The term “adaptogens" refers to herbs and herbal products used to normalize body functions and strengthen systems compromised by stress.
Though stress is often perceived as relating to mental and emotional well-being, stress can occur any time the body or mind is pushed beyond its “normal" measures, or any time the body or its processes are imbalanced. Athletes create physical stress when engaging in activities such as running, sprinting, weight training, etc. Physical and mental stress can result when sickness, such as a cold or flu, occurs. Bacteria can interfere with the skin or oral tissue, causing stress to the tissues. Improperly functioning adrenal glands can affect excretion of cortisol, pushing several processes within the body beyond normal function—another example of stress.
The list goes on.
For adaptogens such as ginseng, ashwagandha, holy basil, astragalus and more, the lengthy list of stressors presents opportunity for researchers (and for natural products manufacturers looking to provide the benefits of adaptogens to consumers).
Though many adaptogens are well researched, new studies continue to explore the mechanisms behind the benefits of these powerful herbs, and in some cases, research is opening doors for certain herbs in new areas of health.
Ginseng is a traditional herbal product known for its adaptogenic properties. Though recent research on ginseng evaluates its effects in multiple areas of health, several new studies have explored its roles in cognition and sexual health.
Used to alleviate depression and fatigue, Rhodiola rosea has been shown to improve serotonin levels and repair injured neurons (Phytomedicine. 2009 Sep;16(9):830-8). Rhodiola garners its powers from its active constituent, salidroside, which treats depression via its anti-inflammatory effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2014 Sep;124:451-7).
New research published in 2016 showed salidroside from rhodiola may offer benefits to weight management; the compound decreased food intake, body weight and hepatic triglyceride content in obese mice, while significantly improving glucose and insulin tolerance (Sci Rep. 2016 May 5;6:25399). Further, a paper published in 2016 suggested rhodiola be investigated for use as a potential selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) in the prevention and treatment of menopause-related fatigue, stress, depression, cognitive decline, memory impairment, cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis and cancer (Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):763-9).
For a closer look at the latest research on adaptogens, including information on ashwagandha, tulsi and more, download INSIDER’s Adaptogens Digital Magazine.