Adaptogens are substances that may enhance the human body’s resistance to a wide range of external stressors by acting on the immune-neuro-endocrine system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis . External stressors may be physical, chemical, or biological and can include anything from environmental pollution and climate change to infectious diseases and interpersonal conflict . Overall, adaptogens help to maintain homeostasis within the body.
What are adaptogens used for?
Most commonly, adaptogens are used by those looking to protect their bodies from the negative impacts made by stress and poor mental health. In the 1990s, a group of scientists defined adaptogens as substances that minimize the bodily response to stress and reduce the negative reactions seen during the alarm phase of stress, while also preventing the exhaustion phase of stress .
The body has a three-stage response to stress: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion . The alarm stage refers to the initial reaction of the body under acute stress and is commonly referred to as “fight or flight” mode . After this stage, the body should begin to re-balance and return to homeostasis. However, if this doesn’t occur and the stress persists for an extended period of time, the body should adapt in order to cope and so it enters the resistance stage . The resistance stage can include signs and symptoms such as poor concentration, irritability, and frustration . If the stressor persists even longer, the body may enter the exhaustion phase, and burnout, anxiety, depression, etc. will occur . In the exhaustion phase, an overall physiological imbalance occurs in the body and even the immune system may weaken .
Overall, adaptogens support our bodies in maintaining homeostasis under the pressure of external stressors and prevent progression into the exhaustion phase of stress. Adaptogen supplements are increasing in popularity and medicinal mushrooms have long been praised for their adaptogenic abilities. They have been used for centuries to improve vitality and longevity by offering support for nearly all bodily systems. While nearly every mushroom may play a supportive role, let’s discuss a few adaptogenic mushrooms here!
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits May Improve Memory and Mood During Stressful Periods
Stress can cause acute and chronic changes in our brain, especially with persistent secretion of stress hormones. These changes may negatively impact our memory and other cognitive functions over time, which are already worsening naturally as we age. Lion’s Mane contains two active compounds, hericenones and erinacines, that have been found to stimulate the growth of brain cells through neurogenesis .
Another constituent, isohericerinol A, extracted from the fruiting body of Lion’s Mane, was found to increase nerve growth factor (NGF) production, a neurotrophic molecule that is involved in the growth, development, and survival of neurons, our body’s specialized information messengers . In a study comparing the augmentation or blocking of NGF, blocking of NGF significantly impaired memory and hippocampal activity; the hippocampus is a region of the brain with a major role in learning and memory .
When people are stressed for prolonged periods of time, their emotions and mental health are likely to suffer. A study was completed assessing whether Lion’s Mane could improve depression, anxiety, sleep, and binge eating disorders after 8 weeks of supplementation . They assessed the serum balances of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its precursor pro-BDNF before and after supplementation of Lion’s Mane.
The treatment groups presented with increased serum levels of pro-BDNF, and overall improvements in their depression, anxiety, and sleep quality . This is significant as decreased levels of BDNF can cause decreased excitatory neurons, which may potentially lead to depression . BDNF also assists in prolonging the survival of existing neurons and promoting the growth of new ones .
Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms May Improve Sleep and Mental Health During Prolonged Stress
Anxiety is one of the body’s reactions to stressors. With persistent stress, anxiety levels may increase and lead to difficulties with sleep and social functioning due to excess worrying and racing thoughts. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has long been praised for its anxiolytic effects through research studies, especially due to its constituents of phenols and flavonoids .
One study found that Reishi was able to increase total sleep time and the length of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), resulting in a more restful sleep . Sleep itself is a significant stress reducer as it allows our bodies to replenish and reset for the following day. While stress increases cortisol (stress hormone) levels, sleep decreases them, and a lack of rest would further exacerbate the effects of stress on the body.
Chaga Benefits May Prevent Against Oxidative Stress
Physiological stress may also lead to increased production of reactive oxygen species, thus, leading to development of oxidative stress . Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the level of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When free radicals overpower our antioxidant systems, it may result in cellular damage and progress to a disease state and premature aging.
Chaga is a mushroom commonly known for its powerful antioxidant abilities. It has one of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values on the planet! ORAC informs us on the ability of a substance to neutralize free radicals so that they do not overpower our antioxidant capabilities and cause oxidative stress.
Cordyceps Benefits May Prevent us from Entering the Exhaustion Phase of Stress
Through research, Cordyceps has exhibited the ability to enhance ATP generation capacity . ATP is our body’s main energy supply source and depleted levels have been seen in mood disorders and in those with high levels of oxidative stress . It is suggested that this increase in ATP is due to Cordyceps’ antioxidant capabilities . Improved antioxidant power leads to improvement of cellular and mitochondrial antioxidant statuses, which would lead to improved ATP generation .
Stress can often leave us feeling very drained and tired. The feeling of exhaustion from constantly being in “fight or flight” mode can wreak havoc on our bodily systems. Cordyceps may improve energy and stamina and assist in maintaining and stabilizing energy levels throughout the day.
Turkey Tail Mushroom May Maintain Immune Health During Prolonged Periods of Stress
Chronic stress can lead to depressed immune function due to high levels of cortisol production, leaving us susceptible to the development of various viruses and infections. Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) is another mushroom full of antioxidants and immune-boosting complexes. The most studied and biologically active compound found in Turkey Tail is Polysaccharide K (PSK), an approved adjunct to cancer treatment in Japan, where its use is recognized for strengthening the immune system and improving longevity in cancer patients, individuals who are facing extreme levels of physiological stress daily .
The mushroom extract has been shown to enhance both innate and adaptive immune responses, meaning its use allows us to reinforce our body’s first and second lines of defense against pathogens .
We All Need Adaptogenic Mushrooms!
Adaptogens are needed by almost everyone in today’s society. Whether you are a student, an office worker, a nurse, or a stay-at-home parent, external stressors are all around us and leave us susceptible to developing chronic stress. Adaptogens can easily be added to food, drinks, or even taken on their own. Eversio Wellness creates amazing mushroom extract blends, such as the Awaken Blend, so you can hit multiple targets with your adaptogenic support.
We hope you have found this article informative at Eversio Wellness. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below!
By Silvana Jakupovic — BSc and 4th Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM-Boucher)
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