Adaptogens and how they work

Adaptogens and how they work
While the word adapt means to adjust to changing conditions, adaptogen is a specific term used in herbal medicine that describes herbs that help the body adapt and cope with stress.

While stress is a term thrown around quite freely, understanding the impact stress has on both the body and the mind goes a long way toward understanding why there’s such an overwhelming interest in adaptogenic herbs and their actions.

Adaptogens and stress

Adaptogens are substances that work to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. Stressors can be either physical, chemical or emotional and can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Stress is the body's response to anything that requires attention and while stress is a good thing short-term, long-term stress can impact both physical and emotional health, as well as sleep and the ability to recover if you become ill.

Adaptogens help to improve the body’s resistance to stress, while also relieving the symptoms of stress.

How an adaptogen works

Adaptogens work by their influence on the body’s stress response. The main feedback mechanism central to the stress response is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

When we experience stress, the HPA axis in the body is activated, signalling to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. The release of cortisol into the body then activates the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain which release their own series of chemicals and stress hormones. The increase in the levels of stress hormones puts the body into “fight or flight” mode making the senses heightened to act in the event of perceived danger. This constant state of alertness influences the ability to concentrate, while also impacting the ability to wind down and sleep.

Some of the best adaptogens

Adaptogens have been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries including traditional Western herbal medicine (WHM), traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as well as Ayurvedic medicine. Some of the most well-known adaptogenic herbs include:

  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Panax ginseng, and
  • Astragalus

When adaptogens can be helpful

Adaptogens may be helpful to get through intense periods — such as a high-stress period at work, during increased personal pressures such as moving house or family issues, during exam periods, at times of increased physical or mental activity, or even when recovering from illness and experiencing feelings or weariness or fatigue.

Using an adaptogen

You may need to be patient with an adaptogen. While some individuals notice improvements immediately, herbal adaptogens can take a few weeks before you notice an effect. Sometimes adaptogens will work slowly and subtly and without knowing, within a few weeks you will notice an increased level of balance. Ideally, adaptogens should be used to support you during times of short-term stress, which hopefully resolve within 6 months. However, adaptogens are suitable to be used longer term.

Herbs of Gold have a range of herbal products containing adaptogenic herbs that can be useful in helping the body adapt to stress.

Herbs of Gold Stress Ease contains the adaptogenic herbs Rhodiola and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola is traditionally used in WHM as an adaptogen to help the body adapt to stress, while relieving not only the symptoms of stress, but also feelings of weakness and fatigue.  Ashwagandha has been used as an adaptogen in traditional Ayurvedic medicine while also supporting energy production and assisting in the recovery of illness.

Herbs of Gold Mind Ease contains an award-winning extract of Ashwagandha, KSM-66®. While Ashwagandha is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen, it has a variety a beneficial actions, including supporting a healthy stress response in the body, while relieving symptoms of mild anxiety.

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