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Do Adaptogens Really Work?

photo of astragalus plant

Could compounds found in certain plants help our bodies adapt to the effects of stress, without all the effort involved in, say, meditation or exercise? 

That’s the idea behind so-called adaptogens, which include certain mushrooms, and herbs such as ashwaganda and rhodiola. 

When I dug into this question, I learned a surprising bit of history. The concept of adaptogens was born in WWII, when the armed forces in various countries began studying ways of improving performance of pilots — for instance, by keeping them more alert.

German troops were reportedly dosed with amphetamines. The Soviet military, however, took a different tack, publishing studies on natural substances, including an herbal stimulant. 

Not all adaptogens have stimulating properties. Others are purported have a calming effect, due to a drop in levels of stress hormones.

But how much evidence is there behind these supposedly stress-fighting remedies?

To find out, I spoke to a registered dietitian who advises some of her clients on the use of adaptogens, and a well-known author, radio host and professor with expertise at evaluating scientific evidence.

You can read about it in Good Times’ latest Your Health Questions column: ‘Do Adaptogens Really Work?’

My heartfelt thanks to the two interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:


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