WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STIMULANTS AND ADAPTOGENS?
So, what is the difference between stimulants (eg. caffeine, guarana, energy drinks) and adaptogens (eg. rhodiola rosea, panax ginseng, ashwagandha)?
Are adaptogens nootropics? Are stimulants and adaptogens similar? What is better? We'll discuss all of these.
In short, adaptogens are more sustainable for longer lasting energy and performance without harmful side-effects, while stimulants can cause a rapid energy release and then an energy crash.
What Is An Adaptogen
Adaptogens are herbs that are known for their ability to promote positive wellbeing by helping your body better handle physical and emotional stress. When you’re not stressed, you have less fatigue, more endurance, better memory can stick with tasks longer, and have sharper focus and attention. This is why adaptogens have been considered herbal miracles.
Adaptogens were popularised a lot in world war 2, and were extensively studied during the war as scientists were looking for a way to help healthy pilots fly better, faster, and for longer periods of time. And they thought they found the "superhero supplement" in the form of adaptogens.
Adaptogens are herbs that meet three specific criteria developed by Russian scientist N.V. Lazarez (who is very well known for discovering the best three adaptogens being Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwagandha and Panax Ginseng).
To be considered an adaptogen, the herb must:
- Benefit overall wellbeing
- Reduce and regulate stress
- Be non-toxic
Adaptogens are nature's antidote to modern stress! This is important due to the issues that stress has. Chronically elevated stress levels can elevate brain fog, suppress immunity, create fat deposits on the belly, face and neck, reduces libido, causes bone loss, and so much more. So having a natural supplement that annihilates stress is a must.
Adaptogens also create a sense of zenergy, by elevating energy with a sense of relaxation, increasing its potential use as a supplement to support healthy stress levels. Akin to waking up from a really restful sleep. This may also be beneficial to those in need of a mood boost.
How Adaptogens Work
Adaptogens work by “hacking” the stress response in the body. They modify and regulate a stable balance in your body's hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands which are responsible for the production of your stress hormone, cortisol.
Typically, when our bodies are stressed, we go through three stages of stress:
- alarm phase
- phase of resistance
- phase of exhaustion
As we encounter a stressor (something that stresses us) for example, we start lifting weights — our body responds by kicking out hormones like adrenaline that improve muscle performance and increase our ability to concentrate and pay attention to the task at hand in the phase of resistance. Our body is literally resisting the stressor, so we feel energised and clearer, thanks to our body giving us a boost to fight the stressor. It's pretty damn cool right?
And as we begin to fatigue, we then enter in the exhaustion phase. Adaptogens basically stretch out that “sweet spot” at phase 2 (the phase of resistance) which allows us to hang out in the powerful part longer.
Scientifically proven benefits on the body and mind:
- powerful stress reducer
- ant depressive
- stimulant for central nervous system
And as the scientists in World War II found, they also increase mental work capacity, enhance attention, and prevent stress and fatigue.
What Is A Stimulant
Stimulants are a class of supplements or drugs that cause you to feel more alert or awake as the speed up the messages travelling between the brain and the body for a short period of time. However, this rapid energy spike is followed by a crash (slowed messages).
Some examples of common stimulants are caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and cocaine. Stimulants can cause headaches, anxiety, panic, seizures, cramps. jitters, heart palpitations and other adverse affects.
Most stimulants work by altering the central nervous system and enhancing catecholamine neurotransmission. These neurotransmitters are involved in brain activity such as attention, motivation, arousal and feelings of reward.
However, there is no such thing as a biological free lunch. This means that while you can increase the activity in the brain in the short term, there's a cost to artificially stimulating.
So What Is Better?
We are sure you have all had an energy drink, coffee, pre-workout or some stimulant mix and felt energetic for one or two hours before feeling a big energy crash. Using stimulants is like borrowing energy from your future to artificially use it in the present. It’s a scientific trade off as stimulants will stimulate the body and cause a surge in hormones such as noradrenaline and adrenaline increasing attention and alertness. Unfortunately, this rapid energy spike is often followed by a crash (energy depletion).
Whereas, adaptogens are natural, and work with your body to gradually improve energy, and improve stress resilience and boost mood, improving your performance and wellbeing. By naturally supporting your body’s production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and hormone balance, they are a far superior choice for lasting energy and performance as they help your body and mind to create energy.
Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products. (2008). Reflection paper on the adaptogenic concept. European Medicines Agency. Doc. Ref. EMEA/HMPC/102655/2007.
Panossian, A. & Wagner, H. (2009). Adaptogens. A review of their history, biological activity, and clinical benefits. Herbalgram 90: 52–63.