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Adaptogenic drinks and supplements are on the rise. But what are they and why are they so popular?

The United States Department of Veteran Affairs describes adaptogens as herbs that support the body’s ability to deal with stress – whether that stress is from anxiety, fatigue, trauma, or illness. They are also used to strengthen the immune system and increase overall vitality and calmness. In other words, adaptogens do the opposite of the caffeine found in energy drinks.

Popular retailers online and in-store offer the herbs that have been transformed into liquids, capsules, powders, and gummies for the mainstream market. According to a recent trend forecast from Future Market Insights, the adaptogen drink industry is currently valued around $1.2 billion and forecasted to nearly double over the next decade. Leading adaptogenic companies include Four Sigmatic, Kin Euphorics, Wylde One, Sunwink, Peak and Valley, Goodmylk Co., OM Mushrooms and Moon Juice as leading adaptogenic companies.

There are three main qualities an herb must have to be considered an adaptogen. First, it must be nontoxic at normal doses. Second, it should support the entire body’s ability to cope with stress. Third, it should help the body return to a state of homeostasis regardless of how it has changed in response to stress, tempering that which is hyperfunctioning and supporting that which is hypofunctioning.

Adaptogens have been historically popular in traditional medicine practices like Chinese or Indian medicine. Some common plants that contain adaptogens are American ginseng and Asian ginseng which are used to support the function of the immune system and the resilience of the physical body. Also, ashwagandha, of which there is evidence that it can improve anemia in children, and the efficacy of radiation and chemotherapy and reducing side effects in cancer patients. Additionally, this herb can be helpful for those who are fatigued during the day but have a hard time sleeping at night. Herbalists also recommended eleuthero to those who work hard, play hard, and barely sleep. It has been used traditionally to increase vital energy, improve sleep in those bothered by many dreams, improve appetite, and treat lower back and kidney pain, as well as rheumatoid arthritis. Rhodiola, also known as the “golden root,” was used by Vikings to improve physical strength and endurance. The herb shows promise for helping with symptoms of fatigue, depression, and pain as well as potentially in prevention of cardiovascular, neuronal, liver, and skin disorders.

Though adaptogens are found to be rich in therapeutic value, researchers are still working to confirm all benefits, drawbacks, and side effects. Adaptogens can interfere with certain medications for diabetes, insomnia, hypothyroidism and depression, per the Cleveland Clinic. They can also cause some side effects, including allergic reactions, abdominal pain, constipation, nausea and diarrhea.

Virginia-based registered dietitian and diabetes educator, Caroline Thomason, shed light on those who should not consume adaptogens. “Folks who have high blood pressure or take high blood pressure medication should exercise caution,” she says. “As always, consult with your doctor to make sure that a new supplement does not interact with your medications negatively.”


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