The Truth on Adaptogens & How To See Through The Hype

‘Adaptogens’ is one of the most alluring, ambiguous and misused ‘buzzwords’ within the wellness industry today. But before you jump on the adaptogenic bandwagon, we’re here to give you the low-down on what adaptogens really are and how to see through the hype.

Adaptogens are the new holy grail of the wellness world. “Are your drinks adaptogenic?” is a question we’re asked every other day at Kuji. However like any health fad, the adaptogenic hype comes with its equal proportion of misinformation which can be counterintuitive, misleading, and even detrimental to the cause of improving your wellness. In an age saturated with a miraculous laundry-list of marketing claims about the benefits of adaptogens and where anyone publishing online can be a health “expert”, your due diligence is more important than ever.

When it comes to adaptogenic herbs, we see them being popularly consumed but with very little understanding of what they actually are. Besides the notion that they can help our bodies adapt to stress, which is only potentially and partially correct. So, before you go and blow your budget on adaptogenic products, let’s cut through to the truth of adaptogens and how to see through the hype.

 

‘Adaptogens’ is one of the most alluring, ambiguous and misused ‘buzzwords’ within the wellness industry today. But before you jump on the adaptogenic bandwagon, we’re here to give you the low-down on what adaptogens really are and how to see through the hype.

 

 

WRITTEN BY KUJI
13 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Adaptogens are the new holy grail of the wellness world. “Are your drinks adaptogenic?” is a question we’re asked every other day at Kuji. However, like any health fad, the adaptogenic hype comes with its equal proportion of misinformation which can be counterintuitive, misleading, and even detrimental to the cause of improving your wellness. In an age saturated with a miraculous laundry-list of marketing claims about the benefits of adaptogens and where anyone publishing online can be a health “expert”, your due diligence is more important than ever.

When it comes to adaptogenic herbs, we see them being popularly consumed but with very little understanding of what they actually are. Besides the notion that they can help our bodies adapt to stress, which is only potentially and partially correct.

So, before you go and blow your budget on adaptogenic products, let’s cut through to the truth of adaptogens and how to see through the hype.

Ok, what are adaptogens exactly?

So, adaptogens are plants that can help us adapt to stress?

By popular definition, yes – but that’s only one element of what makes a herb an adaptogen. To get more specific, there are three important factors plants should possess in order to be defined as a true adaptogenic substance. These general characteristics were defined in 1969 by pharmacologists Brekham and Dardymov and are largely agreed upon today amongst nutritionists, alternative practitioners and herbalists as reliable criteria.

To be considered a true adaptogen, a plant must be:

  1. Non-Toxic in therapeutic doses.
    Herbs, spices, and mushrooms are incredible for our wellbeing. But we tend to forget that they are medicinal in nature and, if not consumed therapeutically, can be toxic for our system. Even common spices like nutmeg and cinnamon can elicit counterintuitive health responses when consumed incorrectly.
  2. Non-Specific in their actions.
    This means adaptogens are broad and sometimes contradictory in their benefits. For example, one herb can both raise and lower a certain hormone, depending on the body’s specific imbalance. You can think of them as internal thermostats: when the temperature is too low, they raise it; when it’s too high, they cool it down. They also don’t just work with the effects of obvious stressors in life – like a difficult job, complex relationship, or lack of sleep – but also all the physical,
    chemical, biological and psychological stress factors.
  3. Normalising.
    Adaptogens can increase a state of “nonspecific resistance” in one or multiple systems to help bring us into balance. But it doesn’t mean that they suddenly equip you with supernatural health. The best way to view them is as nature’s medicine to help prop us up during particularly challenging times in life, or, periods of recovery.

Which plants then are truly adaptogenic?

Here’s the kicker: there’s currently only about nine plants which are well-researched enough to fit this true definition of adaptogenic. These plants include:

  • Panax Ginseng
  • American Ginseng
  • Ashwagandha (used in our Turmeric latte)
  • Siberian Ginseng (or Eleuthero)
  • Schisandra
  • Rhodiola
  • Shilajit
  • Rhaponticum (or Maral Root)
  • Cordyceps

There are a number of other herbs that can be classed as “probable adaptogens”, like the Holy Basil and Shatavari found in our Masala Chai blend. Then there’s a class of “possible adaptogens” which include plants like the turmeric in our Turmeric blend and Reishi found in our Mushroom blend. But, at this point in time, there’s just not the calibre of research to clearly pin down these botanicals as certified adaptogens.

