What are adaptogens and how can they help us?*

Maybe you’ve never heard the word, or maybe you’re dying to know: “What are adaptogens anyway?”

In our Western society today, occasional daily stress is somewhat commonplace.* We are a stimulus-fueled society, starting our mornings with caffeine, radio blare, and movement. We are bombarded by external and internal stressors on a daily basis. On the outside we battle toxins, weather, and radiation, while on the inside we deal with food intolerances, hormonal imbalances, and pain, just to name a few. We can’t completely prevent all stressors, but we can try to support our body’s responses to this occasional stressor.* This leads to the question: what are adaptogens and how can they support the occasional stress response?*

Stress and the body

To dive into the land of adaptogens, it is first necessary to understand how the stress response is triggered in the body. When we experience internal or external situational stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, releasing epinephrine and norepinephrine that alert the body by increasing heart rate and sweating.*

About 10 seconds later, the HPA axis is activated. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a complex system of chemical communications between the organs and these three glands. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are located just above the brainstem, and the adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys.*

With elevated levels of norepinephrine, the hypothalamus begins to secrete corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which then tells the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels to the adrenal glands via the HPA axis, which then secretes glucocorticoids such as cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is the body’s built-in alarm system, which acts as a control system through negative and positive feedback.*

What are adaptogens?

In 1946-7, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev began researching chemical compounds that could support a healthy response to situational stress.* He proposed the term “adaptive herb” in 1957 to refer to a plant that supports the state of non-specific support to situational stress, including physical, intellectual, emotional and environmental.*

Adaptogens support the body’s response to occasional stress and subsequently support a sense of balance and equilibrium.*

Supportive response to occasional stress*

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