Adaptogens & Stress Management
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- Adaptogens aren’t anything new, but understanding how we can use them to improve health within our busy, highly stressful modern day lives is worth exploring.
- Stress one of life’s constants and can’t be avoided, but can be managed. Stress can be healthy if acute bouts are addressed and overcome, but can be corrosive if chronic and persistent.
- Adaptogens can help us deal with stress better and become more resilient to it’s adverse effects.
- Adaptogens help normalise fluctuating aspects of our physiology, eliciting a balancing effect.
The classification and use of Adaptogens have been documented for thousands of years particularly in Indian and Chinese Medicinal practices but formal studies weren’t seen until 1947 in Russia.
In the aftermath of World War II, scientist Dr Nicholas Lazarev initially prescribed stimulants such as amphetamines to improve general resistance to fatigue and facilitate their performance on the battlefield. They would indeed see increased activity of their sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight response leading to increased euphoria, alertness and focus. It worked! But at a cost …
These stimulants eventually impaired mental function, increased prevalence of psychotic functions, reduced sleep and withdrawal symptoms when removed. They burnt out. Something we can all relate to with differing degrees. I imagine being a soldier in the battlefield is a tad more stressful than being a Personal Trainer in Central London.
In an effort to find a better way, Dr Lazarev began to develop plant-based alternatives and so the term ‘Adaptogens’ was coined deriving from the Greek word “adapto” meaning “to adjust”.
Stress & Adaptation
In order to understand what Adaptogens and why we think many of you could benefit from them, we need to dig a little into stress and how it impacts our health both short- and long-term, for better and for worse.
Every time we train hard, work hard, think hard or try hard at anything/everything a stress response is initiated increasing our ability to cope with the demands at hand. Following this stressful encounter with the barbell, our colleagues, our work flows there is what’s known as ‘Allostasis’. This is a period in which our bodies adapt to the stressor in order to be better prepared for next time.
This begins a complex cascade of events that can eventually lead to various forms of neuropsychiatric/neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immunological disorders. If you’re interested in learning more about Chronic Stress and its impact on our health and quality of lives, we highly recommend ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’ by Dr Robert M. Sapolsky.
Stress is by no means an abnormal or unnatural phenomenon. As with many things it’s the dose and frequency that matters. In today’s world our lives are filled with stressors which create ‘Allostatic Overload’. Our bodies ability to adapt simply can’t keep up with the amount of stress it’s being exposed to.
Stress management (not avoidance) is a key aspect of our having a healthy, active, happy and productive lifestyle. This is because stress is an incredibly important aspect in how we grow and adapt too.
We normally have three options when thinking about stress management.
- Turn down the stressor
- Remove the stressor
- Increase our resiliency
This is where Adaptogens come in. Many of the people we work, busy executives and business owners don’t often get the luxury of being able to turn down or remove the stressor. They need to be better resourced in how to manage and deal with their daily pressures.
Adaptogens is an umbrella term for various plant derived compounds which mitigate or reduce the impact of non-specific stress by both dampening the effects of said stressors and improving our body’s ability to tolerate stress.
This can mean increased work-capacity and mental focus, improved immune function and even improved mood and outlook. Where Adaptogens can also be differentiated from other interventions is the fact they work not by elevating or inhibiting bodily functions above basal levels but normalizing them thus a lack of less than desirable side effects.
Although the use of adaptogens is useful on an ongoing basis, they are particularly beneficial after the crossing of various time zones, during periods of reduced sleep quantity/quality, when surrounded by contagious illnesses at the office or even simply during times of the year where workloads are particularly high.
The umbrella term Adaptogens can be separated that bit further by dividing them into their sub-classifications based on their active ingredients a) Phenolic compounds, b) Tetracyclic Triterpenes and c) Oxylipins with all exerting slightly different effects through different mechanisms.
Now that we’ve set the scene, Part 2 of Stress Response & Adaptogens will be discussing a number of Adaptogens we feel have a robust and consistent base of supporting evidence, namely Ashwagandha, Ginseng & Rhodiola Rosea . We will discuss which ones are most appropriate for what situation, how to use and how much of it should you be looking for in each dose.
Food for thought? If this has encouraged you to think about your health, fitness & wellbeing, why not click this link and fill out our enquiry form. We’d love to see how we can help you on your journey.
Disclosure: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are currently experiencing physical or mental health issues, please seek professional advice from a fully qualified Nutritionist, GP or Physiotherapist.