Adaptogens have been part of the Ayurveda and Chinese herbal practices from ancient times – dating back thousands of years. The word ‘adaptogens’ got its name around 1947 from Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist. He wanted to find certain substances that would help the body to be able to adapt to emotional and physical stress. In ancient times, people would look to plants to get better, passing down the knowledge from one generation to the next. Adaptogens have normalizing effects on the body, supporting the adrenal glands – glands which are responsible for our responses when we are under stress. When the adrenal glands are activated constantly by hectic stressful lives, they become exhausted.
Naturally, we want to live less stressful lives – who doesn't – right? But in today’s world, it is virtually impossible. Thank goodness for adaptogens which can help us to bounce back from constant stress and strain on our body, enabling us to get better sleep, better focus, improved memory, and more.
A Complete A-to-Z List of Adaptogens and How they can help improve our health and well-being
- Indian Gooseberry – The Indian Gooseberry has been eaten and used in traditional Ayurveda medical for literally thousands of years. It is very rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, proving to treat and prevent cancer and even helping with diabetes and high cholesterol.
- Ashwagandha – This plant is similar to ginseng, being a powerful antioxidant proving to be beneficial for the nervous system, endocrine system and for cardiovascular problems. People with depression have been known to benefit from taking Ashwagandha and those people who live in the Himalayas have used it to enhance resistance to oxygen deprivation and also improve physical endurance.
- Astragalus – Astragalus is an herb, used for heaps of conditions such as allergies, diabetes, and heart failure, also regulating and strengthening the immune system. Some just use it as a general tonic, believing it protects their liver and to fight off viruses and bacteria.
- Water hyssop – studies show that water hyssop can regulate your cortisol levels while you are under stress and to improve your cognitive performance when you face chronic stress.
- Bilberry – Bilberry is noted to be excellent for any urinary tract infections and problems. It is also used for the endocrine and reproductive systems and for respiratory conditions. Both the fruit and leaves are used as they are high in antioxidants. It is also noted to be excellent for disorders of the eye.
- Cordyceps – This adaptogen is a medicinal mushroom, used for centuries to enhance the immune system.
- Dang Shen – Dang Shen is also known as codonopsis. It has the ability to strengthen your defense against high-stress levels, trauma, fatigue, and anxiety.
- Elderberry – Elderberry contains high antioxidant levels as well as vitamin C, being able to reduce fevers and to support the immune system.
- Eleuthero – This herbal plant shows evidence of it being used over 2000 years ago in China, used mostly in traditional medications. It acts as a stimulant, helping to increase the functioning of the nervous system. It also increases stamina and endurance. You might hear it being referred to as Siberian Ginseng.
- Ginseng – This is the most common adaptogen. It is known to be beneficial for cancer; it has anti-inflammatory and anti-fatigue benefits, as well as diabetes.
- Guduchi – detoxifying, immune boosting and rejuvenating.
- He Shou Wu – Treats the liver, blood, kidneys and improves energy. Apparently can reverse grey hair.
- Holy Basil/Tulsi – Has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Used for thousands of years to treat problems of the circulatory and immune systems as well as the nervous system.
- Jiaogulan – Known as the “immortality herb”. Studies reveal that the herb has similar benefits to that of Ginseng, lowering LDL cholesterol, improving immunity and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Licorice root – Increases energy, reducing stress and increasing endurance.
- Lycium/Wolfberry/Goji Berry – Has anti-inflammatory benefits that support healthy bowel flora and healthy vision. Supports the liver and kidneys, strengthening weak muscles and ligaments.
- Maca – This herb is also known as “Peruvian ginseng”, even though it has no connection to ginseng. It increases stamina, strength, and libido.
- Reishi – Most of us know the Reishi mushrooms, best known for treatment of tiredness, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory complaints – a general immune booster.
- Rhodiola – Rhodiola strengthens the immune system, restores balance in blood sugar. It aids fertility, boosting alertness and lessening fatigue. Can combat depression.
- Schisandra – Schisandra is used commonly as a tonic, known to remove toxins from the body and to protect the liver.
- Shatavari – This herb is popular with women, believed to increase fertility.
- Suma – Suma is used commonly to boost energy, prevent fatigue and to boost immunity.
When you look at all the above plants and their benefits, you must admit, they sound pretty amazing, don’t they? Who doesn’t want all that extra energy and to get rid of stress? All are backed by centuries of use. It is true that certain adaptogens can help you with that much-needed vitality and energy, but if you are looking for a truly holistic approach, you might need to look at your diet and your lifestyle to receive more meaningful and long-term benefits.
What are adaptogens, really?
- Adaptogens are special foods, helping us adapt to our environment, aiding us in how we respond to stress and to manage it. Only one out of about 4000 different plant types is considered as an adaptogen. Adaptogens must meet certain criteria to be considered as adaptogens:
- They must be safe and non-toxic.
- They must have a broad scope of benefits that will improve the immune system and not just help with one symptom.
- They need to offer balance in the body.
- They are touted to increase energy and endurance; they help with balancing hormones, particularly the cortisol hormone.
