Trending – Adaptogen Ingredients

In our new trending series, we look at topics making the rounds in the digital sphere. In this post, we take a look at a new trending "class" of ingredients called adaptogens.

What are adaptogens?

The term adaptogens refer to some of the herbs and supplements used in alternative medicine practices. These herbs and supplements are purported to have balancing properties that negate the effects of stress by normalizing and strengthening our body's functions and systems (1,2).Subscribe for weekly updates_
You'll often find ingredients claiming adaptogenic properties in traditional Ayurveda and Chinese medicine and other holistic herbal alternative medicine practices.

What properties do adaptogens need to possess?

According to the European Medicines Agency, adaptogen ingredients must include:

  1. an almost non-toxic response in the recipient.
  2. non-specific pharmacological properties that increase an organism's resistance to a broad spectrum of adverse biological, chemical, and physical factors.
  3. the ability to be a regulator by having a normalizing effect on an organism's various organ systems or other profound pathologic changes in the organism.

The above properties are thought to bring homeostasis to the body, thus reducing stress and stress hormone levels. 

Do adaptogens balance systems and decrease stress?

Currently, there is no adequate research to substantiate the efficacy of adaptogen ingredients. The current research available does not meet the scientific threshold of established pharmacology or medical standards.
Since adaptogens do not meet the efficacy threshold of a medical drug, they are not known to treat, cure, or prevent any known ailments or diseases (1). Therefore, adaptogens are not regulated as a drug for safety or efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, they are considered dietary supplements.

Are adaptogen ingredients regulated

Manufacturers often sell adaptogen ingredients as dietary supplements. There are two primary agencies responsible for dietary supplement regulation: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FDA is responsible for both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients, including adaptogen ingredients. However, they are limited in their ability to regulate supplements before they are available for sale. So, supplement manufacturers are responsible for the purity of the supplement ingredients, and the FDA cannot recall a harmful product until someone reports it to the FDA.
The FDA is updating the process to provide easier ways for consumers to receive recall information and develop better procedures for reporting low-quality products.
The FTC ensures the manufacturer's advertising and marketing supplement health claims are truthful, not misleading, and substantiated. While the FTC warns that many supplements, including adaptogen ingredients, can be harmful to human health and rarely, if ever, produce the marketed health claim. They help ensure that tainted or misleading supplements do not make it into the marketplace. Again, they are unable to verify the safety or validity of health claims.

What are common adaptogen ingredient?

Since adaptogen ingredients are not recognized as pharmaceutical drugs, there are no formal requirements a product must meet to receive the label "adaptogen." Many manufacturers use the adaptogen label on dietary supplements regardless of the ingredient's purity or properties.

We found 15 ingredients referenced as adaptogen ingredients. However, there are many others labeled adaptogen ingredients. The ingredients include Ashwagandha, Astragalus root, Bacopa Monnieri, cordyceps, Eleuthera, holy basil, licorice, maca, maitake, Rhodiola rosea (Arctic root), reishi, schizandra, shiitake, Siberian ginseng, and wild yam (1,2,3). 

Should I be cautious?

Yes. As of publication, our social listening activities have shown a dramatic increase in adaptogen ingredients' marketing to help combat stress and boost immunity.
Additionally, some manufacturers have made dangerous claims that adaptogen ingredients can cure, prevent, or decrease COVID-19 symptoms and have received formal warning letters from the FDA and FTC (1,2).
Before starting any adaptogen or dietary supplement routine, it's best to consult about your health needs with a state-licensed and credentialed medical physician.

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