What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a special group of herbs and mushrooms that improves the body’s response to the physical and mental effects of stress. Many adaptogens were originally used as plant-based medicines in ancient cultures, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Now, however, many people have begun taking adaptogens daily in smaller doses for the various benefits they offer to physical and mental wellness.
Different adaptogens enhance the body’s response to stress in different ways, and since stress is the root cause of so many of the negative health effects we deal with, research has shown that adaptogens uniquely improve other areas of overall wellness, beyond our conventional understanding of stress. In other words, research has shown adaptogens can be used to boost mood, stimulate focus, improve memory, raise libido, ease anxiety, and increase energy levels and stamina.
Hacking the Stress Response
Adaptogens have a lot of different mechanisms through which they fight the effects of stress and fatigue, and we’re still learning more. However, we have observed several ways in which adaptogens help the body adapt to stress at the molecular level.
When your body is stressed it goes through three phases:
- Alarm Phase
- Phase of Resistance
- Phase of Exhaustion
When your body starts a stressful activity, say writing a paper or lifting weights, it sounds off an internal alarm and it begins to pump your body full of hormones like adrenaline in response. As you go about the activity, your body will feel more clear and focused due to those released hormones. It is how your body prepares you to resist the upcoming stress. However, your body can only resist for so long until it is exhausted. This is where adaptogens work their “magic”.
Adaptogens prolong & improve the Phase of Resistance. Through the powerful natural compounds found in them, adaptogens essentially “hack” the stress response, safely and effectively extending this resistance phase. This helps you stay focused longer and tire less easily while doing stressful activities like working out or running a meeting. Even more importantly, by improving the phase of resistance, adaptogens help reduce the exhaustion your body typically feels after a stress response.
Adaptogens also have strong anti-inflammatory properties. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s fight or flight response to stress and overtime this hormone causes the body to become inflamed. Inflammation leads to your body breaking down slowly over time and is responsible for many of the physical effects of aging. The anti-inflammatory properties of adaptogens help fight the negative effects of cortisol through various mechanisms of maintaining homeostasis in the body.
Used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat fatigue and improve libido, more and more research is finding that Cordyceps are adaptogenic in nature & have far more benefits than previously imagined. Cordyceps have been shown to increase the body's production of ATP, which helps deliver energy to muscles thus improving physical performance, endurance, and energy. It is one of the only known adaptogenic fungi, and studies have shown it has anti-aging properties.
The physically stimulating effects of cordyceps are often felt within 1-2 hours after consumption.
Lion's Mane mushroom is a common ingredient in many natural nootropic blends for good reason - recent research shows it can increase short-term memory & focus. Lion's Mane contains hericenones and erinacines that can stimulate the growth of brain cells, naturally.
Small, consistent doses of Lion's Mane are reported to produce the best effects. We recommend taking your ZenBlend daily to maximize the benefits.
Reishi mushroom has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to boost immunity and induce a calming, Zen-like state. Reishi contains a high amount of polysaccharides, which have been shown to promote cellular immunity. Many swear by reishi's anti-aging & anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to induce a calm, relaxed state of mind.
Reishi's calming effects are often felt within 1 hour of consumption. Their benefits to the immune system & liver function are generally noticed after a month of daily use.
Another well-studied adaptogen, Schisandra ('five-flavored fruit') acts synergistically with other adaptogens to accentuate their effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's thought to improve qi, or life force, which can be attributed to its high antioxidant properties that protect against cellular damage and the ability to improve mood. Schisandra contains powerful natural compounds known as lignans, which have anti-cancer effects. Schisandra is also renowned for its nootropic effects on focus & cognition.
Considered one of the most important herbs in ancient Indian medicine, or Ayurveda, Ashwagandha has been used for over 3000 years to relieve stress and improve physical performance. Its name translates to 'smell of horse' which speaks not only to its unique smell but also to its ability to facilitate 'horse-like strength and endurance'.
The full effects of Ashwagandha are usually felt after 1 month of daily supplementation.
Rhodiola Rosea, or the 'golden root', has been used for centuries in Russian and Scandinavian medicine to help strengthen the body's resistance to stress and increase energy. It's one of the most well-studied and potent adaptogens and was purported to help Russian Olympic athletes during their training. Any herbal blend focused on improving mental and physical performance is incomplete without the powerful Rhodiola Rosea.
Rhodiola is renowned for its stimulating and uplifting effects, so you should take your ZenBlend earlier in the day, and avoid taking before bed.
Panax Ginseng, also known as Asian Ginseng, is the most well-known adaptogen in the world. Revered around the world for its ability to increase energy & libido, Ginseng also has powerful adaptogenic properties on stress levels. Ginseng contains two powerful compounds - ginsenosides and gintonin - that gives it its invigorating properties.
The effects on physical & mental energy are often felt within 1 hour after consuming Ginseng. As with most adaptogens, the effects on stress are generally felt after at least 2 weeks of daily consumption.
Chaga is one of the most nutrient-dense mushrooms on the planet - a true superfood. It's full of antioxidants, specifically triterpene, that help fight the cellular aging process & fight cancer cells. Chaga is mainly renowned for its powerful immunity-boosting properties and has been used for centuries in Russia & Northern Europe as a tonic for vitality & youthfulness.
The effects of Chaga are more subtle, occurring at the cellular level to fight free radicals & promote the immune system. People usually first notice Chaga's effects on the strength of their hair, nails, and skin due to its high antioxidant content, roughly after 1 month of daily consumption.
How and When To Take Adaptogens
Some adaptogens are more stimulating than others. Therefore in order to align more naturally with the body’s rhythm, it is recommended to take adaptogens like Cordyceps, Rhodiola, & Ginseng earlier in the day. An early morning adaptogenic tea or coffee can be a great way to start the day.
However, some adaptogens are known to have more calming effects and can just as safely be taken at night. Reishi and Ashwagandha are often taken before bedtime to induce a calm and deeper sleep.
Some of the effects of adaptogens can be felt immediately after consumption, but the main benefits of adaptogens are felt after several weeks of daily and regular consumption. With adaptogens, consistency is key!
Adaptogens are often found in their powdered form, either as a powdered form of the whole plans or as an extract of certain parts of the plant. In their powdered form, adaptogens can be stirred into hot or cold water to create teas, added to smoothies, or even mixed into your favorite hot drink like coffee or lattes.
Who Uses Adaptogens?
Anyone can (and should) take adaptogens! Of course, always check with your doctor before adding new foods such as adaptogen powders to your diet.
Adaptogens are increasingly becoming popular in high performing athletes and for good reason. Certain adaptogens help increase muscular and cardiac endurance, so they have become key parts of many endurance athlete’s routines. Rich Roll, the ultra-endurance triathlete has described various adaptogens as ”an integral and instrumental component of my success equation.”
Adaptogens have also become much more commonly used in circles of high performing entrepreneurs, particularly in Silicon Valley. Tim Ferris, a thought leader on optimizing the human body & one of the most popular podcasters in the world, is one of the champions of the incredible effects adaptogens have on the human body. Many now view adaptogens as healthier, addiction-free alternatives to caffeine.
Even if you’re not trying to run an ultra-marathon, or trying to start the next billion-dollar company, adaptogens can still improve your wellness and lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to feel less stressed and less anxious? Adaptogens can help you become a better version of yourself, increasing your productivity and wellness. It almost sounds too good to be true, but the scientific research supporting these claims grows every year! New research is exploring the many different ways adaptogens improve the performance and wellness of the human body, even beyond what we know now.