Last updated: 07.05.2022
Among the hundreds of thousands of plant species found on our planet, there are some that are distinguished by special characteristics. They have the ability to adapt to extremely adverse conditions in which they live and develop special resistance to them. Moreover, some of these plants transfer these abilities to the organisms of the creatures that consume them – animals and humans. These unique plants are called adaptogens. They help us adapt to different situations, they also perform various “repair works” in the system, leading to the restoration of the natural balance. When is it appropriate to use adaptogens? What are the best plant adaptogens and what effects do they have?
Table of contents
- 1 What are adaptogens?
- 2 How do adaptogens work?
- 3 What distinguishes adaptogens? Which plants belong to the group of adaptogens?
- 4 Adaptogens for stress
- 5 Best plant adaptogens
What are adaptogens?
Plants referred to as adaptogens, broadly speaking, increase the body’s resistance to stress. This refers to stress in a very broad sense, not only mental stress (generating a specific emotional state), but also physical stress, in general, to all unfavorable conditions and circumstances with which our body must cope, and which disrupt the natural balance.
Life in constant tension, environmental pollution, excess of duties and work, improper diet, lack of physical activity or too intensive physical activity, noise and smog, and other negative conditions.In a sense, the natural degenerative changes associated with the aging process, are strong stress factors for our bodies.
It is often the case that the body cannot cope with excessive stress and responds with dysfunction of some system or organ. The solution to the issue of restoring balance to the body in a stressful situation may be plant adaptogens, which work both at the cellular, hormonal, organ and systemic level.
How do adaptogens work?
An adaptogen restores the proper balance in the functioning of important systems and organs, thus having a comprehensive effect on the health of the entire body. It normalizes the hormonal and neurotransmitter balance, strengthens the immune system, and protects individual organs, thereby increasing the body’s ability to adapt to adverse conditions that promote disease.
Thus, plant adaptogens do not cure specific diseases, but strengthen the body so that it can independently cope with a potential threat.
Furthermore, plants that exhibit adaptogenic activity exert only as much influence on physiological processes as is necessary, without blocking or interfering with normal bodily functions.
The results of regular use of adaptogens over a long period of time include not only increased endurance, improved immune system functionThe results of regular use of adaptogens over a long period of time include not only increased endurance, improved functioning of the immune system and improved adaptability, but also a number of benefits for the psyche, which everyone will undoubtedly appreciate in everyday life. And these are:
- more efficient brain function,
- faster decision-making,
- better control of our emotions,
- a more balanced mood,
- better mental well-being,
- greater productivity,
- better communication,
- better sleep quality.
The result of systematic intake of adaptogens, especially some, such as cordyceps, ginseng, maca, Chinese citronella, ashwagandha or Rhodiola roseaMoreover, adaptogens have a positive effect on muscle strength, endurance and overall physical performance, as well as the body’s ability to regenerate .
The mechanism of action of adaptogens on our body is the same for all plants in this group; however, depending on the composition of the plant, there are slight differences in their properties. Some are more potent in one area, others in another, but the overriding characteristic of each adaptogen is to stabilize the body.
With active ingredients such as steroid lactones, saponins, phytosterols, phenolic compounds, alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenes, and others, adaptogens have a holistic effect, exerting a positive influence on both the body and the mind. They make it easier to confront any factors that may pose a threat to our bodies. They have a toning and normalizing effect on us, helping us to deal with them more quickly and effectively.
What distinguishes adaptogens? Which plants belong to the group of adaptogens?
To be classified as an adaptogen, a given raw material must exhibit a comprehensive positive effect on the body and be distinguished by several essential characteristics:
- it must be harmless and non-toxic,
- it must be of natural origin,
- it must not be addictive,
- it must not have an over-stimulating effect and must not interfere with or block the body’s natural functions,
- It must ensure non-specific response of the body to stress (have a complex effect, reduce the negative influence of stress on the whole body, reduce the body’s susceptibility to stress factors),
- must normalize the work of the whole organism and work towards restoring homeostasis in it (beneficially affect all systems and organs, catch deficiencies and defects, complement deficits and repair irregularities).
Adaptogens for stress
Adaptogenic substances make themselves known in the struggle with the most varied negative factors: starting with harmful microorganisms, fungi, viruses, and other disease agents, through negative environmental factors (smog, radiation, pollution, noise, allergens, unfavorable climatic and weather conditions), and ending with psychological stress and nervous exhaustion caused by a busy life.
