In the age of mainstream biohacking and an almost psychotic focus on righting the wellness wrongs of a sedentary society that subsists on processed foods, chances are you’ve come across the word “adaptogen” by now. Often advertised as a natural way to reduce stress, there are plenty of health-food products like energy powders and ashwagandha tonics that purport adaptogenic benefits.
But what are those adaptogenic benefits? Where do they come from? And how, exactly, do adaptogens work? As a healthy alternative to energy drinks and coffee, MTE harnesses the power of adaptogens in our formula to promote stress resilience and more. We know a thing or two about them. So let’s get into it!
Adaptogens are a class of herbs, mushrooms, algae, and plants that have bioactive properties that help the body adapt to physical and environmental stressors. While they’ve been used for millennia, the term wasn’t coined until the 20th century, when Russian scientists set out the official guidelines. For a compound to be considered an adaptogen, it must:
- Adaptogens must have a non-specific effect on the body, meaning that they can help the body adapt to a wide range of stressors, both physical and psychological.
- Adaptogens must have a normalizing effect on the body, meaning that they can help to restore balance to the body's systems, regardless of whether the body is in a state of hyper- or hypo-function.
- Adaptogens must be safe for human consumption, even when taken long-term.
There are 3 different classes of adaptogens, defined by the type/extent of their bioactivity:
- Primary adaptogens: These satisfy all three criteria and directly influence the HPA axis – we’ll get to what that means shortly.
- Secondary adaptogens: These don’t influence the HPA axis directly, but have an effect on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems.
- Adaptogen companions: These are not technically adaptogens, but have the ability to work in tandem with adaptogens to support their effects on the HPA axis.
Any part(s) of a plant can have adaptogenic properties – sometimes it’s the roots, other times the stems, leaves or fruits. Today, you can find adaptogenic supplements in drink, capsule or powder form, or even as a side dish – like lion’s mane mushroom. More on that later.
A Brief History of Adaptogens
Adaptogenic plants have 6000+ years of experiential evidence behind them before they even hit the modern West’s radar. Origins of many adaptogens trace back to Asia and South America, especially traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Three of the oldest-known adaptogens are:
- Ashwagandha: An adaptogen traditionally used in Ayurveda for things like skin problems, childhood illness, immunity, vitality, and sexual performance
- Reishi mushroom: An adaptogen traditionally used in Chinese medicine for things like immunity, inflammation, stress relief, liver function, and cancer treatment
- Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): An adaptogen traditionally used in Russian medicine for things like insomnia, cholesterol, blood pressure, fatigue, and cognitive performance.
And in fact, it was a Russian scientist looking for a supplement that would make soldiers perform better, who officially coined the term “adaptogen” in the '40s while researching the capabilities of eleuthero.
How Adaptogens Work
Adaptogens have broad-spectrum abilities due to their effects on the HPA axis. The HPA axis is comprised of the hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal systems. Via neurochemical signaling, the HPA axis functions as the body’s main stress response system. This includes any type of stress – from mental to environmental to physical. And it includes any level of stress – from life-and-death moments to chronic unease at work.
When your body responds to a stressor, a chain reaction occurs. The hypothalamus releases the CRH hormone to the pituitary gland. CRH tells the pituitary gland to release ACTH into the bloodstream. Some of that ACTH finds its way to the kidneys and adrenal gland, where it signals the adrenal gland to release cortisol, which is the body's stress-response hormone. This then provides the extra energy, alertness and focus you need to overcome the stressful event.
Here's where the problem steps in: the human stress response doesn’t mesh with the modern day, because we aren’t dealing with episodic life-and-death stress; we’re dealing with chronic low-grade stress. Raised levels of stress indicators in the body can have devastating effects on long-term health.
Adaptogens work to modulate and lower HPA activity to help the body resist stressors. Instead of the big energy spike and the bigger crash rebound, adaptogens smooth out the entire process, resulting in a more resilient stress response that’s less hard on your mind and body.
The effects adaptogens have on the body are typically grouped into one or more of three categories:
- Modulatory effect: Adaptogens can help to modulate the body's stress response, helping to reduce the negative effects of stress on the body.
- Prophylactic effect: Adaptogens can help to protect the body from the damaging effects of stress.
- Restorative effect: Adaptogens can help to restore the body's energy levels and vitality after periods of stress.
