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Adaptogens 101 – What Are They, And How Do They Work?

Adaptogens are having a moment. While they have been used effectively for centuries in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese healing traditions, today they’re getting lots of attention for their benefits in helping with stress.

Stress has been a part of the human experience since our hunter-gatherer ancestors struggled daily for survival. Today, jam-packed schedules, fast paced lifestyles and the constant bombardment of information from online media leaves many of us feeling like we’re struggling too.

So, what happens in our bodies when we are stressed, and how does it impact our health? One theory known as “general adaptation syndrome”, looks at the physiological factors of stress and breaks it down into 3 stages:

Stage 1: alarm reaction - The immediate reaction to a stressor that often evokes a "fight or flight" response, which triggers the physical mechanisms of stress.

Stage 2: stage of resistance - This is the stage where the body “adapts” to the stressor and physiological changes take place to reduce its impact.

Stage 3: stage of exhaustion - After stress has gone on for some time the body's resistance reduces or collapses, and immunity and general resistance to disease is depleted.

A healthy stress response is essential for humans. It is naturally activated by stressors ranging from mild (lifting weights), to extreme (being chased by a predator) and is designed to help us cope with them (i.e. the resistance phase). After repeated episodes, extreme, or long-term stress, the body hits the stage of exhaustion where we become depleted, and fatigue, anxiety, and an inability to cope with normal stressors can set in.

In short, stress can knock the body out of balance, to the point where it needs recalibration and to replenish.

This is where adaptogens can help.

Adaptogens are a special group of therapeutic plants that can help the body adapt to stress and exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes. They work to return the body to “homeostasis” where systems (immune, endocrine (hormonal), circulatory, reproductive, digestive, nervous) are balanced and functioning optimally. In other words, they function to keep the body healthy and are backed by both centuries of traditional use and modern research.

Studies have examined the “how” of adaptogens and found that they are characterized by a “non-specific activity”, that increases the body’s general resistance to perceived threats, by adapting their function to what the body needs. In scientific terms, the “beneficial stress-protective effect of adaptogens is related to regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [endocrine organs] axis and the control of key mediators of stress response”.

When and What to Take

From managing anxiety to fortifying immunity, there are different adaptogens that suit different needs. Single adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha, or Rhodiola may be effective for some, but synergistic, targeted formulas tend to address a spectrum of factors to protect our health.

Strest tincture by St Francis Herb Farm

Soothing Stress

Stress levels, fatigue and anxiety frequently lead people to seek out adaptogens. The  contains 6 of the most revered adaptogenic herbs:

Holy basil, also known as Tulsi is central to the Strest formula, reducing anxiety and improving mental focus.

Rhodiola boosts brain function and memory, balances mood and has significant anti-fatigue effects.

Ashwagandha is a tonic herb, improving overall health and mental function.

Eleuthero improves mental and physical performance under stressful conditions.

Milky Oat Seed has long been used to aid fatigue from overwork, anxiety and worry.

Schisandra is a premier adaptogen in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its abilities to push back against mental and physical fatigue and normalize the stress response.

Take 3 ml (90 drops) of Strest to help manage and prevent symptoms of stress 2 times daily in a little water on an empty stomach (not right before bedtime).

Preventative Care for immunity

Adaptogens are also effective preventative aids in their abilities to support immunity, which is why nearly all the herbs in Deep Immune are adaptogens.

Adaptogens that double as immune herbs don’t necessarily stimulate immune function, but rather act to correct underlying mechanisms that help with its function. These herbs can be found in the Deep Immune formula:

Astragalus and Codonopsis are the base herbs in the original Deep Immune formula and gentle in their effectiveness (and suitable for children – as the sole two herbs in the Deep Immune Kids formula).

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years to strengthen the body's vitality and fortify the immune system.

Licorice is considered “the great harmonizer” in traditional Chinese medicine, amplifying the healing qualities of all the ingredients.

Eleuthero has been traditionally used to increase stamina, as a tonic, and to boost overall health.

Ligustrum supports the immune system and helps guard against infections.

Reishi lowers the effects of stress and modulates immune system response.

Schisandra promotes endurance, lowers stress, and boosts the immune system.

Deep Immune (and Deep Immune Kids) can become a simple part of your daily routine, as a reliable defense against illness. Adults take 2.5-3 ml (75-90 drops) 2 times daily in a little water on an empty stomach. For children, consult the label on dosage according to age.

A Word on Format

How you take your adaptogens is something else to consider. While you’ll see adaptogen-infused beverages and herbal teas, tinctures offer high absorption, dependable potency, customized dosages and versatility in how you take them. If tinctures aren’t for you, both Strest and Deep Immune are available in convenient veggie caps.