It seems like every year there’s a new diet fad or a new superfood that can improve your health and wellness. The more we learn about the human body, the gut microbiome and the world of foods, the more we learn about good eating habits. If you’re looking for this year’s up-and-coming health trend, look no further than adaptogens.
Don’t mistake adaptogens for a trendy fad—the science behind these plants is rock-solid. Though they’ve been used in human health and wellness for centuries, it’s only recently that science has backed them as a new wave of healthy dietary additions. With the New Year a time for health and wellness resolutions, it’s also a great time to learn more about how adaptogens benefit your body and your efforts to treat it right.
What are adaptogens
Adaptogens are natural plants and herbs that interact with the body in a way that brings about homeostasis. They’re known for stabilizing physiological processes that may be off-kilter or out of normal sync. The idea behind adaptogens is that they help the body return to its natural well-oiled state, without introducing any synthetic chemicals to get there.
Many adaptogens have longstanding roots in organic health and natural medicine. For example, reishi and cordyceps mushrooms are regarded for their ability to boost metabolism and stamina. American ginseng is another popular adaptogen that’s associated with immune health and memory improvement. There are dozens of recognized, proven adaptogens out there—each well-studied and their effects documented.
How do adaptogens promote wellness?
The reason adaptogens are a hot topic right now is thanks largely to the natural and organic movements that many people are opting for their diets. This, coupled with emphasis on mental health awareness and organic healing have led people to look at the link between the gut microbiome, mental health and holistic health. At the center of all three are adaptogens.
People use adaptogens in a wide variety of capacities. For example, you might drink licorice root tea to alleviate stress. You might use turmeric as a capsule supplement to fight inflammation. You might eat lingenberry jam to boost metabolism. Whether you eat, drink or supplement them, adaptogens need to be introduced to the body in a way that’s bioavailable—easy for your body to break down the nutrients. The key to getting the most from adaptogens is to ensure your body is getting enough of them and that you’re complementing them with a healthy diet (anti-inflammatory, low-sugar, low processed foods).
Once they’re in your body, adaptogens go to work balancing physiological processes. They combat a condition known as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which is linked to your body’s fight or flight response. In addressing the stressor, our bodies go through three stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. Adaptogens promote homeostasis, which keeps our bodies in the resistance phase longer, before we become exhausted.
Think of GAS like a marathon. For the first couple of miles, you’re high on adrenaline and you want to go as fast as you can. Then, your body enters resistance mode, keeping you moderated and focused so you can make it through the bulk of the race ahead. Adaptogens are like the water stations at every mile, giving you an opportunity to refuel, stay focused and find the energy to keep going.
Adaptogens are important
For most of us, 2020 was a very stressful year. And, if things persist, we’ll all face stressors well into 2021. To persevere and overcome, we need to focus on mental and physical health and wellness. While diet and exercise are good starts, adaptogens play a major role in helping us face our stressors head-on and weather them. They give us the energy to make good choices and persevere by helping us attain and maintain equilibrium.
Adaptogens aren’t a panacea for life’s challenges, but they are resource in helping us to face and overcome them. With that in mind, it’s a smart idea to incorporate adaptogens into your everyday diet or supplementation routine and to dose accordingly. Here are a few simple adaptogens to consider starting with:
- Ashwagandha, for stress and anxiety
- Reishi mushrooms, for metabolism
- Turmeric, for inflammation and stress
- Licorice root, for energy and stamina
- Maca, for energy and mood boost
- Goji and lingonberries, for metabolism
There are dozens of adaptogens with strong scientific evidence behind them—all easy to obtain and integrate into your everyday routine. If you’re making New Years’ resolutions for health and wellness in 2021, make it part of your resolution to learn more about adaptogens. Consider it the “working smarter” complement to your commitment to “work harder” on your diet and exercise this year.