Not all adaptogens are roots, but more than half of them are--62% to be exact!
Medicinal herbs are organized into categories based on their herbal actions in the body. For example, bitters are herbs that stimulate digestion, nervines are herbs that support the nervous system and adaptogens are herbs that help people adapt to and fortify their body against stress. This includes environmental, physical, emotional, and biological stressors.
Adaptogens help you get through tough parts in life, just like a best friend would. They fortify you and keep you strong when you might want to give up otherwise.
Now it may sound odd to personify herbs, but I can’t help it! The more I learn about and use herbs for myself and my clients, the more I’m convinced that they are our plant allies, and friends--each with their own personalities or energetics, strengths, and character traits.
Adaptogens are recognized as substances that increase the body’s resistance to stress and help us adapt to stressful circumstances. They all have stabilizing effects on the bodies Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal glands (HPA axis).
The hypothalamus is the regulator of our autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system completely outside of our conscious control and is responsible for our breathing, digestion and sexual function, circulation, heart rate, fight-or-flight response to stress. The hypothalamus is also the regulator of our endocrine function (the production of all our hormones).
“Adaptogens do not block the stress response, but instead smooth out the associated highs and lows.” - David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG
There is still a lot of research to be done on how adaptogens work in the body (it’s hard for science to catch up to the genius that is Mother Nature!), but scientists do agree that adaptogens “affect the brain, nerves, restore balance of endocrine system glands and hormones (pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, thymus, pineal, pancreas, ovaries, and testes) and immune system by helping re-regulate, normalize and enhance function.”*
Back to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a central component in our brains that make up the limbic system. The limbic system is known as our emotional brain.
Now here’s where we get into the jaw-dropping part.
If adaptogenic herbs impact the hypothalamus (and they do!), the part of the brain that perceives our external and internal stressors, the place where we have stored beliefs about ourselves and the world we perceive, then it makes sense that adaptogens can help us change our lives, giving us the courage, strength and stamina to make whatever changes we want to make.
- Stress is perceived by the Limbic System (our brain)
- Immediately after a stressful event or chronic stress-- whether that’s traffic, repetitive negative thoughts about yourself, exposure to mold, disliking your job, etc.-- neurons activate your HPA axis which look like this --->
- A cascading effect of stress hormones are released filtrating through your body starting from your brain, to your pituitary gland, to your adrenals
Adaptogens are usually taken for several months. Some people notice its benefits with in the first week, while others notice only after a couple months of continuous use. Do your research and work with an herbalist or naturopath to find out the best adaptogen for you and to make sure there are no contraindications for you.
My personal experience is that adaptogens have helped me change the course of my life by physically supporting me, but more importantly, by helping me change my mindset.
And that's another reason why I say adaptogens are like a best friend rooting you on. They are there for you through the thick and the thin. They can help you see things more clearly and help you remember what’s important.
Banner Image: sarkar, Aakashdeep. Flickr, Https://Www.lybrate.com/Topic/Ashwagandha-Benefits-and-Side-Effects, 19 Jan. 2020, www.flickr.com/photos/154153811@N07/.
*“Adaptogens: An Overview.” Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, by David Winston and Steven Maimes, Healing Arts Press, 2019, pp. 17–31.
Waller, Pip. Holistic Anatomy: an Integrative Guide to the Human Body. North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Figure 1: “History of Adaptogens.” Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, by David Winston and Steven Maimes, Healing Arts Press, 2019, p. 33.