November 17, 2022 08:00 am ETEstimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Cannabis has been making waves as an effective botanical approach to therapeutics and medication, but there is another substance worthy of just as much attention for its benefits and uses. The concept of adaptogens was first introduced in 1947 despite having been used by royal families from 2500-2700 BCE. Dr. Nicolai V. Lararev was a Soviet scientist, medical doctor, and pharmacologist who was studying the body’s resistance to stress when he established the concept of adaptogens.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plants (including but not limited to herbs and mushrooms) that can be used to relieve the body from stress, anxiety, and fatigue, explainsCleveland Clinic. Specifically, adaptogens are active ingredients in certain plants, similar to how psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Unlike psilocybin, however, adaptogens are not classified as hallucinogens.
Adaptogens contain the compounds of the plant they are extracted from, such as alkaloids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and coumarins. The main reason for consuming adaptogens stems from the fact that they perform the essential function of helping the body maintain homeostasis (equilibrium). As we discuss adaptogens, keep in mind that their individual differences are all united by the basic benefits of relieving stress, fatigue, and anxiety and promoting overall well-being.
How Are Adaptogens Useful?
The theory behind adaptogens is that “they help your body adjust to physical, chemical, or biological stress” and that they’re “thought to stimulate your body’s stress-protection response and help its system return to a balanced state [the homeostasis],” explains WebMD. Adaptogens help your body achieve this balanced state by “increasing or decreasing reactions within your body,” explains Cleveland Clinic.
For example, when you’re stressed, the cortisol levels in your body get elevated. However, when you consume an adaptogen, it responds to elevated cortisol levels by reducing them. Simply put, adaptogens are useful because they adapt to what our bodies need to return to a balanced state—just as the name suggests.
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Plant-Based vs. Synthetic Adaptogens
As we can draw from the likes of cannabis and psilocybin, plant-based (or botanically derived) and synthetic adaptogens refer to two types of adaptogens that can be consumed. Plant-based adaptogens naturally occur in plants and can be extracted and consumed. On the other hand, synthetic adaptogens are man-made but can still offer similar benefits to plant-based adaptogens. In the following section, we’ll explore some examples of plant-based and synthetic adaptogens as well as their benefits.
Types of Adaptogens and Their Benefits
There are at least 70 known types of adaptogens, and that just includes those derived from herbal plants. As we have already discussed, there are botanical (organic) and synthetic (man-made) adaptogens. While synthetic adaptogens can still be beneficial, all-natural substances are always a better option, so it’s important to understand which adaptogens are synthetic. Additionally, there is an emerging class of adaptogens that are controversial. Let’s explore.
Withania Somnifera (Winter Cherry)
Regulates metabolism (resulting in beneficial effects on the endocrine system, nervous system, immune system, and cardiovascular system)
Promotes calm responses to stress through its impact on the brain
Ocimum Tenuiflorum (Holy Basil, Sacred Basil)
Significant impact on the reduction of generalized anxiety disorder and associated stress and depression
Panax Quinquefolius (American Ginseng)
Supports and boosts nervous system functioning
Improves fight or flight response
May help reset dopamine levels and regulate mood (according to preliminary research)
Panax Ginseng (Asian Ginseng)
Relieves mental fatigue
Relieves physical fatigue
Boosts energy and performance (especially during taxing activities)
Alleviates symptoms associated with anxiety and depression
Reduces side effects associated with chemotherapy (such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bone marrow suppression, etc.)
Helps to maintain/control blood sugar and insulin levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes
Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi Mushrooms)
Treats and shrinks cancerous tumors (although professionals suggest using it in combination with conventional treatment)
Increases white blood cells in cancer patients who are losing white blood cells due to chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy
Improves mental and physical performance
Increases energy level
Anti-anxiety properties with less sedation and muscle relaxant effects
Alleviation of nervousness, fearfulness, and insomnia
Preserves both physical and mental capacity in high altitude
Antioxidant (prevents the effects of free radicals)
Antimutagenic (counteract effects of mutagens)
Antihypoxic (prevents decrease of dopamine release)
*Immune modulators support the immune system, which then improves the body’s ability to respond to inflammation and other problems.
There are plenty of substances with adaptogens out there. In addition to this list above, others can be found in goji berries, cordyceps, licorice root, schisandra berries, turmeric, jiaogulan, eleuthero root, and so on. It is important to do some research on the adaptogen you are considering consuming to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the benefits, whether it is the best one for you, and whether the potential side effects are worth the risk in exchange for the benefits.
It is important to understand that many of the benefits from the aforementioned adaptogens are still being researched and understood and that there are always risks when consuming substances that are not fully understood…although one could argue that taking those risks is still better than taking on the risks associated with pharmaceutical medications. Before consuming adaptogens, talk to your doctor to prevent any adverse reactions.
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