- The scientists of 1947 outlined 3 main points about adaptogens:
- An adaptogen causes an increase in being able to resist quite a few stress factors which include chemical, physical, and biological factors.
- Adaptogens have normalizing impacts on physiology.
- Adaptogens don’t interfere with the normal function of an organism more than necessary.
- All adaptogenic plants have unique plant-based chemicals which help to steer the body to function normally. The components that promote healing vary from plant to plant.
- The detailed science around adaptogens is extremely fascinating and continues to grow. The most important thing to remember is that adaptogens are wonderful food secrets that help people to maintain balanced lifestyles and which if you seek them out, can help you. Knowing a bit of background on each of the adaptogens helps when you choose herbs for a particular ailment, providing information about the culture, the history, and customs that bring herbs to life.
- There might not be much scientific research behind adaptogens, but those who swear by them allege that they do what they say they will do and that is to improve energy levels, elevate the mood and even add luster to your skin and hair.
Adaptogens can change your life too
Medea Juhasz is a fashion industry executive as well as a certified holistic health coach, creator of Herbalore. Herbalore combines modern science with traditional old-world herbalism, being committed to formulas that support lasting lifestyle changes. She was inspired by her studies of nutrition and her personal journey. Taking a combination of adaptogens, she claims, is what saved her life!
She was for a long time an alcohol and drug addict, plagued with health problems such as liver damage, sinus infections, ulcers, and nasty and uncontrollable cravings. On her road to recovery, she wanted to address her health by checking out natural herbalism and medicines and so she started experimenting with herbs, superfoods, and amino acids.
It was only months later that she claimed to come up with her ‘exact ratio’ of the combinations, but when she did, she noticed that all her health problems started to disappear. She was so amazed at the reversal that she quit her job in the fashion industry and became a holistic health coach.
Her formula is known as Catalyst Gold, featuring adaptogenic ingredients such as dandelion, astralagus, eleuthero root, chlorella, camu camu, dandelion, and others. She says that “Adaptogens don’t treat a specific condition; they’re for anyone looking to boost overall well-being” working gently and slowly, safe for even long-time use.
Celebrities have benefited from using adaptogens
Look at celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Aniston who spike their drinks and foods with adaptogens. Gwyneth is known to add a teaspoon of ashwagandha to her tea to stay calm. She adds cordyceps into her shakes for a quick energy boost. Many celebrities claim to have pantries packed with adaptogenic herbs, easily available to blend into any hot or cold nut milk drink for “pick me up” nutrition or to replace it with a meal. Biohackers and neurohackers alike agree that one of the best all-in-one adaptogenic combination products in Qualia — see the reviews here.
- People wonder, with the huge availability of adaptogens, how to know which adaptogens to take, or even which is the best brand? How do you know from all the powders out there, the pills, the tablets and capsules to choose?
- Well-known cardiologist and Eastern medical expert, Dr. Alejandro Junger, says that after working with adaptogens for some time, people usually can tell if the adaptogens work from the symptoms they have had.
- He adds also that by trial and error, you can find the ones that suit you.
- He does encourage people to speak to holistic professionals when deciding which adaptogen brands to use and which adaptogens to use. The main danger is buying adaptogens that have contaminants in them. There is also the risk of buying adaptogens that don’t have the correct active ingredients or the plants were not harvested properly.
- He also warns that adaptogens shouldn’t be used in the place of Western medicine, particularly when it comes to treating acute issues. He says you shouldn’t take plants, believing that they are the solution when you should be taking medication or even having surgery.
Chronic stress and adaptogens
- Chronic stress can make people explode, simmer or stew, and if you can relate to this, you are not alone.
- In a national survey completed by the American Psychological Association, it was discovered that one-third of the USA people live with extreme stress. Nearly half reported that their stress levels had increased over the last 5 years.
- Stress hormones during stressful events are supposed to be protective, but when they become over-produced because of chronic stress, those very same hormones can cause and promote cellular damage – they can accelerate detrimental changes in the body which can lead to things like ongoing fatigue, inflammation, bone mineral loss, hormone imbalances, brain fog, and obesity.
- Adaptogens, you can say, increase the body’s natural resistance to stress. Getting rid of stress doesn’t just happen overnight, however, but the sooner you start managing your stress, the better for you.
- Adaptogens – mighty medicinal plants, can do for your adrenal glands what exercises will do for your muscles. Even though exercising puts stress on the body, people still continue to exercise and the body deals better with the stress as they continue exercising.
- When you take adaptogens, you train your body to handle stress effects.
No side effects noted
- You can sip adaptogen teas if you like or you can even combine some of the tinctures you find with water. If you want to add adaptogens to food that you eat, it is possible to buy pre-mixed powders which can really spice up anything from salad dressings to smoothies. There are even adaptogens which can be taken in the form of capsules, but remember to make sure you know what you are getting because there are many supplement companies who will just make a capsule with a bit of this and a bit of that, hoping that it will produce a similar, synergizing effect as the real thing.
