Stress and Adaptogens
In today’s society, one of the most difficult things we face is stress. Stress encompasses many aspects of everyday life, such as stresses with family, finances, work or personal life. Stress can present itself in many different forms and intensities. I think it’s important to understand that we can never get rid of stress and avoid it all together. Stress is vital to the evolution of our species and with it we wouldn’t thrive. Stress builds us into more resilient and robust beings.
However, it’s important to understand the relationships of how we manage our stress levels throughout our lives and it’s lasting impact on our health, performance and longevity. Adaptogens come into play here. An adaptogen is a naturally derived ingredient from Mother Nature that helps the body adapt to stress whether it be up-regulating or down-regulating cortisol levels depending on the individual’s state of health.
Let’s now dive into the four pillars of adaptogens. These four pillars are the most common and well-researched adaptogens that have been used for thousands of years. Our first pillar is Holy Basil. Otherwise known as Tulsi. Holy Basil is a stronger version of basil and known for its rich history in Eastern Ayurvedic medicine. In a 2004 study, holy basil decreased cortisol thanks in part to the plants’ abundant anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are what gives the purple color to the plant.
This potent anti-oxidant exhibits powerful DNA protection. To put this into perspective, when you ingest holy basil you take on those anti-oxidant defense mechanisms that reside in the plant. The whole idea of ingesting these plant compounds creates this hermetic effect that stresses your body. Think of the stress as complimentary. This hermetic effect boosts our very own anti-oxidant defense mechanisms.
Another interesting study, done in 2013, found that holy basil has the capacity to extend lifespan in roundworms (C. elegans). Keeping in mind this doesn’t necessarily translate to humans. However, our genome shares similarities with worms. This definitely turns up the curiosity meter just a bit!
This next adaptogen is another famous one I’m sure many of you have heard of or even tried before. It’s called Ginseng. The three types are American, Asian and Siberian ginseng. American ginseng is known as the “cooling and peaceful” type where as Asian ginseng is known as the “hot and energy boosting” version. Lastly, there is Siberian ginseng, in it’s true form, is not a type of ginseng. However, it does contain similar adaptogenic and immune boosting qualities like American and Asian ginseng.
Some of the qualities that American ginseng possess is the ability to improve working memory and mood in young and middle age adults. This is why you tend to see American Ginseng in a lot of nootropic supplement blends to boost cognitive performance. Another feature of American Ginseng is its anti-diabetic characteristics. Interesting enough in this one animal study, an extract of American ginseng root lead to weight loss and lower blood glucose levels in mice experiencing type-2 diabetes.
This next one is among my favorite adaptogens. It goes by the name Rhodiola rosea and is native to the Scandinavian regions of Russia. This adaptogen is most famous for boosting strength and endurance levels by reducing fatigue. It is a classic ingredient in many of the nootropics and sport supplements on the market today. What really makes Rhodiola stand out is its capacity to increase serotonin levels and reduce corticosteroids. So you could say that Rhiodiola has few neuro-protective properties. Some research suggests Rhodiola can significantly decrease lactate production. This could definitely help any athlete of any sport trying to gain an edge from the competition.
An interesting study that can apply to any night shift workers was conducted in the Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology back in 2000. This study examined the effects of taking Rhodiola on healthy physicians working the night shift to see what their mental performance and states of fatigue levels would be. This study looked at overall levels of mental fatigue like cerebral functions. So think of things like short-term memory, associated thinking, concentration, and audio- visual perception. This study consisted of a placebo group and another group taking the Rhodiola once a day.
What the study found was that the group taking Rhodiola displayed reduced fatigue symptoms under certain stressful situations compared to the placebo group. This study suggests that potentially taking Rhodiola if you work the night shift could lead to less decision fatigue and overall less of a decline in mental performance. I would definitely qualify this as a nice little bio-hack!
Our last pillar in the world of adaptogens is called Ashwagandha. This adaptogen is native to the dry regions of India, Northern Africa and the Middle East. I didn’t realize this or think it was possible, but did you know that certain parts of the United States where the climate is mild can grow this plant? So be on the lookout! One last thing to touch on before I dive into some nitty gritty details is about what part of the plant is used. Typically, most supplement formulators use the root and berries of Ashwagandha for it’s herbal components.
Let’s wrap this up with a few interesting studies displaying the power of this fascinating adaptogen especially in regards to strength training. This first study looked at the effects of men and women taking an increased dosage of ashwagandha over a 60-day period. The study looked at the leg, grip and lower back strength in folks taking ashwagandha. During this study these participants didn’t do any exercise. What they found was super fascinating! The group taking the ashwagandha had increased their quadricep strength just under eight pounds and their lower back strength by four pounds. So in other words, participants made muscle gains without even stepping foot in the gym.
Part of this is because ashwagandha has the ability to boost testosterone levels. This last study had men take 5 grams of ashwagandha over a 90-day period. After the three-month supplementation protocol, the men had increased their testosterone levels by 40%! So for anyone wanting to up their level in the gym or enhance athletic performance, I think stacking ashwagandha with creatine can do wonders for your short and long performance.
I hope what I have shared with you inspires you to dive more into the fascinating world of adaptogens and gives you a newfound perspective and appreciation as to just how beneficial adaptogens can be for us in this fast paced lifestyle.