And, which plants are not adaptogenic?

Many of the herbs that are popularly touted by wellness brands as adaptogenic, simply don’t fit the criteria at all.
Some of these plants include:

  • Maca
  • Astragalus
  • Amla
  • Goji Berry

While we absolutely adore these botanicals for their highly-therapeutic and nourishing qualities, they cannot be truly classed as adaptogenic.

What about the science?

The science – or rather the lack of it – is where many of the claims being made about adaptogens become misleading. In addition to the assertion they make us impervious to stress, adaptogens are being marketed as:

  • Brain boosters – bringing you mental clarity, focused energy and a more cooperative attitude with colleagues, friends and partners.
  • Remedies for anxiety.
  • Hormone balancers.
  • Skincare essentials.
  • Fuel to power workouts, lack of sleep and hectic work schedules.
  • Multivitamin replacements.
  • Accelerators for weight loss, longevity, fulfillment and supernatural wholesomeness.

It’s no wonder adaptogens are the new functional food fad! However, when you look under the hood of the alleged and miraculous health benefits of adaptogens, there are very, very few published studies and human clinical trials out there to back them up. The most-well studied include only those that fit the above criteria of true adaptogens – like ahswagandha, cordyceps, etc.

Adaptogens are believed to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the peripheral nervous system. This is the explanation commonly used to explain the ability of adaptogens to mitigate stress and other lifestyle-related diseases. But from a purely scientific perspective, there’s still unclear evidence to definitively support this theory and the many ways adaptogens are being marketed to support wellbeing.

As Dr. Ceppie Merry, in an article for Healthy But Smart, writes, “there are currently 358 clinical trials related to the search terms ‘adaptogen’ or adaptogenic’. To put this into context there are over 3,000 human clinical trials on insomnia. There are 43 clinical studies on rhodiolia, 266 on ginseng, 26 on cordyceps and 18 on bacopa. Ashwagandha is leading the pack with 976 publications and 20 clinical trials.”

The lack in the scientific literature is a fact rarely communicated to consumers by brands peddling powdered sachets of adaptogens for health, skin, and beauty. And, a truth that may be disappointing to consumers relying on the wellness “experts” behind them to deliver evidence-based benefits.

Is this why you rarely use ‘adaptogens’ in your marketing?

Not quite. Our choice to go light on the term ‘adaptogens’ is moreso based in the intention to not add fuel to the fire. The fire being the prevalent misconceptions consumers already have been sold in regards to what adaptogens actually are and how they can benefit their health.

For us, the decision to drop adaptogens from our brand language was an attempt to abstain from this hype and keep our customers connected with the true spirit of the plants. Not just the mirage the wellness industry has projected onto them via a fashionable buzzword. We believe it’s important to invest in plant potions, but invest in them from a place grounded by your own research and intuition.

The truth is that when properly applied, any herb – whether “adaptogenic” or not – has enormous healing potential for every human. The operative term here being: when properly applied. While herbs, including adaptogens, are incredible in their healing prowess; that power comes with many caveats. Their effects are dependent on the plant, your individual constituent – both physical and energetic, the dosage, the frequency of that dosage, and most importantly, your unique lifestyle factors. This is another reason we see an inherent risk in the current marketing rhetoric which commonly fails to remind consumers of the extremely medicinal nature of these botanicals. Along with the very real and sometimes serious effects that disrespecting their power may have on your health.

So, how do I steer clear of the adaptogen hype?

Do your own research. Definitely don’t even let us tell you how it is. Question your sources and what their real intentions might be. If you have a practitioner that you trust – mainstream or otherwise – seek their advice. But allow your own inherent and internal guidance system have the last say. We believe, when it comes to making any decision in your life, it’s important to go inwards rather than outwards to discover the right path for your highest good.

LOVE KUJI x

 

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