adaptogens 101: unlocking nature's wholistic support
Natural solutions have become increasingly popular in the world of health and wellness. One such solution gaining praise is the adaptogen. But what are adaptogens? Are they a fitness fad? Or could adaptogens help with the ups and downs of life? In this blog post, we delve into the world of adaptogens, their role in supporting wellbeing, and how mushrooms can be a powerful source of this stabilizing substance.
According to Oxford dictionary, an adaptogen is "a natural substance considered to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes and to help the body adapt to stress." In other words, adaptogens contribute to the body's ability maintain balance when stressors emerge. There are many types of adaptogens that can be found in nature. Ginseng, turmeric, and goji berry, are among the lineup. Adaptogens can also be found in mushrooms like Reishi, Lion's Mane, and Cordyceps. Unlike specific remedies that target a particular issue, adaptogens have a non-specific action, benefiting the body as a whole [i].
Not a Fad
Adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional healing practices. One of the earliest written texts citing the use of an adaptogen, ginseng root, originates from 196 AD China [ii]. The term "adaptogen" was created by a team of Soviet researchers in the 1940s. Their research would go on to support military development and space exploration during the Cold War [iii]. Since then, there have been numerous studies conducted worldwide, exploring natural and synthetic adaptogens, and their ability to increase physical and mental resilience. There is still much to learn about adaptogens due to the complex nature of their biological active compounds. We can expect more research to come as the demand for natural health solutions increases worldwide.
How Adaptogens Support Well-Being
Adaptogenic herbs have an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a sophisticated network of glands, hormones, and receptors within the human body. This axis plays a central role in maintaining the body's balance (homeostasis), managing responses to stress, and regulating energy metabolism.
When we consume adaptogens, their natural properties and compounds collaborate with the HPA axis to promote equilibrium in our systems. For instance, if there is an excessive amount of a particular hormone, adaptogens assist in reducing its levels. Conversely, if a hormone is deficient, adaptogens can help restore its levels [iv].
Studies suggest that adaptogens also interact with the immune-neuro-endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating energy utilization and bolstering the body's immune defenses [v].
Studying Mushrooms for the Adaptogenic Properties
This mushroom has been studied for its ability to reduce the effects of physical stress on the body. Fatigue from prolonged activity can have an adverse affect on the body's ability to fight illness and maintain good health. Chronic fatigue can impact an individual in all facets of life, requiring long-term recovery. Cordyceps is known for its ability to restore health and accelerate recovery from exhaustion [vi].
Studies conducted on rodents have indicated that lion's mane extract could potentially reverse changes in neurotransmitters caused by stress, specifically in relation to dopamine and serotonin. Another study in mice saw that lion's mane may help reduce the levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin 6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), which tend to increase in response to stress [vii].
This mushroom is known to aid in the function of the adrenal glands, responsible for secreting cortisol, a hormone crucial for the body's response to stress. In a small study involving male athletes, the combination of reishi and cordyceps was shown to provide protection against stress-related damage resulting from overtraining in cycling [viii].
As we continue to explore and embrace the gifts of nature, mushrooms stand out as a fascinating source of adaptogens to handle life's ups and downs.
[i] What are adaptogens & types. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, February 10). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/22361-adaptogens
[ii] Potenza, M. A., Montagnani, M., Santacroce, L., Charitos, I. A., & Bottalico, L. (2023, May). Ancient herbal therapy: A brief history of panax ginseng. Journal of Ginseng Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10214142/
[iii] Johnson, K. (2021, May 3). Before steroids, Russians secretly studied herbs. Culture. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/long-before-doping-scandals--russians-were-studying-performance-
[iv] Liao, L.-Y., He, Y.-F., Li, L., Meng, H., Dong, Y.-M., Yi, F., & Xiao, P.-G. (2018, November 16). A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: Comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chinese medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240259/
[v] Forbes Magazine. (2023, June 2). Your guide to adaptogens. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/health/body/what-are-adaptogens/
[vi] Siu, K.-C., Wang, Z., & Wu, J.-Y. (2017, August 14). Antifatigue functions and mechanisms of edible and medicinal mushrooms. BioMed research international. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5584359/
[vii] Chong, P. S., Fung, M.-L., Wong, K. H., & Lim, L. W. (2019, December 25). Therapeutic potential of hericium erinaceus for depressive disorder. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6982118/
[viii] Bös, D. (2023, March 7). Mushrooms are adaptogens: Mykotroph - naturally healthy. MykoTroph. https://www.mykotroph.de/en/mushrooms-are-adaptogens/