Adaptogens: What Can They Do For You? | Part 2
Approximately 5 Minutes Reading Time
Brief Article Overview
- Prolonged periods of high amounts of physical and/or psychological stress can be damaging to your health on a cellular level.
- Optimising recovery can help mitigate this “oxidative stress’ and help keep the immune system functioning properly (which is even more important at this moment in time).
- Multiple Adaptogens, including Ashwagandha and Rhodiola Rosea, have shown favourable effects on dampening the bodies stress response.
- We suggest taking an Adaptogen complex with a green breakfast smoothie for optimal consumption.
There may be only a few things that I and Gywneth Paltrow have in common when it comes to health and fitness, and that is…Adaptogens are beneficial for you. In Part 1 we introduced you to the basic concepts of Stress, Adaptation, Allostatic Overload & Health. And with all that’s going on right now, talk about a stressful time! But we’re believers in looking at stress as an opportunity to adapt.
We know adaptogens exert a ton of beneficial effects, mainly by blunting the stress response. In this article, we will tell you a little bit about some of the well-known adaptogens, recommended dosages, where to source them and the experts to read up on.
Exercise, Stress and Immune Function
We’re going to have to simplify this as this is a subject on which hundreds of textbooks are written (Cracking the Metabolic Code is a good start if you’re interested). So, here goes… When our cells spend prolonged periods under oxidative stress, without adequate recovery, they can get damaged and their function becomes compromised. At the same time, old cells are constantly dying and new ones to be made, which is normal if homeostasis is maintained. However, if too much-prolonged stress knocks this homeostasis off-balance, things can go astray. Both cellular damage and an increase in ‘cellular debris’ (more cells dying than can be removed) cause a “backlog” effect in the system, which affects a bunch of different processes, including immune function.
Normally, a temporary dip in immunity is a fair trade-off for the accompanying stress adaptation. But at this moment in time, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we would probably want to optimise immune function as much as possible. So ensuring we are recovering well and dampening the stress response is super important. Having a strong antioxidant profile is of particular advantage right now, seeing as antioxidants are ones who clean up this mess and reduce the damage!
What Exactly Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are plant extracts, usually derived from herbs, flowers, roots and fungi, which can help the body in dealing with stress. There are many plants with adaptogenic properties, but the most common types of Adaptogen include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Ginseng, Reishi and Cordyceps.
Adaptogens have shown fairly positive results across multiple scientific studies, on measurements of stress and stress-related outcomes such as sleep, energy, recovery, fatigue and immune function. Let’s outline some of these findings.
Stress / Anxiety
One of the most consistent and reliably reported benefits of Ashwagandha, for example, is its anti-anxiety effects. Several studies demonstrate a lowered stress response, indicated by a drop in physiological measurements such as cortisol levels, blood pressure & heart rate. These are further supported by qualitative questionnaires, to take into account an individual’s state of mind, which has even indicated an improvement in the quality of life!
Research done in both endurance and resistance training contexts show Ashwagandha supplementation decreased stress response (i.e. cortisol), yet increased testosterone levels!
Similarly, Rhodiola Rosea seems to reliably reduce and mitigate the effects of sustained physical and mental exhaustion, which would justify its application in helping with the ‘burnout’ effect, seen after long periods of consistent stress (including prolonged lower intensity endurance exercise). Hence contributing to improved feelings of ‘well-being’.
Looking at how Adaptogens interact with our neuroendocrine systems and blunt overall perception of stress but also physiological measures, our money is on them being more interconnected. This notion is rounded nicely by many studies finding improvements in subjective well-being and reduced symptoms of depression.
There’s also good evidence to show certain Adaptogens can be useful as a sleep aid, indicating a favourable impact on insomnia, sleep deprivation and quality. This is something we could all do with these troubling times as we struggle to embed our new routines and normal sleeping patterns are disturbed.
It’s difficult to say whether or not these benefits are occurring independently or as a result of mechanisms which connect them. Many of these effects are thought to derive from its very strong protective effects on our stress response.
Interestingly, in a couple of studies, Adaptogen (mainly Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha) supplementation has been shown to elicit really encouraging improvements in exercise performance (usually aerobic based events such as cycling), showing increases in power output, cardiovascular efficiency, muscular endurance capacity and decreases in perceived exertion and exercise induced muscle damage.
Fatigue / Energy Levels
Rhodiola Rosea has been repeatedly studied on stressed, office-based workers as an anti-fatigue agent, which makes it quite applicable to a big portion of our client base! A noticeable reduction in fatigue is consistently noted when it is administered with research also showing reductions in perceived stress levels. This is furthered by small improvements in mood, anxiety and outlook.
This reduction in our stress response coupled with improvements in our energy and fitness leads to a consistent reduction in general fatigue and lethargy. There is really good mechanistic, observational and qualitative research showing promise here.
Often many claims are made about particular interventions and improving immune function. What must be recognised is that our immune system is made up of many more systems that work together. In order for any supplement or single intervention to be able to claim any material immunity benefits, we really feel that the intervention should be able to positively affect more than one single element.
Ashwagandha has not only shown positive effects on our white blood cells, but also on T cell count, Natural Killer Cell and Anti-Oxidant profile showing it has a multifactorial effect on multiple aspects of our immune function.
Rhodiola Rosea seems to reduce inflammatory markers like C-Reactive Protein and Interleukin 8, representing a lessened demand on our immune system. It also increases our anti-oxidant profile, thereby increasing our available resources helping maintain our cells in healthy order.
