Nutrition Meets Food Science


You might have heard about Adaptogens from doctors, or maybe you’ve seen supplements at your health and food store that feature adaptogens as an ingredient. That must have left a question mark in your mind as to what are these and whether will they help you for better health.

Body’s response to Stress:

Everyone experiences stress whether it is short-term or long-term. For a child, it can be related to studies or any sport he/she is a part of, for teenagers and adults it can be related to work, finances, socializing, deadlines, family-related, or just everyday hustle. Despite the cause, stress can overall hinder your mental and physical health. Stress causes your body to generate hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine with the help of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is central to the body’s homeostasis, stress responses, and energy metabolism. These hormones can influence your blood pressure and heart rate, which could cause health issues like Hypertension, anxiety, depression, and several heart conditions or general fatigue. Your mood and behaviour can be negatively impacted by stress, which can lead to irritation, anxiety, and even despair. Chronic stress can have negative effects on one’s physical and mental well-being. Fortunately, there are natural remedies known as adaptogens that may help your body cope with stress and improve overall health. You may be able to overcome both physical and emotional challenges with the aid of these herbal medicines.

What are Adaptogens?

Soviet toxicologist Nikolai Lazarev first used the term “adaptogens” in 1947 to refer to substances that might improve stress tolerance. Adaptogens are plants that assist our bodies in managing stress, balancing hormones after a stressful event, and maintaining homeostasis within the body. These substances include herbs, roots, and other plant products (such as mushrooms).

When we consume them, they affect the HPA axis and other stress response pathways to regulate the release of stress hormones and lower inflammation.

Plants need to hold three characteristics in order to act as adaptogens:

  1. When consumed in normal dosages, it should not be toxic to health.
  2. It should aid your body in overcoming stress.
  3. It should enable your body to achieve homeostasis.

As a result, in both animals and people, adaptogens have been shown to have stimulating and anti-fatigue effects. They do so by increasing the phase of resistance, and by raising the state of non-specific resistance to stress, and they tend to reduce the sensitivity to stressors; all these actions work towards stress protection.

Let’s see what are the different types of Adaptogens which are commonly seen:

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera):

Primarily, it is helpful in regulating the body’s stress response and promoting calmness and relaxation, thus helping people manage stress and anxiety. The roots have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective qualities. It helps you keep calm, by reducing how your brain reacts to stress, which has a good impact on the endocrine, neurological, immunological, and cardiovascular systems. It was also shown to exhibit an Anti-ulcerogenic effect i.e. prevention of stress-induced ulcers in the GI tract.

Tulsi/Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum):

Tulsi is recognized as an “elixir of life” that is without comparison for both its therapeutic and spiritual values in Ayurveda and is known as “The Incomparable One,” “Mother Medicine of Nature,” and “The Queen of Herbs.”
Researchers have proven that regular consumption of tulsi is thought to help people cope with daily stress, avoid disease, improve immunity, and increase overall health, and longevity by its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus):

It is an adaptogen that has supported vigour and longevity in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It can boost the immune system, reduce stress, and improve physical and mental performance. According to preliminary studies, an IV injection of Siberian ginseng may help lower several risk factors for heart disease, such as excessive cholesterol and an irregular heart rhythm. More evidence is needed to mark its usage in other conditions like mental distress, bone-related diseases, stroke, pneumonia, TB, etc.

Rose root (Rhodiola Rosea):

Rhodiola has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy to treat a number of diseases. Since ancient times, this adaptogen has been used to minimize stress and improve both physical and mental performance. It can improve mood, alleviate fatigue, and boost energy. It may also increase the activity of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, according to research, and as we all know a healthy neuronal and emotional system depends on the balance of these neurotransmitters.

How to incorporate them in daily life?

  • Brewing tea: As Indians, we are fond of tea. So, what better way to utilize these herbs than brewing tea? There are tea versions of Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, and Holy Basil which can be easily prepared.
  • Adding adaptogens to food or beverages: The granules can be added directly to your food or beverage items. The powdered forms are especially easy to use as they can be added to juices, smoothies, any baked products, etc.
  • Supplements: You may get adaptogenic vitamins as capsules or tinctures which are a liquid form of plant extract. Incorporating supplements as part of your self-care routine can be a successful strategy to enhance your general health and well-being.

Possible side effects:

As every coin has two sides, even these adaptogens have potential side effects when the quantity and frequency of it is not maintained. It is essential to start with a modest dose and gradually increase it as tolerated. Consequences like nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, headaches, and insomnia, are common. If you experience any side effects, talk to your doctor and stop taking the adaptogen.

Adaptogens are effective as a temporary bandage but cannot eliminate chronic stress. However, effective use of this can help reduce stress and its outcomes.

It’s crucial to remember that adaptogens are only one piece of the puzzle; for stress management and better well-being, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and appropriate sleep are all other necessary pieces of the puzzle.


Ms. Simran Vichare

Nutritionist, PFNDAI

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