Adaptogens are gaining traction in Western health food nutrition, much like antioxidants did back in the 1990s. The term "adaptogen" was created by a Russian scientist in 1947 combining the words "adapt" and "gen." Here, we try to demystify adaptogens and share why they are not another health-food fad.
Q: What are Adaptogens?
A: The Google dictionary defines "adaptogen" as a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.
Honestly, if I didn't know what adaptogens were I would be still in the dark with this definition.
The simple definition is that adaptogens help the body adapt to stress.
Specifically, adaptogens help us feel less stressed and help us feel more balanced (homeostatis).
Instead of hitting the chocolate bar when under stress, reach for an adaptogen for a healthier way to manage your stress without the rollercoaster sugar highs!
Q: How do Adaptogens work?
A: Adaptogens are stress regulators. They calm you down when stress is high and boost you up when energy is low. They do this by supporting your adrenal glands and possibly your pituitary gland function. Adaptogens normalizing effect on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA-Axis) from your brain to adrenals appears to mediate stress responses and enhance mental performance. A little about the HPA-Axis: it's is the axis along your body that is your central stress response system. It produces hormones to control reactions to stress and also regulates body processes such as our immune system, digestion, mood, and emotions as well as energy storage and expenditure.
In a clinical study of adaptogens, it was found that there is a biological change with adaptogens, "The beneficial stress-protective effect of adaptogens is related to regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the control of key mediators of stress response such as molecular chaperons (e.g. Hsp70), stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK1), Forkhead Box O transcription factor DAF-16, cortisol and nitric oxide (NO). The key point of action of phytoadaptogens appears to be their up-regulating and stress-mimetic effects on the "stress-sensor" protein Hsp70, which plays an important role in cell survival and apoptosis. Hsp70 inhibits the expression of NO synthase II gene and interacts with glucocorticoid receptors directly and via the JNK pathway, thus affecting the levels of circulating cortisol and NO. Prevention of stress-induced increase in NO, and the associated decrease in ATP production, results in increased performance and endurance. Adaptogen-induced up-regulation of Hsp70 triggers stress-induced JNK-1 and DAF-16-mediated pathways regulating the resistance to stress and resulting in enhanced mental and physical performance and, possibly, increased longevity." (source)
Q: Are adaptogens new? Why are we just hearing about them?
A: Adaptogens have been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries—mainly to boost energy and enhance one's ability to cope with stress. Per Google Search Tracker, the term "adaptogen" didn't gain traction in the US or UK until 2010.
Q: What are some foods that are adaptogens?
A: Adaptogens are typically herbs (plants) that have grown in harsh climates/environments. Maca root is an adaptogen that is in Cofo vegan and paleo blends. Maca grows in a harsh climate in Peru and Bolivia and at a high altitude up to 14,000 ft and has had to adapt to its environment to flourish.
In addition to maca, other adaptogens include (but are not limited to) moringa leaf, astragalus, rhodiola rosea, panax ginseng, holy basil (tulsi), ashwagandha, eleuthero, and gotu kola.
Q: What cautions should I use when taking adaptogens?
A: Like any food, don't overdo it. Listen to your body when taking adaptogens and see if they are building your resilience to stress. Remember that each person reacts differently to food, so like any new food, use it in small doses (1/4 - 1/2 tsp) until you are confident there are no adverse reactions. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult a physician before you use. Remember, these herbs aren't one-hit wonders, so take over a period of days (we suggest 4 days) to see differences and experience long-term benefits.
Q: Where can I find adaptogens?
A: You can find adaptogens in many herbal teas as well as superfood elixirs and individual powdered form. They are available in individual form as well in combination. As mentioned above, maca root is included in Cofo Superfood for coffee blends. When looking for adaptogen herbs, make sure they are grown sustainably, in their natural locations and, when possible, organic.
Q: How to take adaptogens?
A: Enjoy adaptogens in smoothies, breakfast bowls, add to baking recipes, or in coffee!