Adaptogens are herbs and plants that are used in powders, tinctures, teas, or even capsules that help the human body adapt to stressors in everyday life. The theory behind these supplements is that they will help the body adjust to this stress, whether it be physical, chemical, or biological, by stimulating the body’s stress protection response to return it to a state of equilibrium or “homeostasis”. These alternative remedies have been in use all throughout history by different people around the globe. Earliest historical records of adaptogens go back to 3000 B.C. with ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations using it as alternative medicines. The term “adaptogen” was coined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist researching chemical compounds that could help promote the reduction of negative effects of acute or chronic stress in 1957.

Today it is believed that there are 2 categories of adaptogens, primary adaptogens and secondary adaptogens. Primary adaptogens consist of American Ginseng, ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, cordyceps mushrooms, eleuthero, Tulsi Holy Basil, reishi mushroom, rhodiola, schisandra , and shilajit. Secondary adaptogens include Guduchi, Horny Goat weed, licorice, maca, prince seng, Russian devil’s club, turmeric and white bryony. These 2 categories of adaptogens are differentiated by how they affect the human body to produce added benefit in combatting stress. Primary adaptogens affect the hypothalamic- pituitary- adrenal axis which supports the recovery of homeostasis in the body and promotes anabolic recovery as well. They strengthen the function of all systems in the body and even regulate energy expenditure through the neuroendocrine system allowing for better utilization of glucose, oxygen, lipids and proteins. Secondary adaptogens do not influence the HPA axis but affect the body through influence on the immune, nervous, and endocrine system directly.

Stressors that are encountered in everyday life may have a great effect on the human body. Since adaptogens are an optimal supplement to take to adapt to these stressors, they come with a wide range of benefits. The main benefit is increased adrenal support. During stress, the adrenal gland produces an excess of cortisol and adaptogens may be used to help the body use this “stress hormone” in the most effective way possible as well as help in rapidly reducing those cortisol levels when it is no longer needed. This rapid reduction in cortisol will also help in the treatment of insomnia that may be a result of increased cortisol levels.   A secondary mechanism in helping with stress is by allowing the cells in our body to use more energy and prevent any oxidative damage from occurring in those moments. Common adaptogens used for this benefit are American ginseng, ashwagandha and Korean ginseng. Secondary benefits include support in physical stamina and endurance by increasing the tolerance of the human body to high intensity exercise, as well as helping reduce the symptoms of arthritis by reducing inflammation that may be occurring at joint sites n the body. 

Adaptogens have become a useful supplement for people that may be experiencing a high-stress life and may be experiencing symptoms of this stress in their daily activities. 

This content was originally provided by Lukasz Janik PharmD candidate 2021.