Our lives are stressful. Our schedules are too full and there are too many demands on our attention. The kids have school commitments, work is calling, dinner needs to be made, deadlines are coming. Stress is something we live with and coping with it is a constant strain, a search we are all making. There’s another way to handle your stressful life: adaptogens
What Are Adaptogens?
Simply put, adaptogens are supplements. But rather than just supplementing your nutrition and your diet for your physical well-being and to address illness, these supplements are there to help your body in how it reacts to a recovery from both short-term and long-term stress. On top of that, some of them can help to boost your immunity and overall well being.
Leading research is showing that adaptogens can help to fight fatigue, enhance your mental performance, relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, and generally help you to live life to the fullest rather than only getting by. Whether you’re looking to achieve a physical goal, improve your overall health, or be more prepared for that big upcoming meeting, adaptogens could be the answer.
Leslie Korn, PhD, a traumatologist who trained at Harvard Medical School, has tons of experience with adaptogens. In her integrative approaches to treating the mind and body, she has seen that adaptogens can enhance our ability to find balance amid the chaos. She agrees that sometimes our minds and bodies need a little help. This extra help can even help fight illness and disease.
“As [people] living modern lives, we are going to have plenty of stress,” Korn says. “But if our body and mind has a biological boost, like adaptogens, in order to cope better with this stress, then we will be less likely to get sick.”
How Adaptogens Work
Anytime you face a stressor, your body experiences General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). This three-stage process leads your body to respond to stress by first feeling alarm, then resistance, and finally exhaustion. Adaptogens work by allowing us to prolong the resistance phase through a stimulating effect, which can push off exhaustion. This means that, rather than crashing in the middle of a stressful moment or while you’re completing a stressful task, you find balance and can keep on keeping on.
Korn explained that, “Like a mini vaccine, some adaptogens appear to inoculate us to stress and help us cope.”
Adapting to stress helps us perform better and feel better, no matter what the stressor is. During stress, your adrenal gland lets the stress hormone cortisol run through your system. Cortisol works to give you a burst of energy to address an emergency, but too much of it will have a negative impact on our bodies. That’s how adaptogens can also help your physical health.
Tara Naya Nayak, a naturopathic physician in Philadelphia, often recommends adaptogens to her clients, especially when addressing weight gain.
“Cortisol is often the culprit for weight gain, especially around the belly area,” she says. “When you reduce stress with adaptogens, you reduce stress hormones and hence their effect on weight gain.”
Korn also notes that adaptogens have the potential to address a variety of health concerns.
“Stress sets off a cascade of physical responses that affect immune function, our hormones, our cognitive function system, and our internal clock, called our circadian rhythm,” she says. “If these stressors persist, this leads to chronic illness.”
The recommendations for adaptogen are to find ways to incorporate it in your day-to-day life, rotate your adaptogens every six weeks, and always follow product instructions. Because each adaptogen has a certain effect on the body, you need to be aware of what results you’re looking for. Do your research before choosing an adaptogen to try.
While adaptogens are generally safe, they are still given in doses and that dosing should be followed exactly. Korn explains that, “each individual may react differently, so start slowly and observe your own reactions.”
In your research, you should also find out when you should be taking your adaptogens. You wouldn’t want to take a stimulating adaptogen when you’re trying to sleep, for example. You should also decide how long you want to take adaptogens. By switching it up every six weeks or so, Korn says you will get the benefits of the subtle differences between the different types.
Adaptogens aren’t a cure-all. They shouldn’t be considered a replacement for self-care, either. Staying healthy in other ways is essential, even when using adaptogens. Talk with your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine. Track how your body is responding to them and with proper use, you can enjoy a little relief from your hectic life.