Hormone health is becoming more and more of a hot wellness topic these days, and a variety of lifestyle fixes — from foods to supplements to exercise routines — are being touted as potential solutions for those suffering from the symptoms of imbalances. Among those is one of the buzziest alleged remedies for a host of health issues: Adaptogens. But is there actually a significant link between hormones and adaptogens? You may have noticed products based on this idea, but what do doctors have to say about it?
First, it might be beneficial to break down exactly what an adaptogen is, as well as why so many people are turning to them of late. Technically speaking, any substance that helps your body adapt to stress could be considered an adaptogen, but recently the term has come to specifically reference a group of herbs and mushrooms, including Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, and Ginseng (among many others).
"Adaptogens have become popular because people are realizing how beneficial they are for increasing productivity, energy, and stress resilience," explains Dr. Kate Denniston, a licensed naturopathic doctor with Los Angeles Integrative Health who specializes in hormonal health. "They can have a profound effect on the way we feel throughout the day and on our ability to manage daily stressors."
As for the ability adaptogens may have to balance you hormones, Dr. Denniston says the connection here has to do with your body's response to stress, specifically the production of cortisol, often called the "fight or flight" hormone. "Adaptogenic herbs, like Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Licorice, and Eleuthro can have a downstream effect on normalizing reproductive hormones because of their effect on our adrenal function and cortisol regulation," she says. "When our adrenal function and cortisol regulation is optimized, reproductive hormones can balance out on their own."
However, Dr. Denniston is quick to point out that many products on the market might not be as effective as they'd like you to believe. "I see a lot of products with adaptogens on the label as a marketing tool," she explains. "It's important to note that while there may be some adaptogenic ingredients in the product, a lot of these products have dosages much lower than an effective dose used therapeutically." That said, such strong doses may not be safe for everyone, depending on what else you're taking and certain existing medical conditions, so the hormone expert suggests consulting with a naturopathic doctor or healthcare professional trained in herbal medicine if you have any concerns.
Additionally, not all adaptogens are created equally. "Different adaptogenic herbs have different affinities for specific tissues and organ systems of the body so it's important to know how each one works before using it," Dr. Denniston shares. "Herbs known as adrenal adaptogens don't necessarily act on the adrenal glands themselves, but rather on the brain and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis."
Lastly, while Dr. Denniston does believe that therapeutic doses of select adaptogens — including Ashwaganda and Rhodiola — can aid with some hormonal symptoms (like mood and energy levels), the same can be said for herbs that aren't considered adaptogenic, including Vitex and peony, so they aren't the only plant-based options.
That said, if you do want to try out a few of the aforementioned adaptogens, the wellness products ahead contain a few, plus addition ingredients (like CBD and CBN) that may make you feel more balanced.
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