Adaptogens: Huh? 

By Nicholas Maffe
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Adaptogens: Huh? 

Hi. It’s nice to see you. And thanks for visiting. 

You’re obviously here because you’re a curious person. Specifically because you heard about adaptogens and thought, “What the fuck is an adaptogen?”

That’s a great question. It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Sounds like a cyborg from a James Cameron film. Or maybe something that Tom Brady and Christiano Ronaldo use to stay young… forever. And play sports like cyborgs. 

It definitely doesn’t sound like something that’s sold on the streets of Philadelphia or at a baseball game. “Adaptogens! Get your adaptogens! We’ve got adaptogens here!” 

Fortunately, we can satiate your curiosity a little. 

Adaptogens are a hearty and remarkable class of plants. Simply put, they’re plants of several varieties and origins that do awesome stuff for your mind and body and have a range of potential benefits. More specifically, adaptogens are “non-toxic substances and most often plant extracts that are held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning” (thanks Marriam-Webster). 

You see, adaptogens often grow in locations with extreme climates: high altitude, frigid cold, blistering heat, intense humidity, drought, lack of sun, too much sun. You get the picture. 

These plants have, over thousands of years of evolution, learned to survive in these extreme climates. And in some cases, thrive. When you consider the old adage, “You are what you eat,” it’s easy to see why consuming these plants is great for your health. Eat adaptogens and you become…a badass…plant? Something like that. 

Adaptogens –  before they received their sexy, product-friendly name –  were revered as medicine and health tonics in places like ancient China, India, and Japan (and they still are to this day!). They were so revered, in fact, that they were reserved for members of royalty, and even emperors. It only took a few thousand years for these medicinal morsels to be readily available for us peasants and plebs. But how the heck did that happen?

The modern concept of adaptogens was first studied by the toxicologist N.V. Lazarev in the U.S.S.R., who coined the term in the 1940s. Further research was later carried on by Zakir Ramazonov, a Russian researcher who studied the benefits and efficacy of adaptogens, and brought his research to the United States following the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Adaptogens were then researched in American laboratories (defense departments were particularly intrigued), and are now, after their long and arduous journey, available to you in the comfort of your own home. 

None of this should come as a surprise. Russians have long been obsessed with training, health, and maximizing physical and mental productivity, well before your annoying coworker jumped into the CrossFit world. In fact, a lot of the trendy training techniques in modern gyms from Los Angeles to New York City to Paris were developed or researched in Russia – kettlebells, high intensity interval training, heat exposure, cold plunges, and other fun (and horrible) things. 

For the Russians, this extensive research went beyond living an extra couple of years or looking sexy as fuck naked. They researched adaptogens – notably before the advent and proliferation of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs – to help their Olympians, astronauts, soldiers, and, presumably, cosmo-dogs perform their best. 

Imagine the potential benefits for hard-training weight lifters at the Olympics, snow-trekking soldiers in Siberia, and space-exploring astronauts in the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. 

Ivan Drago from Rocky IV didn’t become Ivan Drago by eating broccoli and obsessing over biceps curls. No, Ivan Drago was made in a Russian laboratory of pain and suffering – and, yes, fitness and nutrition. Anyone familiar with Russia’s climate, topography, and history might conclude that Russians themselves are, in fact, adaptogens. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete, elite soldier, or trained astronaut to reap the benefits of adaptogens. In fact, they’re brilliant additions to the lifestyle of weekend warriors, entrepreneurs, single dads, those with a nasty cold, busy-bodies, or really anyone looking for extra energy, focus, and well-being. Which, can be assumed, is all of us. 

There is a broad list of designated plants that fall underneath the umbrella name “adaptogen.” Much like numerous varieties of mushrooms fall under the umbrella name “fungus.” 

Several of the most prized and well-known adaptogens are ashwagandha, ginseng, licorice root, reishi,  and lion’s mane. You might notice that these are prominent ingredients in every cup of Okana Coffee Alternative. This wasn’t by accident. We did heaps of research to find the most beneficial and powerful adaptogens to help your body deal with stress, improve your health, and calm your adrenal glands.

Each of these ingredients are shown to help the body and mind in several ways, including:

Ashwagandha may reduce stress, boost energy, and promote cognitive functions. 

Ginseng is renowned for its immune-boosting properties. 

Licorice Root aids digestion, helps prevent cavities, and is full of antioxidants. 

Reishi aids the immune system, fights fatigue, and improves sleep quality. 

Lion’s Mane combats inflammation and may suppress anxiety and depression.

No, adaptogens are not going to cure cancer or turn you into Thor or give you x-ray vision. While more research is necessary to back up some of the extravagant claims made by some (let’s calm down, people), adaptogens can undoubtedly play a vital role in rounding out your health and improving your quality of life. 

It’s a good thing that adaptogens are resilient little plants. If not, they might not have survived such a wild journey from obscure ancient medicine, to Soviet laboratories, to your kitchen. So consider yourself an ancient emperor and raise a cup to your health. 

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