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What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are having a moment as the most popular classification of herbs. From beverages to baked goods to your social media feed, there’s no denying adaptogens are everywhere. With the resurgence of this traditional Chinese Medicine practice, however, we’ve been noticing a lot of improper use of adaptogens. Today our Holistic Nutritionist Fran Allen will walk us through what exactly adaptogens are, how they work, and important information you need for safe consumption of adaptogens.

Firstly, what is an adaptogen?

You’ve heard the word, but what is an adaptogen? Adaptogen is a classification of herbs based their actions originally founded in Chinese Medicine. There are only nine herbs that fit into the classification of adaptogen: Panax ginseng, American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Rhodiola, Shilajit, Rhaponticum and Cordyceps.

Other herb classifications include: Alteratives, Bitters, Nervines, Carminitives, Astringents and many more!

Other herbs commonly thought of as adaptogens: Maca, Tulsi, Chaga and Reshi belong to other classifications of herbs and are used for other purposes.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens are used to help the body respond or ‘adapt’ to stress. Our bodies have responded to stress the same ways forever. Since we cannot physiologically differentiate between being chased by a lion or having an argument, the same chemical stress response occurs: your body is flooded with cortisol, your blood sugar rises dramatically, and both energy and blood are moved away from your organs to your extremities so that you can react quickly. This is what is referred to as the Fight or Flight response.

Our contemporary lifestyle is full of stressors; whether it’s our diet, lifestyle, environmental, or simply our daily influences, the stress of modern life is all around us. Our body is constantly thrown in and out of this dramatic fight or flight mode without any time or energy to recuperate. Our endocrine system (hormone regulating glands like Thyroid, hypothalamus and adrenals) get depleted from being constantly active, and we end up with the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue; anxiety, fatigue, mood disorders, hormonal disruptions, exercise intolerance, hair loss, sleeplessness, and so much more.

Many people look to adaptogens for support in regulating their stress response. These herbs may help lower our cortisol levels, balance hormones and improve energy when we feel depleted or drained.

It is important to keep in mind that these herbs can also have consequences. Effects vary per plant, per person, are very dependent on dosage, and all other lifestyle factors.

Other things to note

There are many contraindications to consider when using herbs and adaptogens, especially in therapeutic doses. It is best to speak to your practitioner before taking them to ensure safe implementation in your diet.

Adaptogens are only meant to help support the body for short periods of time. Using these herbs constantly for extended periods can have negative effects on your hormones and endocrine system, leading to exhaustion and burnout.

Dosage is so important. Making sure you are taking the proper amount for your symptoms is crucial to getting the proper benefits of these plants. Common side effects of over-consumption are anxiety, dry mouth and insomnia. Effects vary drastically, so it’s best to speak with a certified practitioner before experimenting with adaptogens.

There are plenty of ways to naturally manage stress and support hormone health. Adaptogens are one route, but don’t be discouraged if they aren’t the best course of action for you. If you are looking for a way to improve energy, stamina and generally feel better, we encourage you to book an appointment with our Holistic Nutritionist today.

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