All About Adaptogens

Articles
| Spring
2023 |
Volume 2,
Issue 1

All About Adaptogens

Used for centuries in traditional and ancient healing practices, adaptogenic plants are suddenly big news. What are these substances and how are they thought to help our health, stress, and longevity? Read on for our round-up of the most popular adaptogens, what we currently know about them, and where to find them in some of your favorite nonalcoholic beverages.

This information is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice.

The term “adaptogens” is floating around everywhere these days—from skincare products to health supplements and, most notably, in the many nonalcoholic beverages currently on shelves nationwide. 

Adaptogens are a group of botanicals, including herbs, bark, roots, and fungi, that relieve both mental and physical stress and support the balance and homeostasis of our body’s functions and systems.

Adaptogens first emerged as a class of scientifically-studied chemical substances in the former Soviet Union in the 1940s, led by the research of Soviet scientist Dr. Nikolai Vasiliyevich Lazarev. Other pharmacologists and scientists built on Lazarev’s research over the decades. 

To be classified as an adaptogen, a plant or compound must meet the following criteria:

• It must be non-toxic at normal doses

• It must have a general beneficial impact on the body as a whole

• It must help counteract the body’s response to emotional and environmental stress

A close cousin to adaptogens, nootropics more specifically influence brain functions including focus, mood, and anxiety. (See our article on these compounds coming in our Summer 2023 issue.) 

Theories as to how adaptogens actually work tend to focus on these substances’ impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain, which is where our stress responses come from, as well as the compounds’ ability to act as antioxidants in individual cells or cellular functions. 

The following is a high-level look at some of the most common adaptogens and some of our favorite NA Beverages that include adaptogens.

 

ASHWAGANDA

Withania somnifera

The root of the ashwaganda shrub has a bitter taste and is generally thought to have a calming effect, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote sleep. It has been used to treat anemia and increase libido. While it is sometimes called Indian ginseng, it has no relation to the ginseng plant. 

A few AF Bevs containing Ashgawanda
(click for info)

ASTRAGALUS

Astragalus propinquus

Traditionally used to treat a multitude of ailments including wounds, fever, allergies and fatigue, today astragalus is used to treat respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, as well as strengthen the general immune response. Compounds called astragalosides in the root of the astragalus plant have anti-bacterial properties and are thought to fight fatigue, help prevent colds and flus, and improve white blood cell count.

CHAGA MUSHROOM 

Inonotus obliquus

Chaga mushrooms absorb nutrients from the bark of the birch trees on which they grow. Found exclusively in cold climates across Northern Europe, Asia, Russia, and Alaska, they have a long history as a traditional treatment in the cultures where they are found. Today they are being researched for their cancer-stopping properties, as well as their positive effect on the immune system and on blood sugar levels.

A few AF Bevs containing Chaga Mushrooms
(click for info)

CORDYCEPS

Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a fungus that grows high in the Himalayas. With its bright orange color, in the wild Cordyceps looks like fingers poking out of the ground. Cordyceps is thought to possess immune-boosting and liver-supporting properties, as well as potentially regulate blood sugar, and possibly ease asthmatic response.

A few AF Bevs containing Cordyceps
(click for info)

ELEUTHERO 

Eleutherococcus senticosus

Also known as Devil’s Bush or Siberian ginseng (no relation to American and Asian ginseng), this root from a shrub native to Northeastern Asia is used to reduce the severity of upper respiratory infections, and to support kidney function. Eleuthero helps regulate the immune system, and relieves stress and fatigue.

GINSENG, American and Asian

Panax quinquefolius and Panax ginseng

These botanical cousins both contain ginsenosides (in different proportions) which can help fight cancer, boost the immune system, and reduce stress. They are considered “prototypic adaptogens,” meaning they are used broadly to support immune function and prevent infections. Preliminary studies show ginseng can help manage a multitude of issues including diabetes, ADHD, colds and flu, and sexual dysfunction, and has anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.

A few AF Bevs containing Ginseng
(click for info)

HEMP

Cannabis sativa

While there is some debate as to whether hemp should be included in the list of adaptogens, it is becoming increasingly clear that it fits all three criteria for eligibility, and it is being more widely accepted as such. Hemp and its derivatives have been shown to decrease anxiety, improve sleep, enhance focus, and reduce inflammation. 

A few AF Bevs containing Hemp
(click for info)

HOLY BASIL / TULSI

Ocimum tenuiflorum

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is indigenous to India and tastes like a peppery version of the basil you already know and love. Some Yogis believe it assists in the achievement of enlightenment(!). It purportedly reduces mental fog, alleviates anxiety and depression, and generally reduces stress.

JIAOGULAN

Gynostemma pentaphyllum

Jiaogulan is another herb that strengthens immunity and specifically is known to regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function. There is evidence that jiaogulan might help manage cholesterol levels, as well as diabetes.

LICORICE ROOT

Glycyrrhiza glabra

Licorice is a medicinal herb found throughout much of Europe and Asia. The root of the licorice plant is used as a digestive aid, can assist in weight management, and can ease menopausal symptoms.

LION’S MANE MUSHROOM 

Hericium erinaceus

The cute, fluffy white puffballs known as lion’s mane mushrooms are one of the most common adaptogens in the mainstream market. Lion’s mane is known for its brain-boosting abilities, and studies have also shown that it might fight against cancer, aid digestion, support the circulatory system, and generally fight inflammation.

MACA

Lepidium meyenii

A member of the cabbage family, the maca root grows in the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia. There are three different varieties—yellow, red and black—each with slightly different properties. Overall, maca is thought to support sexual health, help with depression and general stress, lower blood pressure, and potentially ease symptoms of menopause.

A few AF Bevs containing Maca
(click for info)

REISHI MUSHROOM

Ganoderma lingzhi

Reishi mushroom, with its earthy, bitter taste, is one of the most powerful ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. Research shows that reishi may inhibit cancer growth, may help regulate blood sugar, and has immuno-boosting and antioxidant properties.

A few AF Bevs containing Reishi
(click for info)

RHODIOLA ROSEA

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola is one of the most widely used adaptogens. Also known as golden root, rhodiola is a low-growing, flowering plant that grows in colder climates across northern Europe, Asia, and North America. Containing more than 140 active ingredients, folklore states that rhodiola may have been used by Vikings to boost their strength on journeys and raids. Rhodiola’s two most powerful ingredients—rosavin and salidroside—have been shown to help manage stress and improve cognitive function, and may improve physical stamina as well.

A few AF Bevs containing Rhodiola
(click for info)

SCHISANDRA 

Schisandra chinensis

Schisandra is one of the fundamental herbs used in ancient Chinese medicine and was once thought to prolong life and protect overall health. This red berry, grown in cold climates across Asia, is traditionally known to promote mental function and concentration, a theory that has been confirmed by recent studies. There is evidence that it also protects liver function and increases physical stamina.1

TURMERIC

Curcuma

A common culinary ingredient in Indian and other cuisines, turmeric is a rhizome that resembles (and is related to) the ginger root, but with a bright orange color. A powerful antioxidant, turmeric may help symptoms of arthritis and joint pain, and is also thought to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The benefits of turmeric are made more powerful when paired with black pepper.

A few AF Bevs containing Turmeric
(click for info)

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