Stress is a physiological condition associated with disorders of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Uncovering natural remedies to combat stress continues to be a significant area of scientific research. In traditional Chinese Medicine known as Ayurveda, consumption of adaptogenic herbs is common practice to improve the body’s ability to adjust to exposures such as extreme temperatures, loud noise, strenuous physical exertion, chemical pollutants, and to help maintain cognitive function, blood glucose, lipid levels and blood pressure. Adaptogens are naturally occurring plant compounds or extracts known to exhibit protection against stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. According to Selye’s theory (Selye, 1950) the stress response and general adaptation syndrome includes three phases: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Recent pharmacological studies of individual adaptogens provide rationale to their effects at the molecular level, indicating several mechanisms of action that help the body maintain equilibrium. However, adaptogens supposedly act non-specifically, and may activate certain energy-producing chemical receptors and deactivate others to prevent overreaction to stress messengers. Combinations of adaptogenic plants may offer unique effects due to their synergistic interactions in organisms which are not achieved by isolated extracts or supplements of individual adaptogens.
The chemical compounds known as adaptogens are typically phenolics or triterpenoids. Phenolics are structurally similar to catecholamines, which activate the stress system in the early stages of stress response. Triterpenoids resemble the corticosteroids that act as stress hormones in deactivation of the stress system. Adaptogens often are included alone or in combinations in bottled beverages, herbal teas, smoothies, plant-based protein powders, and supplements. The following are adaptogens that have demonstrated beneficial health effects:
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