied adaptogens. Practitioners of ancient Ayurveda often recommend it to bring balance to the body, but it’s perhaps best known for its role in emotional and mental health (5).
Also known as Panax Ginseng, Korean Ginseng has been used for its adaptogenic properties in traditional Chinese medicine for years. Thanks to its naturally stimulating qualities, Korean Ginseng is often recommended to support energy and mental alertness (6).
Siberian Ginseng is considered gentler than Korean Ginseng. However, it remains a popular choice for people – especially women – looking to support vitality and mental performance (7).
You can read more about Ginseng here.
Traditionally grown and used in Russia and Mongolia, Rhodiola Rosea helps the body adjust to physical and emotional challenges. Many people take it to support energy, emotional wellbeing, and mental alertness (8).
While Turmeric isn’t an adaptogen per se, it’s often regarded as a ‘secondary’ or ‘supporting’ adaptogen, given its far-reaching effects on the body and mind (9).
Can everyone take adaptogens?
Most people get on just fine with adaptogens. However, if you have an underlying health condition, it’s always best to chat with your GP before supplementing.
Find out more
If you found this article on adaptogens helpful, you can find similar guidance at Nutrition Buzz. Alternatively, please get in touch with our team of expert Nutrition Advisors, who are on hand to provide free, confidential advice.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.