Adaptogens: Nature’s Ancient Chill Pills

Adaptogens are one of the fastest growing categories in the supplements market, thanks to their wide range of benefits for the body. These functional nutrients have been used in traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda for thousands of years to promote vitality and longevity, and are now being “rediscovered” for their rejuvenating and immune-boosting effects.

But what are adaptogens, and what makes them so good for you? The answer lies in the root of the word: adaptogens help the body “adapt” to stressful stimuli. This makes you more resilient against a variety of physical, emotional, or environmental stressors that can throw your health out of balance.

If you have taken a basic biology or psychology class, you may have heard of the classic “fight-or-flight” response. This is the evolutionary response to a stressor, which signals the body to prepare to either fight or flee. It starts with the release of excitatory neurotransmitters and hormones from the brain, which stimulate downstream effects in other areas of the body.

One of these hormones in known as cortisol, which is our main stress hormone. While a short-term burst of cortisol is a natural and beneficial physiological response to stress, a long-term or chronic release of cortisol can have negative impacts on the body. Some of these side effects include prolonged inflammatory response, cardiovascular stress, free radical damage to cells and DNA, and potential links to obesity.

If only there was something that could help us manage our stress response! Enter the adaptogens.

Adaptogens are generally plants that have evolved within harsh climates and have developed a natural “intelligence” for adapting to stressful conditions. They know when to put up a fight and when to conserve energy. They help the body to modulate its stress response, cueing your energy production, hormone production, immune defenses, and other key systems to ramp up or to stand down as needed, so that your fight-or-flight reactions don’t get stuck on autopilot.

Some of the most commonly known adaptogens are ginseng, rhodiola rosea, and ashwagandha. Let’s focus on ashwagandha, one of the newly emerging superstars on the natural health scene.

Ashwagandha (ash-wuh-GAHN-dah) has been the subject of a number of recent clinical studies that show it has numerous benefits to the body. In particular, KSM-66®, the premium ashwagandha extract featured in the Naturewise Ashwagandha Herbal Blends, has been shown to significantly decrease cortisol levels, with beneficial effects for stress, sexual health, cognition, athletic performance, and healthy aging.

Whether you are young or old, sedentary or active, ashwagandha is an essential tool in your supplement toolbox for helping the body to function at its natural best.

Sam Kramer, MS, RD, LDN, CISSN

Sam is a Registered Dietician specializing in sports nutrition, who enjoys educating people about nutrition and exercise science. He has formulated and developed nutritional supplements for Vitacost and Kroger brands as well as for NatureWise.