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What Are Adaptogens?

By Tyler Woodward

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogen may be a new word to you, but these potent plants have been used for thousands of years as a form of medicine treating everything from anxiety to snake bites.  

What Are Adaptogens?:

What Are Adaptogens

An adaptogen is defined as a, “A nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning”. 

To qualify as an adaptogen a substance must meet 3 essential criteria:

  1. Non-Specific - Able to assist the human body in a wide range of conditions whether physical, chemical or biological
  2. Must Maintain Homeostasis - Do not worsen effects caused by external stressors
  3. Do No Harm - Adaptogens must not harm the normal functions of the human body.

Basically, these are substances that help to lower our response to stress, often resulting in decreased circulating levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Adaptogens today are also becoming recognized for their cognitive boosting effects like those seen in lion’s mane mushrooms.

Some of the most common forms of adaptogens are:

  • Ginseng
  • Ashwagandha
  • Schisandra 
  • Rhodiola rosea 
  • Mucuna Pruriens
  • Lion’s Mane

Learn More: Everything You Need to Know About Mucuna

Types Of Adaptogens:

Types Of Adaptogens

Dr. Donald Yance categorized adaptogens into three categories:

  1. Primary Adaptogens - These are compounds that follow the agreed upon definition of adaptogens, helping the body to resist stress and to restore homeostasis. Primary adaptogens can also have positive stress effects, by proactively increasing the body’s ability to withstand stress. 
  2. Secondary Adaptogens - Secondary adaptogens are similar to primary adaptogens with the major difference being they do not act on the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary) axis, meaning they do not directly affect the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Although secondary adaptogens can still exert effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine system. 
  3. Adaptogen Companions - Adaptogen companions are compounds that do not fit all the requirements of an adaptogen, but can have beneficial effects on the HPA axis and on anabolism.

Read More: The Science Of Stress & How To Manage It

Adaptogens Effects & How They Work:

How Adaptogens Work

Today there is an ever increasing number of herbs identified as adaptogens and these herbs both individually and as a group can have a wide range of effects on the body. Here is a list of the some of the potential effects that have been attributed to adaptogenic herbs:

  • Supporting Adrenal Function 
  • Arthritis Relief 
  • Improved Sleep
  • May Help Fight Cancer Or Reduce Side Effects Of Treatment Drugs
  • May Help Reduce Depression And Anxiety

Due to these wide range of effects it should come at no surprise that many of these adaptogens are working through a variety of mechanisms through both the endocrine and nervous system. The most consistent mechanism found across adaptogenic herbs is their ability to lower cortisol levels throughout the body and brain. Other mechanisms include modulating immune response, increase testosterone production, acting as an antioxidant, increasing GABA secretion, the list goes on... 


Since adaptogens have so many beneficial effects on the body we use multiple types adaptogens in our own formulations here at UMZU.


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