For those of you who are new to this herbal gang, Adaptogens are a very special tiny group of herbs that are famously known for their multi-leveled ability to protect and prevent the body and mind from the damaging effects of physical, biological, atmospherical, emotional and spiritual stress.
These wonderous herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions and are having a strong comeback today.
They all have a particular intelligence in common — they work ‘non-specifically,’ which means they target multiple functions in the body — physically, mentally and biologically. The inherent intelligence of adaptogens also works by providing your body with what it particularly needs in that moment. If you’re tired, adaptogens will give you energy, if you’re anxious, they will calm you down. This is because of the impact that these special plants have on our endocrine system, the HPA axis (hypothalamus + pituitary and adrenal glands).
SO WHAT IS THE HPA AXIS?
The HPA axis continually assesses what’s happening in the body; it gives feedback and calls for appropriate action using hormones as its’ messenger molecules to bring homeostasis in the body. The hypothalamus (H) is the command center of the brain, often called our ‘god’ center. This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system and through an influx of hormones. H perceives, oversees and assesses everything going on in the body and then informs its’ ‘personal assistant’, the pituitary (P) gland, what to do. The personal assistant informs the ‘general managers’ (the target organs), who then enlist the ‘workers’ (particular biochemical processes) in the relevant tissues or organs in the body. The enlisted or activated tissues include the visceral organs — heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas (and their less publicized agents such as the gallbladder, spleen, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, etc.).
Adaptogens do for your adrenal glands what your exercise does for your muscles, you are training your body to handle the effects of stress. Adaptogens may tweak hormone production and physiological responses to stress to ensure that your body—from your mind to your immune system to your energy levels—functions as it should.
HOW DO ADAPTOGENS WORK?
Let’s take a look at how adaptogens actually work. First of all, it’s important to understand that stress is only meant to exist in short bursts. It is a hormonal response that may have been responsible for helping some of your own ancestors escape from hungry wolves or tigers (or face them). Think about stress as what is commonly called your “fight or flight” response.
Today, most of us don’t have to worry so much about being eaten by a tiger. However, most modern-day stresses are ongoing. When your adrenal system is in a constant active state, it throws your body totally out of balance. Constant stress can wreak some serious havoc on your body, especially on your digestive system and energy levels. It’s important to know that stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. Adaptogens have stimulant properties that help counteract those harmful effects. Think of adaptogens like a ?. They keep your body’s stress response at a desirable level, much like the way a thermostat keeps the temperature from becoming too high or too low. And they’re good for you all the time, not just when you have a high level of stress. They work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These are involved in the stress response. They work by “hacking” the stress response in the body.
Adaptogens have been studied in both animals and isolated neuronal cells. Researchers have found they have several effects:
• neuroprotective elements
• anti-fatigue properties
• antidepressive effects
• stimulant for central nervous system
Oh, and they increase mental work capacity, enhance attention, and prevent stress and fatigue.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, according to research on adaptogens, they might actually be as good as they sound.