It’s recommended that these adaptogens are consumed with food, notably breakfast if possible. Adaptogens are also something to be consumed for intermittent periods throughout the day. Therefore, you may as well find a way to integrate it into your breakfast.
There are many other adaptogens that we haven’t specifically spoken about but are equally supported. Between them are a whole host of benefits to be had. The research group leading the way is the Swedish Herbal Institute where the R & D is being led by Dr Panoissan, who’s been brought over to London by Nutritionist, Matt Lovell. It seemed logical to get our supplements straight from the horse’s mouth. Aminoman, Matt Lovells supplement range, sells the highly recommended Adaptacat Adaptogenic Herb Powder.
Usually, I’d just chuck a 5g scoop into my gob and swish it around with some water! Since the recent pandemic, however, I’ve increased my number of doses throughout the day and mixed it with a load of other nutritious things in my morning (and lunch) green smoothie, check it out:
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.
- ADAPTOGENS. A Review of their History Biological Activity and Clinical Benefits. A. Panossian and H. Wagner (2011).
Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. (2017) Panossian, A.D., Ann N Y Acad Sci.
Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant. (2016). Amsterdam, J.D. & Panossian, A.D., Phytomedicine 23, 770–783
- Effects of heavy physical exercise and adaptogens on nitric oxide content in human saliva
(1999) A. G. Panossiari, A. S. Oganessiari, M. Ambartsumiari, E. S. Gabrieliau , H. Wagner and G. Wikman. Phytomedicine 6(1), 17-26.
- Molecular Chaperones as Mediators of Stress Protective Effect of Plant Adaptogens (2010). Swedish Herbal Institute Research and Development. A. Panossian, G. Wikman, P. Kaur and A Asea.
- Efficacy of Adaptogenic Supplements on Adapting to Stress: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (2015). A. Hovhannisyan1, M. Nylander, G. Wikman and A. Panossian. J Athl Enhancement. 4:4
- A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. (2012). Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. Indian J Psychol Med. 34(3):255-62.
- A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. (2008) Auddy, Biswajit & Hazra, Jayram & Mitra, Achintya & Abedon, Bruce & Ghosal, Shibnath. Journal of American Nutraceutical Association. 11. 50-56.
- Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. (2010) Int J Ayurveda Res. Sandhu JS, Shah B, Shenoy S, Chauhan S, Lavekar GS, Padhi MM. 1(3):144-9.
- Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. (2013). Biswal, B.M., Sulaiman, S.A., Ismail, H.C., Zakaria, H. and Musa, K.I. Integrative cancer therapies, 12(4), pp.312–22.
- Naturopathic Care for Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial. (2009) Cooley, K., Szczurko, O., Perri, D., Mills, E.J., Bernhardt, B., Zhou, Q. and Seely, D.
- Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males (2010) Ahmad, M.K., Mahdi, A.A., Shukla, K.K., Islam, N., Rajender, S., Madhukar, D., Shankhwar, S.N. and Ahmad, S.Fertility and sterility, [online] 94(3), pp.989–96.
- Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers (2012) Raut, A.A., Rege, N.N., Tadvi, F.M., Solanki, P.V., Kene, K.R., Shirolkar, S.G., Pandey, S.N., Vaidya, R.A. and Vaidya, A.B. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, [online] 3(3), pp.111–4.
- In vivo effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on the activation of lymphocytes (2009) Mikolai, J., Erlandsen, A., Murison, A., Brown, K.A., Gregory, W.L., Raman-Caplan, P. and Zwickey, H.L.Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), [online] 15(4), pp.423–30.
- Evaluation of antioxidant potential of Rasayana drugs in healthy human volunteers (2014) Kuchewar, V.V., Borkar, M.A. and Nisargandha, M.A. Ayu, [online] 35(1), pp.46–9.
- The influence of adaptogens on ultraweak biophoton emission: a pilot-experiment (2009) Schutgens, F.W.G., Neogi, P., van Wijk, E.P.A., van Wijk, R., Wikman, G. and Wiegant, F.A.C.Phytotherapy research : PTR, [online] 23(8), pp.1103–8.
- Multicenter, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms. (2017) Kasper, S. and Dienel, A. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, [online] 13, pp.889–898.
- The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms (2015) Cropley, M., Banks, A.P. and Boyle, J.Phytotherapy research : PTR, [online] 29(12), pp.1934–9.
- Effects of chronic Rhodiola Rosea supplementation on sport performance and antioxidant capacity in trained male: preliminary results. (2010) Parisi, A., Tranchita, E., Duranti, G., Ciminelli, E., Quaranta, F., Ceci, R., Cerulli, C., Borrione, P. and Sabatini, S.The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, [online] 50(1), pp.57–63.
- Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. (2007) Darbinyan, V., Aslanyan, G., Amroyan, E., Gabrielyan, E., Malmström, C. and Panossian, A. Nordic journal of psychiatry, [online] 61(5), pp.343–8.
- Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. (2004)Abidov, M., Grachev, S., Seifulla, R.D. and Ziegenfuss, T.N. Bulletin of experimental biology and medicine, [online] 138(1), pp.63–4.
- Evaluation of Rhodiola rosea supplementation on skeletal muscle damage and inflammation in runners following a competitive marathon. (2014). Shanely, R.A., Nieman, D.C., Zwetsloot, K.A., Knab, A.M., Imagita, H., Luo, B., Davis, B. and Zubeldia, J.M. Brain, behavior, and immunity, [online] 39, pp.204–10.