Adaptogens 101

Kayla Castle

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September 14, 2020
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Adaptogens are herbs that help support the body’s response to stress of both emotional and physical origin (1).  Adaptogen itself is derived from the Latin word adaptare meaning adjust, to elevate the stress response (2). Adaptogens don’t directly lessen the stress response, instead adaptogens work to regulate the stress response.  In the 1940`s herbalist Dardymov and Brekhman proposed a set of 3 criteria that must be met for an herb to be qualified as an adaptogen (3):

  1. An adaptogen should not be harmful on physiological functions
  1. The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific. Its action should increase resistance on a broad spectrum of chemical, biological, and physical factors.
  1. An adaptogen has a normalizing effect, contrary to the standard nature of pathological direction.  

Adaptogens are a foundation of Ayurveda medicine and widely researched by ancient physicians (2). However, this same trend is not true in Western medicine. Only short-term adaptogen research has been performed in western medicine, this bridges a gap in the western world knowledge and perception of little known adaptogens (2). Let’s check out some of the most common adaptogens. 

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is restorative for your whole body, especially your brain (4). Commonly prescribed Ayurvedic medicine as a nerve tonic (5). Ashwagandha eases stress, improves concentration, immune support, anti-inflammation, promotes new nerve growth, and improves cognitive function (4). Ashwagandha is a powerful longevity and vitality adaptogen, but be wary it is known for its very potent scent! Sanskrit, meaning the smell of a horse also described as the smell of horse sweat (5). It is best to incorporate Ashwagandha slowly in small qualities. Adding a little powder to your smoothie, you will reap the benefits without the smell or taste. 

Elderberry

Elderberry has been getting a lot of attention during the COVID pandemic and for good reason! Elderberry is high in vitamin C, the antioxidant anthocyanin and both anthocyanin and quercetin flavonoids (6). The anthocyanin component of elderberry offers anti-inflammatory benefits (7). Also, elderberry is a great immune supporter in the fall and winter seasons. As elderberry works to strengthens the immune system but also alleviate cold and flu symptoms such as; sore throat, fever, muscle pain, cough and runny nose (6). Elderberry is commonly added to over the counter medicines and vitamin supplements. 

Ginseng

Ginseng has 2 popular varieties American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) (8). American ginseng has a relaxing effect, while Asian ginseng has an invigorative effect. P. ginseng is commonly used in herbal medicine for its cardiovascular health properties (9). Regardless of the variety, ginseng offers; anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neurological support, immune support and improved energy benefits(8).  An interesting thing to note is the active ingredients in ginseng (gintonin and ginsenosides) have an interdependent effect on each other to provide the discussed health benefits. Ginseng can be consumed in supplemental and tea form.

Tulsi

Oh boy, does tulsi have a lot of names! Tulsi also goes by “The Queen of Herbs”, “Holy Basil”, “The Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Incomparable One” (2).  Tulsi, a beautiful purple herb supports emotional well-being, anxiety reducer, anti-infection/wound and anti-inflammatory for arthritis (10). Also, tulsi protects your stomach by increasing mucus cells and secretion, mucus cell life longevity and decreasing stomach acid. Tulsi is most easily consumed in tea form. 

Maca

Maca boosts energy, balances hormones, improves mood and stamina. Maca is well known for its reproductive and sexual health properties (11). For women, maca can help to ease menopause and menstruation symptoms; as well as increase libido. For men, maca supports sperm quality, increases sperm production, and increases libido. Also, maca contains all 8 essential amino acids, great sources of; copper, zinc, calcium, iron, vitamin C and phytonutrients (12). Commonly consumed in powder form, maca has a delicious nutty, caramel-like flavor. Add some powder in a smoothie, yogurt, cereal, or in baking. 

Adaptogens are available at most health food stores. Products ranging from teas, powder, infused products, supplements and skincare. 

Kayla Castle

Kayla Castle

Hi! I`m Kayla Castle, I am a Nutrition & Dietetics undergraduate student at New York University. Pursuing a Master’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and the DI internship to become a registered dietitian (RD). In addition, I am a Pilates instructor, in the future as an RD, I plan to combine nutrition and exercise. I also like to go hiking with my dog, cooking and creating my own recipes.