It is in this third case, i.e. in the situation of weakened mental condition, lack of emotional balance and excessive mental stress, that we most often reach for adaptogens.
In this field, they are extremely useful, because they allow us to adapt more easily to any unfavorable external conditions. Among other things, they help us cope better and act more efficiently in nervous and difficult circumstances, e.g. in the case of conflicts, complicated social relations, as well as in situations requiring us to think quickly and flexibly, reflexively, and to make quick decisions, etc. They also provide valuable support in the case of people who are not able to cope with stress. They are also a valuable support for people under pressure (e.g. at work), living in high spirits and carrying out a variety of daily tasks requiring good disposition.
By lowering the level of stress hormone (cortisol), adaptogenic raw materials help us to keep a greater distance from problems, they make us keep our nerves under control all the time, better able to cope with stress.keep our nerves under control, perform tasks better and do not succumb to paralysing negative emotions such as fear, panic, irritability and sadness. Moreover, adaptogens have a relaxing effect and regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Check: Stress Pills Without Prescription – Ranking
Best plant adaptogens
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is a plant native to India, also known as Vitania sluggard. It is rich in extremely important health promoting and adaptogenic substances. Ashwagandha supports the nervous system by reducing the impact of stressful stimuli and promotes emotional balance. It supports cognitive functions and makes our mind work better and more efficiently. It eases tension, improves mood, eliminates depressive disorders and anxiety, and facilitates falling asleep.
Ashwagandha also exhibits numerous health promoting properties. It protects the heart and circulatory system, supports the functioning of the respiratory system, liver, pancreas and kidneys. What’s more, it optimizes hormone balance, contributing to the improvement of thyroid and reproductive system function and alleviating premenstrual and menopausal symptoms. It is also a powerful antioxidant, slowing down the aging process, reducing the risk of cancer, promoting longevity and vitality, and ensuring a youthful appearance for longer.
Chinese Citronella (Shisandra chinensis)
Chinese lemon is a very old plant medicine known for two thousand years, especially useful when the body has to cope with excessive strain, whether caused by illness or increased physical or mental exertion. The herb adds energy, improves psychophysical condition, reduces fatigue and stress. It improves brain function, improves memory and concentration, has an anti-depressive effect.
It hasa beneficial influence on the functioning of heart and circulatory system, regulates metabolism, supports the respiratory system, stimulates cleansing the body from toxins. It strengthens immunity, acts anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. It helps normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Moreover, active substances contained in Chinese citronella protect liver cells and support its regeneration.
Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhodiolarosea is a herb that grows in high mountain areas, including the Arctic (hence the name – Arctic root). The harsh environmental conditions resulted in the development of a number of beneficial properties, also for humans.
Rhodiola rosea improves the body’s response to stress factors, thus protecting us from all the negative effects of stress. It suppresses the excessive activity of the nervous system, does not allow negative thoughts to come to the surface, calms internally, helps to maintain distance, prudence, calmness and emotional stability in difficult situations.
By strengthening the body’s natural protective barrier, it speeds up physical and mental regeneration, adds energy to action, improves mood, has a positive effect on mental functions. It also shows strong antioxidant properties, protects cells from damage, reduces the risk of cancer and delays the aging process.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola, or Asian Centella, is considered a symbol of traditional medicine from India and Ceylon. It contains many valuable components, including numerous pentacyclic triterpene saponins (e.g. madecasoside, asiaticoside, tannucoside, bramoside, centelliic acid), as well as flavonoids, sesquiterpenes, vitamins, magnesium. Thanks to these, it exhibits a number of therapeutic and health-promoting attributes.
Gotu kola primarily supports the nervous system and restores its balance. It alleviates nervous tension, anxiety, restlessness and reduces stress levels. It improves the conduction of impulses between neurons and stimulates the growth process of new brain cells. Improves thought processes and increases the level of concentration on the task at hand. It stimulates the secretion of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, increasing mood and the will to act.
Gotu kola also has a positive effect on the functioning of the cardiovascular system and the elasticity of blood vessels and blood supply to tissues. It supports the motor system, strengthens connective tissue by stimulating collagen synthesis. It acts antibacterially and antifungally, accelerates healing of wounds and scars.
