Are adaptogens the next best thing for the human health quotient? Or are they as overblown as the antioxidant theory? Make an informed decision…
Go to any nutritional or lifestyle coach and you’ll hear the term adaptogen bandied about quite a bit. So what are adaptogens? To understand that, let’s begin with what adaptogens aren’t.
How Adaptogens Work
Adaptogens are not little magic pills. They aren’t tiny capsules of advanced science that you can take once a day to combat all that is wrong with your head, heart, body, and soul. So what exactly are they, and what do they do? Adaptogens are plant-derived substances (yes, everything good is very often green) that help you cope with the biggest lifestyle doozy today—stress. They help you combat stress and strain, without sending your body into an exhausted auto-functioning mode.
And research agrees, showing that adaptogens can combat stress by increasing mental stamina and acuity. This, in turn, can lead to increased productivity, along with reducing the physical effects of that strain. In scientific jargon, this means that adaptogens keep your body and mind in a state of non-specific resistance for longer. In short, adaptogens can aid you in handling any kind of spotlight-pressure on you, by helping you ace it instead of exhaustedly muddling through.
Our Body’s Response To Stress
When faced with a mountain of stress, we go into the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
- Step 1: When a stressor comes to the fore, our brain rings an internal alarm. This puts us into the fight or flight mode with a rush of adrenalin.
- Step 2: Once we have turned reactive to the stressor, we decide what to do with it. Should we resist it or should we adapt to it?
- Step 3: Once the stressor and the body’s reaction to it are over, so is that fresh burst of energy. This leaves us exhausted.
Adaptogens try to keep us in the saner world by damping the resistance in step 2 and prolonging the adaptation, so the third step becomes much milder and more bearable. This helps us retain our balance and carry on with work and life.
5 Ways Adaptogens Are Friendly
- They stimulate the Central Nervous System: Adaptogens speedup our mental and physical processes. This means we become more proactive and reactive, both.
- They are neuro-protective: Anything that protects nerve cells is good. Adaptogens can thus aid in the salvage, recovery, or regeneration of the entire nervous system—meaning the cells, the structure and most importantly, the function.
- They help fight fatigue: Most stress activates our flight-or-flight mechanism through an adrenalin rush. Once the rush is gone, theirs is just a mind-numbing fatigue left. Adaptogens are thought to ease you into a gentler tiredness by prolonging the body’s natural resistance to stress, thus avoiding the crash.
- They act as anti-depressives and anxiolytic: Preliminary research on a few adaptogens is proving that they are good stress-busters. They can stave off depression as well as anxiety. They help us handle the stress better, minus us slipping into deep, dark, and hand-wringing modes.
- They are nootropic as well: Nootropic substances are thought to aid in improving cognitive brain functions such as memory, creativity, attention, and motivation. Research is showing adaptogens can aid in the same.
The Downside To Adaptogens
Honestly, the theory sounds beautiful. As Hippocrates stated, "Let your food be your medicine." It would be a great thing if we could just tweak our diets a bit and cope with stress a whole lot better. We do not know the veracity of the store-bought adaptogens and ultimately how much good (or bad) they could end up doing to our system. So before you blindly trust anything, make sure you research on all the good and bad they can do to you and your body, and keep your supplement as natural and un-bottled as possible.
5 Natural Adaptogens To Try
As we said, there’s no harm in supplementing your diet—but before you start buying bottled stuff, why not try some backyard adaptogen hacks instead. Here are a few herbs you can try to increase your body’s flexibility to stress so as to cope with it well, minus any lasting damage.
- Holy Basil: To get the adaptogenic as well as antioxidant benefits of Holy Basil (Tulsi), all you need to do is pluck 3-5 leaves from the plant in the morning. Wash them and chew them down with some warm water.
- Turmeric: Adding a little turmeric to your curries or making golden milk is the perfect way to add some turmeric to your diet—and the golden milk can be had at night since turmeric is also a restorative agent.
- Licorice Root: Licorice root (Mulethi) is a long-prescribed Ayurvedic cure for a sore throat or even cough. When you chew on it, it tastes incredibly sweet and can also add freshness to your breath. If you can get dried root at your herbalist minus any harmful chemicals, pop one in your mouth after a meal and chew on it till the juices stop running sweet. Spit out the rest like gum.
- Moringa Leaf: In India, the Moringa is also known as the drumstick tree, and drumsticks are an all-important addition to sambhar—the spicy lentil-based curry served with dosa or idli. The leaf itself can be eaten fresh, washed and chopped up in salads, stews, or even omelets. They have a mild flavor that goes with just about anything.
- Stinging Nettle: Sounds painful and is painful. But once you wash the leaves in hot water, they lose their sting and turn into great herbs. You can steep the leaves for a mildly-bitter tea, sweetened with a little honey. Or cook them up like you would creamed spinach.
Again, follow all naturalism with knowledge and a lot of research—and do not blindly believe anybody or anything. Herbs cause chemical reactions within us, so it is up to us to choose the good chemical reaction and leave out anything bad. If you have had any adaptogen experience or story, do share it with us in the comments section below…