What to Know About Adaptogens and How Do They Work?

07 May 2018
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What to Know About Adaptogens and How Do They Work?

what to know about adaptogens

The health benefits from food and herbs have always been recognized in the field of natural medicine and adaptogens is considered as one good example under the “category.”

If you are one of those who’s heard of this term for the first time, then, this article is for you. However, for those who have encountered adaptogens, but would want to learn about how it works, the article is also fit for you.


History of Adaptogens

The word adaptogens was first coined in 1947 by N.V. Lazarev, a Soviet toxicologist. He used this to describe a group of non-specific resistant substances to a few specific adverse influences.

When Hans Selye, a Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, conducted a study to break down the phases of human’s response to stress, he concluded that humans will undergo alarm, resistance and exhaustion during stress.

The adaptogens enter the scene by offering the ability to decrease a person’s susceptibility to stress thus keeping him in resistance phase.

Recently, the term has become more concrete, referring to a group of plants that contain substances capable of fighting stress. Adaptogens also cover those plants that maintain balance in the body.

Most of these plants are found in a medical system from India called ayurveda, although not all.


How do they work?

Adaptogens have extraordinary anti-oxidant properties. In the presence of stress, herbal adaptogens will protect the mitochondria from possible causes of damage by stimulating the production of protein. When there is plenty of amino acids, the body can resist stress and enhance longevity of the cell.

While herbal plants are good for the health, not all plant nutrients or vitamin supplements can provide these. The powerhouse properties are the reason why adaptogens are now being used in formulating anti-aging supplements.

Other recent studies have also strengthened that adaptogens help in regulating both the immune and the nervous systems, which are effective in neutralizing JNK, a stress-activated enzyme.

During stress, JNK will decrease ATP (energy) production as well as increase the production of inflammatory compounds.

Herbal adaptogens can manage stress response through controlling JNK. They are also found to have amphoteric and anti-depressant effects.


There are [only] 13 recognized adaptogens because these completely show all the defining characteristics.

  1. American Ginseng root
  2. Ashwagandha root
  3. Asian Ginseng root
  4. Cordyceps
  5. Dang Shen root
  6. Eleuthero root
  7. Holy Basil
  8. Jiaogulan
  9. Licorice rhizome
  10. Reishi fungus
  11. Rhaponticum root
  12. Rhodiola root
  13. Wu Wei Zi seeds (Schisandra)

Amongst the 13, here are those that are commonly used:



Schisandra is an herbal vine found mostly in China. Its fruits are said to have cardio-protective properties. For years, it has become popular for its liver protective adaptogen because of its ability to stimulate the liver glycogen and promote protein synthesis.

All these, as a by-product, help produce the detoxifying nutrient glutathione. Mainly found in the liver, glutathione provides many health benefits like enhancing liver cell regeneration and production of sufficient bile.

Also, it has cytotoxic properties to combat tumor cells making it popular to cancer patients. Aside from its activities in the liver, schisandra is also able to improve memory and help build the immune system, which is why it is a common component for drugs used in treating stress and depression.


Holy Basil

The holy basil adaptogen has a wide spectrum of properties like being an expectorant, antibacterial, antiviral, antidepressant, anticholesteremic, and immune amphoteric.

One of those that are mostly used in the Indian medical system ayurveda, Holy Basil is also a part of the Unani-Tibb and Siddha medical systems.

Just like the schisandra, the Holy Basil is known for its ability to improve memory and fight fatigue. It can also treat common diseases like colds, asthma, cough and indigestion.


Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng or Asian Ginseng is a widely used adaptogen and is considered the most potent. In several studies, this adaptogen had shown its ability to enhance calmness as well as memory performance.

In 2003, a study of Panax ginseng was conducted on rats and it revealed a significant decrease in the weight of the adrenal gland as well as lowered levels of blood glucose, creatine kinase, triglycerides, and serum corticosterone.

Through the findings, experts have concluded that Panax ginseng significantly reduces stress levels.



Known for its effects on the nervous system, Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that has been used as a treatment for insomnia, bad dreams, mild OCD, and anxiety.

It has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that greatly help in the treatment of mild Tourette’s syndrome, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and restless leg syndrome.

Also, it is effective against both hypo and hyper-immune conditions because of its immune amphoteric components.

Each of these herbs has to be grown, harvested, and processed in a specific manner to ensure the best condition of the properties.

Some medicinal formulations use at least two adaptogens as components to target a specific condition.

Although they are found to be effective in treating stress, experts are still giving precautions that more in-depth studies about adaptogens are needed.

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