What Are Adaptogens and Why Do You Need Them?

It’s not easy having all the answers – that’s why almost no one does.

As we all move through the world, absorbing as much new information every day as we can take, we collect more pieces of the puzzle until all of a sudden, we’ve got a whole section completed we weren’t able to see clearly before.

Most of the time, adults are tired. It’s so common, jokes about it are stitched through every tier of our civilization, from internet memes to comedy routines to office jokes and sitcom knee-slappers.

And for plenty of us, we just figured… that’s what happens when you’re not a kid anymore. The sort of boundless, youthful energy bestowed upon children is meant to be short-lived, and the majority of your life is meant to be spent buying coffee mugs with clever phrases amounting to “I can’t wake up without this.”

On top of that, the Western medicine currently in practice, and the science we learn in school, doesn’t focus very heavily on the way that our lifestyle choices affect certain organ systems meant to supply us with energy…

For example, the endocrine system’s production of hormones has a massive effect on energy reserves and use. 

Specifically the adrenal glands.

You may have heard people talk about “depleted adrenals” or “overtaxed adrenals”. 

Let’s get into exactly what that means…

What Do The Adrenal Glands Do?

Small, triangular shaped adrenal glands top each kidney. (If you don’t remember from school, kidneys are responsible for flushing waste and toxins out of the body.)

 Adrenal glands produce hormones. Those hormones serve to regulate:

  • Metabolism with cortisol (via the outer part the gland, the adrenal cortex)
  • the immune system by suppressing inflammatory reactions, with glucocorticoids and catecholamines (adrenal cortex)
  • blood pressure with aldosterone (adrenal cortex)
  • And response to stress with cortisol (adrenal cortex) 

Adrenal glands also produce epinephrine and norepinephrine in the inner part of the gland, the adrenal medulla – in other words, adrenaline. That’s the hormone that is most active, along with cortisol, in the fight or flight response of the nervous system.

What we really want to focus on is the adrenal cortex – the hormones produced here are necessary to live. The hormones produced in the adrenal medulla aren’t life-giving. 

We’re going to talk about hydrocortisone, produced by the adrenal cortex. It’s a type of glucocorticoid, and it’s responsible for regulating how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. 

When people talk about overtaxed adrenals or adrenal fatigue, here’s what they’re really saying:

I’m living in a constant state of paraysmpathetic overdrive. I’m not giving my body what it needs to relax, I’m always anxious, and my nervous system is asking my organ systems to run all the time along with it. 

Because of that, my adrenal glands can’t keep up with all of the cortisol and adrenaline it’s being asked to produce, and therefore it’s neglecting its energy conversion duties. 

I’m not just tired, I’m fatigued.

Symptoms can include tiredness, trouble sleeping, salt and sugar cravings, unexplained weight loss, low blood pressure, dizziness, skin discoloration, etc. 

And that’s where adaptogens come in. 

How Can Adaptogens Help?

An adaptogen is any all-natural, plant-based compound (herbs, roots, botanicals) to work to return the body to homeostasis, usually after periods of prolonged high stress.

Although adrenal fatigue isn’t a classified medical condition, adaptogens are its unofficial kryptonite. Because adrenal fatigue happens when you’re so overwhelmed by life’s challenges and so unprepared to face them because your lifestyle’s not in balance, people turn to adaptogens.

Let’s look at a few…

  • Maca
    • Maca is a root vegetable from the Andes. Ancient Peruvian warriors considered it a superfood. It’s been shown to nourish and support hormone production in the adrenal glands, as well as the female reproductive system, sex hormones and libido, and liver detoxification. 
  • Ashwagandha
    • This herb was very important in ancient Ayurvedic Indian medicine. It can reduce cortisol levels, manage stress and anxiety, assist with male fertility, and reduce inflammation. It is said to soothe exhausted adrenals as well. 
  • Rhodiola rosea
    • This plant is native to Eastern European regions as well as Asian countries. It has long been believed to positively stimulate nervous system activities, enhance work performance, crush fatigue, and remain resistant to environmental and biological stressors. 
  • And ginseng
    • Ginseng is probably the most well-known adaptogen. Along with improving cognitive function, it also increases energy, calms inflammation, helps with male sex organ function, and lowers blood sugar. 

Lovers of nature believe that the world is already populated with everything we need to survive and thrive.

For most people, we just don’t know where to look!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.