Healthy Ingredients

What are adaptogens? Types, benefits, and current research

Wondering what adaptogens are? Adaptogenic plants have been used for centuries in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions. They’re now experiencing something of a revival in the wellness industry.

Here, we take a deep dive into the world of adaptogenic herbs. Read on to discover the latest research findings and potential health benefits.

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are defined as non-toxic herbs, roots and mushrooms, which experts say ‘adapt’ their benefits to what the body most needs. They adjust to our physical, chemical or biological stressors.

Sounds almost too good to be true, right? Experts say not.

Many researchers believe the plants have a whole host of benefits for our wellbeing by counteracting the effects of stress in our body. Current thinking is that different adaptogens offer different benefits.

Some of these suggested benefits include enhancing attention, fighting fatigue, and anti-anxiety properties. Not only that, but some claims suggest that adaptogens can boost our immunity, increase our energy levels, and even fight depression.

There are around 70 different types of adaptogens. You may already be familiar with some including turmeric, ginseng and ashwagandha. You may see these herbs named in various different health products, such as in teas, tinctures and supplements, all over the wellness space.

The types of adaptogens

People have been using adaptogens for hundreds of years. Many of these herbs have bold claims about their potential benefits. So what’s the truth?

People believe that ginseng, which is a type of root, may support the immune system and fight fatigue, while ashwagandha may reduce stress.

Claims say that goji berry can boost energy, calmness and an overall sense of wellbeing. Rhodiola rosea may also help with fatigue and anxiety.

Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is believed to reduce physical and mental stress. Meanwhile, turmeric is said to boost brain function and fight off depression.

What does the science say?

At present, some adaptogens have been more thoroughly well-researched than others. Despite this, research is certainly promising.

In one placebo-controlled study, those who took 300mg of ashwagandha two times a day showed a 33 to 44% reduction in stress levels, and a 22 to 28% reduction in blood cortisol levels.

And some research suggests that Rhodiola rosea can help to boost our mood as well as decrease feelings of burnout and anxiety. In this Swedish study, adults with stress-related fatigue were given a four-week supply of the adaptogen or a placebo. While symptoms in both groups improved over the time period, those taking Rhodiola rosea had fewer markers of burnout by the end.

Meanwhile, this 2018 review article concluded that ginseng was a promising treatment for those with fatigue. And this 2016 study suggested that holy basil was effective in the management of stress effects when administered to a group of rats. We need more research before we can draw definitive conclusions for humans, but it’s a very promising start.

Similarly, this 2020 study, which examined mice experiencing chronic unpredictable mild stress, highlighted that curcumin, the primary active compound in turmeric, appeared to have antidepressant and antioxidant benefits.

In conclusion, adaptogens are safe for most of us to use, and come with lots of different wellbeing benefits. It’s important to bear in mind that, although current research definitely looks promising, there are still gaps in our knowledge.

Always speak to your doctor before taking any new adaptogenic supplements or products. This is especially important if you have an existing health condition or take medication. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should exercise extra caution too.

Products harnessing adaptogens, loved by the Wellbeing team

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