Life isn’t always a cakewalk, as most of us well know, and being bombarded by stressors is very much a part of modern-day life. We’ve pondered on some of the factors contributing to stress and anxiety here and whether we hate stress or just high levels of it

All living beings are in a state of delicate equilibrium or homeostasis, and when the body is subjected to attack by any stressor, the body responds by adapting both physiologically and behaviourally in order to retain the equilibrium(1)

Stress, to a certain extent, can be beneficial to us but not for a prolonged period(1), the reasons behind which we’ve gone into further detail here. Stress can be a risk factor for several chronic diseases and it can also affect the immune system negatively, if it persists for a long time(2).

So how do adaptogens play into all this, and can they give us a better shot at stress reduction and improved immunity levels?

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are substances from herbal sources that, when consumed, increase our resistance to an array of harmful stressors(3). The term ‘adaptogen’ was first coined in 1940 by the scientist N. Lazarev(4). Adaptogens modify an organism’s response to stress and increase the organism’s resistance to a broad spectrum of stressors, therefore helping to promote adaptation and survival, and having a protective influence during the period of stress.

Though adaptogens have been around for centuries, it is only in recent years that they have become subject to a lot of interest. This is mostly because they are from plant sources, inexpensive and show the potential to have a positive effect on stress management for healthy people, as well as those who are dealing with diseases(1)

What are the properties of adaptogens?

Adaptogens are thought to be metabolic regulators and help maintain homeostasis in humans. They should be non-specific and help the body to adapt to environmental factors, and should help resist a wide spectrum of unfavourable conditions which may be caused by physical, chemical or biological stressors. 

Adaptogens must help the body against external stress, but should not in any way affect the normal functions of human body(3)(4) or have any side effects when consumed. 

Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have actually used plants which can be called adaptogens for several centuries to boost physical and mental health, boost immune system and increase lifespan(3).

Adaptogens grouped under the pharmacotherapeutic umbrella can also be used along with standard treatment as an adjuvant (or immunological agent) to boost immune system(9)

What are some common herbal adaptogens?

Adaptogens are biologically-active substances from herbs which have a therapeutically beneficial effect on the body, including the immune system(5)

Astragalus (Fabaceae) has been being used in traditional Chinese medicine as an adaptogen for a long time; it has been used as an immune system enhancer in combination with some other herbs as well(6)

Astragalus exhibits antibacterial and anti-inflammatory traits; the adaptogen stimulates the immune system by increasing the number of stem cells and supports their growth into active immune cells. At the same time, it pushes the immune cells from a resting phase into a phase  of heightened activity. Some of the adaptogens such as R. rosea, E. officinalis and E. senticosis have antioxidant properties, which also may contribute towards enhancing the immune system function(7)

Here are some other adaptogens with medicinal value, which have been used for a long time: 

  • Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng), whose root is used as an adaptogen. It has been observed to have immune-stimulatory effects.
  • Azadirachta indica is commonly known as Neem Zingiber, and has immuno-modulatory effects(1)
  • Echinacea (coneflower) is another herb belonging to the family of Asteraceae, which is used as an adaptogen that exhibits immune-stimulating properties(8)

Adaptogens with certain therapeutic properties have a protective effect in stress-related disorders. Here are some adaptogens which are thought to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects(4)

  • Astragalus membranaceus 
  • Panax ginseng 
  • Codonopsis pilosula 
  • Rhodiola crenulate 
  • Angelica sinensis 

Adaptogens which may be beneficial because of their anti-stress activity are: 

  • Astragalus membranaceus 
  • Panax ginseng 
  • Pannax quinquefolius L. 
  • Codonopsis pilosula 
  • Rhodiola crenulate 
  • Angelica sinensis

Simply put-

The mechanism by which adaptogens aid the immune system is not clear, and it may be via varied mechanisms, but they may be used to regain the homeostasis of the organism. They are available in many forms, such as capsules or powder, or they can be made into tea so that it is easy to consume and reap the therapeutic benefits they provide.

Besides adaptogens there are also other measures you can take to improve immunity levels. aptogens have not only specific therapeutic effects in somdjuvants in the standard therapy of many chronic diseases and pathological conditions.

Adaptogens have not only specific therapeutic effects in some
stress-induced and stress-related disorders, but may also have an
impact on the quality of life of patients when implemented as
adjuvants in the standard therapy of many chronic diseases and
pathological conditions