Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals. They work to counteract the effects of stress in the body. 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.
Adaptogens were first developed and studied during World War II. Scientists were looking for a way to help healthy pilots work at even greater levels. Basically, they were looking for a “superhero” pill that’d let the pilots fly better, faster, and for longer periods of time. And they thought they found it in the form of adaptogens.
The Soviet Union published military studies about a stimulant called Schisandra chinensis that was used. It was found that berries and seeds eaten by Nanai hunters reduced their thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. It even improved their ability to see at night.
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogens 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. Typically, when our bodies are stressed, we go through three stages of stress:
– alarm phase
– phase of resistance
– phase of exhaustion
As we encounter a stressor – say we start lifting weights – our body responds by kicking out hormones like adrenaline that improve muscle performance and increase our ability to concentrate and pay attention to the task at hand in the phase of resistance. Our body is literally resisting the stressor, so we feel energized and clearer, thanks to our body giving us a boost to fight the stressor.
And then, as we fatigue, we enter in the exhaustion phase. Adaptogens basically stretch out that sweet spot in the middle – the phase of resistance – allowing us to hang out in the powerful part longer.
Adaptogens have been studied in both animals and isolated neuronal cells. Researchers have found they have several effects on the body:
– 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.