By Megan Ng
With the stress of everything going on in the world right now, any bit of relief from the tensions of these times is welcomed. The new superfood trend expected to pop up on many food labels and advertisements this year is adaptogens or adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are select herbs and mushrooms that claim to support the body through stress, boost the immune system, and increase overall vitality. Adaptogens have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine. Especially in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing methods (Barrie, 2019).
Real-Life Magic Mushrooms?
To be considered an adaptogen, the herbs and mushrooms in question must possess three main qualities: (Kuphal, 2014)
- It should be nontoxic at normal doses.
- It should support the entire body’s ability to cope with stress.
- It should help the body return to a state of homeostasis, or balance.
Some adaptogens that you may have seen commonly on labels in the supermarkets include: (Wallace, 2019)
- Holy basil
- Asian and American ginseng
If you are curious about the specific benefits of each and a further list of adaptogens, check out this handout from the U.S . Department of Veterans Affairs.
How Do They Work?
When approaching adaptogens, keep in mind that each adaptogen has a specific function in treating a specific ailment. Make sure to read up on the role of each plant before making it a part of your routine. The abilities of adaptogens are still very new in the field of nutrition and require more research.
Adaptogens show a lot of potential and promise in helping us manage stress, but researchers are still looking into exactly how those herbs and mushrooms are able to do so. Current studies have found some evidence of adaptogens acting on the central nervous system and stress response systems to “activate the body’s natural defense system, increase resistance to stress, adapt to stress, increase recovery of stress-induced damages, and provide energy to fight fatigue,” (Panossian et al., 2020).
Adaptogens are sold in multiple and a variety of forms and products. You can incorporate adaptogens into your diet through teas, chocolates, tinctures, pre-mixed powders, or in pill form. Something to keep in mind when shopping for adaptogens is that herbs and supplements are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, so it can be tricky to find a quality product. Furthermore, pay close attention to dosage instructions before consumption.
More importantly, remember to discuss with your dietitian and physician before incorporating adaptogens into your lifestyle. As an herbal supplement, adaptogens may negatively interact with some prescription medications.
Stress is one of the silent killers plaguing society today. Adaptogens may prove to be beneficial resources in the fight against stress, but further research is needed. With all the hype surrounding adaptogens, remember that consuming these herbs and mushrooms is not a “one-and-done” cure-all for stress. Be mindful that adaptogens do not automatically equate to health.
- Barrie, L. (2019). What Are Adaptogens, and Should You Add Them to Your Diet?. Everyday Health. Retrieved 7 January 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/all-about-adaptogens-definition-functions-sources-risks-more/.
- Kuphal, G. (2014). Adaptogens. Whole Health Library. Retrieved 7 January 2022, from https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/docs/Adaptogens.pdf.
- Panossian, A., Efferth, T., Shikov, A., Pozharitskaya, O., Kuchta, K., & Mukherjee, P. et al. (2020). Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress‐ and aging‐related diseases. Medicinal Research Reviews, 41(1), 630-703. https://doi.org/10.1002/med.21743
- Shanta Retelny, V. (2020). Botanicals/Herbs: Adaptogens. Today’s Dietitian, (22), 14. Retrieved 12 January 2022, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/AS20p14.shtml.
- Todorova, V., Ivanov, K., Delattre, C., Nalbantova, V., Karcheva-Bahchevanska, D., & Ivanova, S. (2021). Plant Adaptogens—History and Future Perspectives. Nutrients, 13(8), 2861. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082861
- Wallace, B. (2019). All About Adaptogens!. Chicago Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Retrieved 12 January 2022, from https://eatrightchicago.org/all-about-adaptogens/.
Megan Ng is an Undergraduate Student of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
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