Depression and anxiety are some of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Anxiety afflict about 40 million adults annually. And depression? About 16.1 million U.S. adults struggle with it. It’s also been reported as one of the main causes of disabilities across the nation. And while medications are available, many people prefer to not take them due to a number of unpleasant side effects.
But there may just be another way. Enter adaptogens, the latest trend to hit our health-crazed nation.
From being touted on questionable websites like GOOP to being the subject of some serious scientific research, adaptogens have been taking over the web and wellness worlds. And there’s a good reason why.
Why are they so popular?
Adaptogens are herbs and non-toxic plans that help balance the hormones within the body to stabilize your internal processes. Long-time staples of Eastern medicine, these plants have a unique ability to help the body (and adrenal glands) deal with and beat stress in healthy ways.
There are different types of adaptogenic plants, each with their own range of benefits for the body. And while there isn’t a whole lot of research that deals specifically with the efficacy of adaptogens, many proponents won’t go through their day without taking their adaptogens. These herbs are sometimes considered “smart” pills, much like nootropics. In fact, some adaptogens are also natural types of nootropic supplements that help optimize your brainpower.
Adaptogens can come in a variety of forms. Powdered types are often added to sports and nutritional shakes to amplify the body’s ability to power through workouts or give them a happy boost in the day.
Do adaptogens actually work?
Adaptogens are particularly good at combating stress. Stress takes a dangerous toll on the body and can increase the risk of a number of health problems, including poor wound healing, depression, heart disease, ulcers, weight gain, colds and muscle pain.
And despite the negative effects of stress on the body, our anxiety continues to rise. Last year alone, about 87% of Millennials reported feeling occasional or frequent stress. Adaptogens act as thermostats in the body to address what your body needs, when it needs it.
There have been a number of studies conducted on both humans and animals to see how adaptogens work, and if they’re actually beneficial for as a stress or anxiety eliminator. (If you’re looking to dig really deep, you can find many of those studies here.)
Other research has tested adaptogenic performance on athletes and sports performance. While many of these studies have seen great and promising results, further study into the efficacy of adaptogens is still needed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try them out for yourself to see how they might improve your stress responses or fatigue.
Are adaptogens safe?
While adaptogens are derived from non-toxic plants and are generally considered safe, the long-term effects are still relatively unknown. You might be able to add some adaptogens (in the recommended doses) to your daily routine without experiencing any negative side effects; still, it’s important to check with your doctor before adding any kind of supplements to your diet. Some supplements may interact poorly with any medication you’re taking, or exacerbate any existing health issues.
Popular adaptogens and mixes
Adaptogens and adaptogen cocktails are all the rage. Wellness companies around the world are creating coffee mixes, tea blends, powders and liquid elixirs that deliver the benefits of key adaptogens. We’ve broken out some of the most common ones here.
- Asian Ginseng has been touted as a memory-booster and stress-buster that creates a sense of calm. A study on rats showed that it improved a number of stress-related processes in the body, and suggested it might be useful for “stress-induced disorders.”
- Ashwagandha is often used to help beat chronic stress and stress-related symptoms such as adrenal weight gain and high cortisol levels. It’s also shown some promise for memory, brain health, and reducing inflammation and arthritis. Some studies have also shown benefits for beating anxiety.
- Rhodiola is one of the most studied adaptogens of all. And it’s shown some great results. One study found that rhodiola was able to combat stress-related fatigue, and improve things like mental performance, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and low energy. It’s also been documented as beneficial for endurance during workouts and sports.
- Reishi, a type of mushroom, is often taken to improve the immune system and combat the visible signs of aging in the skin.
Adaptogens are definitely on the nation’s health and wellness radar now. But with the promising research already available, this is one trend that has staying power. And if current studies are any indication, we might all be healthier—and less stressed—because of it.