First – what exactly are adaptogens?
Despite the science-y sounding name, adaptogens have been used for centuries as a remedy to rebalance the body’s stress responses. Coming in the form of various plants and herbs, studies suggest they’re effective at helping the body adapt to all kinds of stress, whether it’s an approaching deadline, the changing of the seasons (which can take its toll on the immune system) or emotional triggers.
What’s the science behind them?
It’s surprisingly straightforward. As Jenny Carson, senior nutritionist at Viridian Nutrition explains, it’s all about improving adrenal health. “When a perceived stressful situation arises, a cascade of events occurs in the body that results in the production of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is produced via tandem coordination and signalling from the brain to the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys and are the site of cortisol production. Cortisol signals for physical adaptations that help the body cope with the stressor, and once achieved, cortisol production ceases. This response has not developed in line with the industrial revolution and remains akin to the Palaeolithic era when humans would fight or run from an attacker. These days the source of stress may not require a physical response, yet the stress response is no different from hundreds of years ago.” As Jenny explains, adaptogens modify the body’s cortisol response, making them nature’s miracle anti-stress and fatigue fighters. By supporting adrenal function, they counteract the adverse effects of stress to ensure the body functions optimally. Moreover, clinical trials have demonstrated they can increase mental work capacity against a background of stress and fatigue, particularly tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention. Clever stuff.
Do you need them?
Researchers agree our bodies are existing in a prolonged state of stress. In addition to the kind of anxiety that comes with deadlines, hectic diaries and burning the candle at both ends, there’s also stress at a physiological level. Stressors like sleep deprivation, sedentary jobs, and overexposure to toxins through food and the environment can have a huge impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. As Tom Smale, co-founder of Wunder Workshop and adaptogen expert, explains: “Today’s modern lifestyles leave many of us susceptible to fatigue, low energy and a weakened immune system. Adaptogens are for anyone looking to improve their overall health.” While seemingly ideal for stressed-out urbanites, adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, so they’re backed by ancient use as well as recent studies too.