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  • Writer's pictureErin Stefanacci

What Are Adaptogenic Herbs?

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Adaptogenic herbs, more commonly referred to as "adaptogens", have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Although they have gained interest within the United States more recently, adaptogens have a long history of use, particularly in Eastern countries. In fact, China mentioned the use of adaptogens in 196 AD.

What Are Adaptogenic Herbs? by Dr. Erin Stefanacci
Holy Basil (Tulsi), an Adaptogenic Herb

What are adaptogens and what do they do?

Adaptogens are a select group of herbs that support the body's natural ability to handle the stressors of life. The term "adaptogen" is used because these herbs have the ability to adapt to the needs of the body. They can be thought of similar to a thermostat. When a thermostat senses that the inside temperature is too low or too high, it brings the temperature up or down, respectively. Adaptogens work in a similar way, depending on if you are anxious and need a little calm or tired and need an energetic boost, adaptogens help the body get what it needs.

It's no wonder adaptogens are gaining popularity... Natural herbs that are good sources of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, that also happen to boost energy levels, decrease anxiety, fight stress, promote health? Yes, please!

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system. Both the HPA axis and sympathoadrenal system are systems that manage the body's response to various stressors. Adaptogens interact with these systems to tweak hormone production and physiological responses to ensure the body functions optimally, particularly during times of stress.

Some research shows that adaptogens work on a cellular level:

“Studies on animals and isolated neuronal cells have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity."

More simply stated, adaptogens positively influence the nervous system and help to protect nerve cells and function. They help reduce fatigue, anxiety and depression as well as improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions such as memory, creativity and motivation.

Where can I find adaptogens and which ones should I use?

Adaptogens are fairly common today. I use them frequently with patients in my practice but they can also be found at your local health food and even picked in nature for homemade versions. Adaptogens can be purchased as a tincture, tea, powder, tablet or capsule and the list can go on. There are many different adaptogens to choose from and is dependent on what an individual needs. To learn more a different adaptogens, read my blog post "The 9 Best Adaptogens" by clicking here.

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