Because stress affects every part of our body, it follows that the benefits of adaptogens have the ability to support about every part of our body as well. Benefits of adaptogens include:
- Reduced stress and unease
- Improved rest and recovery
- Increased energy levels
- Improved focus and cognition
- Reduced inflammation
- Enhanced immune function
- Improved athletic performance
- Increased longevity
Key Adaptogens in MTE’s Energy-Boosting Greens
Our formula contains carefully-chosen adaptogens that work together to promote energy, mood, immunity, quality rest, and, of course, stress. And the cool thing about adaptogens is that, since each has a spectrum of abilities, stacking adaptogens adds to more than the sum of its parts. Key adaptogens in our energy drink replacement include:
Medicinal use of ashwagandha dates back to 3000 BCE Sumer, where it was used for strength and vitality. One of the most integral adaptogens in Indian Ayurveda, modern clinical studies on the abilities of ashwagandha show:
- It’s safe
- It has anti-carcinogenic effects
- It supports brain health
- It reduces chronic overthinking and emotional distress
One compelling study in the research on ashwagandha’s stress-reducing abilities showed ashwagandha supplements functioned as well as a common prescription for GAD.
Clinical research is also exploring ashwagandha’s potential for:
- Sleeplessness and chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Blood sugar management
- Metabolic function and diabetes
- Executive function
Also known as the tulsi adaptogen, holy basil’s medicinal use traces back 6000 years to Indian Ayurveda, where it was held in such high esteem that the tulsi plant is embedded into Hindu theology. Traditionally used for nausea, bug bites, bronchitis, malaria, and eye disease, holy basil’s adaptogenic abilities are supported by scientific studies. It has demonstrated efficacy as:
- An antimicrobial
- A buffer for psychological stress
- A treatment for metabolic syndromes
- A mood-booster
- A sleep aid
Emerging research indicates holy basil may also:
- Reduce fatigue
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower innate chemical responses to stress
- Lower subjective stress ratings
Also known as Siberian ginseng, this cousin of panax ginseng has been used for at least 2600 years, and possibly up to 5000, but the first concrete evidence is a document from the Tang Dynasty in China. As the “first” adaptogen studied in a Western context, 80 years of clinical research has culminated in an official acknowledgement by the World Health Organization. On eleuthero, WHO acknowledges eleuthero:
“As a prophylactic and restorative tonic for enhancement of mental and physical capacities in cases of weakness, exhaustion and tiredness, and during convalescence.”
Modern studies support eleuthero’s abilities to reduce effects of oxidative stress, environmental stress, cognitive stress, increase resistance to toxicity, and improve the body's nightly restorative processes.
Medicinal and dietary use of maca originates about 6000 years ago in the Andes of Peru, but is grown all over the world today. Traditional uses include to promote fertility, reduce stress and improve endurance, strength and cognition. Today, there’s literature to support the adaptogenic abilities of maca:
- Reduces the effects of stress
- Eases experiences associated with mood deficiencies
- Supports sexual health and libido
- Promotes male fertility
- Boosts energy levels
- Enhances physical performance
Plus, maca is also a superfood, so you can choose to add it to your diet or to your wellness supplement routine. Reduced stress and increased nutrition? Sounds legit to us.
Despite its name sounding like it was created in a lab, methylliberine is actually a naturally-occurring compound found in the kucha tea plant. It has both adaptogenic and nootropic abilities, and works especially well in tandem with the nootropic theacrine (which is also in MTE!).
More of an adaptogen companion than a true adaptogen, methylliberine modulates levels of the neurochemical that signals fatigue, which indirectly increases energy and alertness. At the same time, it also supports activity in the brain's motivation and reward centers, decreasing stress and boosting mood.
Clinical support for methylliberine includes:
- Improvement in physiological markers of heart health
- Better cognitive performance
- Increased HDL and decreased LDL cholesterol
- Support for liver function
- An energizing effect not accompanied by spikes in heart rate or blood pressure
Along with 8 nootropics and superfoods, MTE harnesses the combined powers of these clinically-backed adaptogens to support stress resilience, calm mood, balanced energy, rest and recovery at night, immunity, inflammation, and more. Nature’s already given us all the stuff we need to feel great – we’ve just gathered the best of it in a convenient sugar-free, low-caffeine energy powder so you can get it all in one spot.
Want to know more? Explore our Ingredients and Benefits pages for in-depth information on MTE’s formulation, and visit our Wellness Blog for more insight into adaptogens, nootropics, lifestyle, and more.