Adaptogens may help us against COVID-19

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a category of herbs and botanicals that promote adaptability, resilience and the survival of living organisms in stress. While stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. Adaptogens have stimulant properties that help counteract those harmful effects.

Adaptogens were first developed and studied during World War II. Scientists were looking for a way to help healthy pilots work at even greater levels. Basically, they were looking for a “superhero” pill that’d let the pilots fly better, faster, and for longer periods of time. And they thought they found it in the form of adaptogens.

How do adaptogens work?

Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These are involved in the stress response. They work by “hacking” the stress response in the body. Typically, when our bodies are stressed, we go through three stages of stress:

  • alarm phase
  • phase of resistance
  • phase of exhaustion

Adaptogens have been studied in both animals and isolated neuronal cells. Researchers have found they have several effects on the bodyTrusted Source:

  • neuroprotective elements
  • anti-fatigue properties
  • antidepressive effects
  • stimulant for central nervous system

Adaptogens are plant-based herbs filled with complex compounds that help your body mediate or adapt to (hence the name ‘adaptogen’) physical or psychological stress by interacting with your cellular systems.

Marjorie Nolan Cohn RDN, CSSD, a Philadelphia-based dietitian and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Common adaptogenic herbs
  • Curcumin, the bright yellow chemical in turmeric, has some solid research behind it. It plays a role in metabolic and cell functions and impacts more than 100 molecular pathways.
  • Ashwagandha plant’s root and flower have been used for medicinal properties for years. Ashwagandha can help to give you more energy, while also supporting restorative sleep.
  • MACA ROOT, this Peruvian root is touted for its ability to increase libido, balance hormones, and boost energy—but before you get too excited, research has had a difficult time solidifying the benefits of maca powder, and the adaptogen contains substances that may interfere with thyroid function. One thing it does have: lots of nutrients, like vitamin C, copper, potassium, iron, and compounds called anthocyanins, which have been shown to be protective against certain chronic diseases.
  • Cordyceps are thought to increase the body’s production of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for delivering energy to the muscles.
  • Ginseng has been used to help regulate sex hormones, fertility, and hormonal functions.
  • Rhodiola, this Arctic root could help balance brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, preventing “burn out,”
  • Holy Basil (Tulsi) Anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants, this healing herb in the basil family helps balance cortisol levels and improve mood.

Functional ingredients that can mitigate stress, improve sleep and focus are high on consumers’ agendas as the COVID-19 pandemic presses on. Adaptogens such as ginseng, rhodiola, Bacopa monnieri or holy basil can be positioned to help consumers dynamically cope with whatever difficult situation at hand.

NutritionInsight speaks with key suppliers on the use of adaptogens to meet functional demands as consumers seek self-care and holistic wellness. 

Functional opportunities 
The category of adaptogens is still relatively new to mainstream consumers and presents ample opportunity in functional F&B formulation for increased well-being physically and emotionally. 

Consumer demand for foods and beverages that regulate mood is highlighted in Innova Market Insights’ seventh Top Ten Trend for 2021: “Mood: The Next Occasion.” 

“We have seen adaptogens being introduced to consumers as a complementary functional benefit in products such as sports nutrition products, functional beverages and snacks,” remarks Isabel Gómez, global marketing manager of nutraceutical ingredients at Lubrizol Life Science, Health.  

Tapping into F&B to elevate mood, Gómez suggests there is a great understanding of how certain foods can improve mood by affecting emotions or how foods can resonate with a person on an emotional level. 

“Therefore, consumers are increasingly tuned in to their own emotional well-being and are looking for ways to support and build on this,” she says. 

“Following this trend, we expect then to see a growing demand on supplements or fortified foods containing adaptogens, which are said to focus on reducing physical, chemical and biological stress.” 

Also, with growing evidence of the inseparable link between mental health and performance, solutions that support people with focus, attention and even mood elevation are in demand.

“Adaptogens have been traditionally used for the treatment of a wide range of conditions, as preventing premature aging and maintaining good health and vitality. However, their potential is wide in holistic care,” Garcia states.