Adaptogens are herbs and other botanicals that humans have used for millennia to relieve one or more symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression as well as to boost the immune system.
Bottled and powdered adaptogenic drinks sold under brand names like Recess, Clevr, Zolt, Moment and Free Rain have been steadily increasing in popularity, and some are even being marketed as alternatives to alcohol (while others actually contain it).
Adaptogens are defined as natural substances that can reduce stress response to several kinds of triggers (i.e. physical, biological, environmental and psychological) and are generally nontoxic when consumed in normal quantities.
This definition was developed by a Russian scientist in the 1940s, but many of these herbal remedies long have been embraced by practitioners of ayurvedic medicine and Chinese traditional medicine.
Studies conducted on animals and humans have found evidence to support many traditional uses of adaptogens, but more research is needed to establish clear scientific links. In most cases, consuming these nature-made ingredients won’t harm you, and enjoying drinks containing them may help you relax and enjoy yourself, much like a cocktail does.
The list of possible adaptogens, so-called because they help our bodies adapt to the effects of stress, is long, but they can all benefit us in similar ways by taming our response to stress and anxiety, alleviating low moods, revving up energy and accelerating our immune response.
The ways these herbs affect our bodies vary:
Stress reduction — Many adaptogens help regulate cortisol, aka the “stress hormone,” reducing its ability to trigger anxiety, depression, metabolism dysfunction and even heart disease.
Mood improvement — Similarly, adaptogens can regulate other neurotransmitters that influence emotions including serotonin and dopamine. This can improve overall well-being as well as tamp down anxiety and depression.
Immunity boost — Adaptogens can trigger production of white blood cells and other crucial components of the immune system that defend you against viruses, bacteria and tumors.
Energy enhancement — Many adaptogens can improve cellular energy production by aiding the synthesis of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), an organic molecule that delivers energy to wherever it’s needed in the body. On the macro level it increases stamina, performance and concentration.
These drinks also frequently include more health-boosting ingredients including magnesium and other minerals, probiotics and compounds like L-tryptophan.
Many incorporate nootropics, which are synthetic or natural substances believed to enhance mental or physical performance. This is a very broad category that includes caffeine, CDP-choline, creatine and L-theanine, so be aware of any that might be counterproductive, such as boosting your energy when you’re trying to relax or sleep.
Note of Caution
Some adaptogens can have negative interactions with certain medications and chronic health conditions or during pregnancy, so ask your doctor whether they’re right for you if you have any concerns.