Adaptogens have been used for centuries in ancient healing traditions, but now they’re creating a lot of new buzz. Here’s what you need to know.
Adaptogens are herbs and fungi that help your body adapt (get it?) and respond better to stress – at the cellular level. So, essentially from the inside out. As plants they’re a natural solution to regulating your body’s stress hormones and bringing you back into balance – no matter what you’re up against.
But wait, there’s more! They work primarily by supporting the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA regulates your stress hormones, digestion, immune system, moods, sexual function and energy levels.
What Makes Adaptogens Unique?
Adaptogens have three defining characteristics. They:
- Are non-toxic
- Produce a nonspecific resistance to stress
- Have a normalizing effect on body systems
One of the most fascinating aspects of adaptogens is that they’re bi-directional in their effect on physiological function. What this means is that adaptogens can either tone down the activity of hyper-functioning systems or strengthen activity of low-functioning systems. For that reason, some enthusiasts have even said that it’s as if adaptogens have intelligence (seems pretty smart to us!).
One example of a bidirectional adaptogen is American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). It contains medicinal compounds called ‘ginsenosides,’ which can both simultaneously stimulate the nervous system and calm it.
This is where adaptogens are unlike any other herb or pharmaceutical medication. Virtually all drugs and even medicinal plants have only one action. In the case of high blood pressure, for example, a prescription drug containing isolated compounds of a medicinal plant would be used to lower blood pressure. On the other hand, adaptogens may help normalize blood pressure, regardless of whether an individual’s blood pressure is too high or too low.
How Are Adaptogens Different from Energy Drinks?
First we have to understand the difference between actual energy and a stimulant. Simply put, a stimulant effects the nervous system and adrenals, and magnifies our fight or flight reflex which has many different effects and uses the energy your body already has. On the other hand adaptogens have been shown to beneficially effect our body’s cells and encourage the mitochondria ( the power plants within our cells ) to actually make more energy available to our bodies for everything we do in life.
Also, adaptogenic herbs are antioxidants, meaning they help prevent our cells from succumbing to age-inducing free-radicals. Caffeinated sugary energy drinks, sorry to say, do just the opposite.
Adaptogens Are Medicinal, but Not Like Drugs
Adaptogenic herbs have been used by traditional societies since the beginning. But it’s been just over a half-century since adaptogenic herbs began to be clinically studied (and yet if you Google “Pubmed Adaptogens” there are now over 28,000 entries). Considering that two out of every three doctor visits result from stress-related disorders, it’s shocking that adaptogens (Mother Nature’s stress-reduction pharmacy) have been studied and used in our modern world for such a short time, especially considering how many tribes and ancient cultures rely on them to stay healthy. (i.e. The Miyao, Hunza, Guarani and Nepali Sherpas, etc…)
Adaptogens have a broad spectrum of healing properties and are found on every continent where plants grow, and are typically used to improve resilience to stress and immunity. That’s one of the reasons Dan Moriarty, who founded Sun Horse Energy, calls adaptogens the “Swiss Army Knife” of beneficial botanicals.
Some of Our Favorite Adaptogens
and What They Do
Asian Licorice Root
- Jiaogulan – for immune function, detoxification; promotes normal cholesterol, normalizes blood pressure, builds stamina/endurance
- Himalayan Goji – potent antioxidant, anti-disease and anti-cancer compounds, protects liver and kidneys, regulates blood lipids, improves eye health
- Acai – anti-aging compounds, encourages normal weight regulation, may prevent cardiovascular disease, promotes skin health
- Peruvian Maca – enhances libido, improves fertility, reduces fatigue, may help with osteoporosis, may help with resistance to cold
- American Ginseng – boosts libido, helps with impotence and fatigue and concentration, improves nervous system balance, normalizes blood sugar
- Schisandra Fruit – anti-aging properties, normalizes blood sugar and blood pressure, aids liver detoxification, may improve PMS
- Asian Licorice Root – promotes adrenal health, promotes healing, encourages respiratory health
- Rhodiola Rosea – promotes physical strength and endurance, stimulates the nervous system, enhance serotonin levels, normalize blood sugar
You’d be taking a lot of supplements to get that many adaptogens and all their benefits. Or you can try one of our elixirs, which contain all of them, here!