Bacopa monnieri (Bacopa minor), also known as brahmi, is a plant also originating from India, particularly valued in Ayurveda. The unique compounds contained in bacopa – bacosides (belonging to the group of steroid saponins), comprehensively support the body, improve blood supply to the brain, protect nerve cells from degeneration, slow down the aging process and regulate the secretion of important neurotransmitters, supporting mental functions.
Used in the treatment of various diseases, bacopa is particularly desirable in cases of intense mental activity, as it affects such functions as memory, attention and concentration. It is worth noting that bacopa is considered to be one of the most effective herbs for improving the process of absorbing, remembering and reproducing information. The beneficial effect on cognitive functions goes hand in hand with stress reduction and improved mood. Bacopa will also help us get rid of negative emotional states and mood swings. It has a calming and relaxing effect, but without the effect of stupefaction and excessive sleepiness.
Moreover, Bacopa monnieri strengthens the immune system, shows strong antioxidant properties and influences normalization of blood sugar levels.
Ginseng proper (Panax ginseng)
Ginseng is probably the best known plant originating from the Far East. It is considered to be a universal remedy for almost everything, mainly due to its active substances, which are present here in huge quantities (there are about 200 of them). In the first place, ginseng supports the heart and has an anticoagulant effect. It strengthens the immune system, inhibits the harmful effects of free radicals, restores balance in the hormonal balance, lowers cholesterol and sugar levels.
Ginseng has also significant influence on psychophysical condition and sexual health. It stimulates brain work and improves its functions. It fights fatigue and tiredness, provides well-being and high energy levels throughout the day. It improves motor skills, strength, endurance and aids the regeneration of the body. One of the varieties of this plant is Siberian ginseng with very similar adaptogenic properties.
Everyone has heard about the benefits of green tea, because of which it is sometimes called the world’s healthiest drink. The nutrients and antioxidants present in green tea influence a number of important vital functions. One substance of particular importance is L-theanine, which, together with caffeine, supports brain function. Thanks to L-theanine, green tea has a calming effect, reduces tension and stress, relaxes and stabilizes the mood. Green tea is also known for its positive role in the metabolism.
maca root, or peppergrass, is a plant that grows, like other adaptogens, in extreme conditions, namely in the Andes, at an altitude of 3000-4000 meters. Its unusual composition and properties make it one of the so-called superfoods. maca root protects the body from various pathogens and reduces the risk of cancer. It supports the work of major systems and organs, has a significant impact on physical endurance and mental functions – memory, concentration, attention, thinking. Moreover, it regulates sexual functions, increases libido, fights erection problems and improves semen quality.
It is worth learning more about, especially if you lead an active lifestyle, suffer from severe stress, reduced vitality orpsychophysical exhaustion. It will also be useful in a situation of frequent contact with harmful factors of civilization.
Eleutherococcus shows high antioxidant activity, thanks to which it effectively fights free radicals responsible for the formation of civilization diseases and faster aging of the body. At the same time, the plant guards our well-being and reduces the level of cortisol in the body, minimizing the annoying effects of stress. It also has a positive effect on the body’s efficiency, improves performance and increases exercise potential.
Astragalus is a plant extremely rich in biologically active compounds. It is rich in flavonoids, amino acids, coumarin, choline, triterpene saponins (astragalosides), isoflavones, polysaccharides, and bioelements valuable to the nervous system. The numerous active substances contained in astragalus make it not only adaptogenic, but also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. It also benefits our nervous system, improves mental abilities, supports the cardiovascular system, liver and digestive system.
Astragalus makes us immune to stressors while strengthening and protecting the body. What is more, it has a slightly stimulating effect. It adds vitality, supports muscles, increases exercise capacity and endurance, so it is highly recommended for people who train.
Shatavari root is a very interesting adaptogen with versatile positive effects on the body. It has a rich tradition in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used, among other things, to strengthen the body, improve immunity, comprehensively rejuvenate and revitalize the body and increase estrogen levels in women, normalize the menstrual cycle and improve fertility. Due to its beneficial effect on hormones, shatavari is also used as a natural remedy to improve thyroid function.
Rich in steroidal saponins, phytoecdysteroids and isoflavones, shatavari root improves the body’s response to stressors and helps maintain inner calm even in very adverse conditions. It regulates mood, reduces negative emotions, soothes nerves and provides a comprehensive improvement in well-being.