- Unfortunately, the supplements are not properly regulated and this can lead to concoctions which can be dangerous to your health and which you will not derive the full effectiveness of. Talk to your doctor before adding adaptogens in any case to your diet because studies do find that herbal supplements do not always interact positively with medications prescribed by a doctor – sometimes people don't let their doctors know they are taking other over-the-counter drugs and supplements for instance.
- There is not much evidence showing that adaptogens can cause health problems or side effects. But plants, as many can do, can cause allergies or gastrointestinal distress which people need to be aware of.
- It is generally safe for most people to ingest adaptogens and in many cases, they serve better as a bandage than the actual cure.
- People just want to find something for their stress that they can’t seem to manage, and while it is easy to just pop a pill than change your lifestyle, it is far better for people to get to the root of what is causing the stress – that would be the healthiest thing to do.
Look at these ailments and see which adaptogens suit you
Poor complexion, unhealthy hair, and brittle nails:
- Pearl – nourishes skin, hair, and nails.
- Chaga – keeps skin youthful.
- Cordyceps – anti-aging.
- Rhaponicum – packed with antioxidants, promoting cell health, keeping you vibrant and young.
- Jiaogulan – protects the body from premature aging and destruction.
- Rhodiola – helps reduce stress, protecting from adrenal fatigue.
- Mucuna pruriens – Nature’s chill pill.
- Ashwagandha – regulates cortisol which is the body’s stress hormone.
- Licorice root – brings stress down.
- Schisandra – helps to fight adrenal fatigue.
- Cordyceps – a hormone balancer which increases stamina and energy.
- Ashwagandha – the ultimate cortisol balancer and thyroid supporter.
- Licorice root – helps to heal adrenal fatigue by balancing cortisol levels.
- Ginseng – all the varieties of Ginseng boosts your energy.
- Maca – all maca types are fantastic energy boosters.
Low sex drive:
- Shilajit – known as “conqueror of mountains” or “destroyer of weakness”, Shilajit lifts up low libido and balances the sex hormones.
- He shou wu – helps to increase sex drive.
- Holy basil (Tulsi) – if you struggle with brain fog, this herbs increases cognitive function.
- Lion’s mane – helps to protect and regenerate brain tissue.
- Rhaponticum – studies show that this root stimulates brain activity.
- Maca – contains plenty of vitamin C, ideal for boosting the immune system.
- Chaga – studies show it has strong antiviral effects and balancing of the immune system properties.
- Turkey tail – improves the function of the immune system.
- Ashwagandha – helps to boost the immune system after sickness.
- Astragalus – helps restore immune function for those with weak immune systems due to cancer treatments or chronic illnesses. Contains power antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Anxiety and depression:
- Lion’s mane – studies show how Lion’s mane can reduce depression and anxiety.
- Ashwagandha – reduces anxiety by up to 44%.
Blood sugar balance:
- Reishi – helps to lower blood sugar levels.
- Holy basil (tulsi) – reduces gas and bloating and problematic gut issues.
- Turkey tail – helps with candida or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
- Licorice root – helps to heal leaky gut syndrome because of its soothing anti-inflammatory properties.
- Shiitake – studies show it can actually decrease the growth of tumors.
- Himematsutake – has the ability to kill off cancer cells, dying off after just a couple days of treatment.
Adaptogens might be the go-to tools that people will use in their daily health routines, but not all people need all the adaptogens. This means that when you use the wrong adaptogens for your particular biological makeup and needs, it can turn out pretty expensive. Adaptogens do encompass a large variety of natural medicines from all parts of the world with a few things in common such as they are safe and they have a good balancing effect on our hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis (the delicate balance between our brains and hormone systems). This means perfect harmony is required to promote healthy moods, energy, metabolism, good immune system, etc. Any imbalance will lead to hormone problems such as thyroid problems, adrenal fatigue and the like.
While all adaptogens have hormone-balancing qualities, each has a particular strength as well. They work brilliantly by themselves but they also work synergistically with other adaptogens. They can be mixed up into the daily morning coffee or blended into a smoothie.
When you’re feeling stressed out and anxious, then getting your life back in balance can be pretty challenging. Spots of productive energy and calm focus can be all too elusive. Don’t be fed up with feeling ‘wired and tired’. A special group of herbs can help you regroup, refocus and restart your body again – they are adaptable adaptogens.
Common Questions about Adaptogens:
- How do adaptogens work?
- What are adaptogens?
- Are adaptogens safe?
Most doctors believe adaptogens are safe, and the studies that have been published don't suggest that they pose serious risks.
- Can adaptogens cause anxiety?
Or worse. You could end up doing more harm than good. Ashwagandha, for example, may increase thyroid hormone levels, which could cause fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath and other problems. The Bottom Line: Claims that adaptogens fight fatigue, stress or anxiety so far aren't backed by good human evidence. (See full article here)
- What do adaptogens do?
- What adaptogens should I take?
- Where to buy adaptogens?
Amazon sells over 1,500 adaptogen-containing products. Easily one of the most comprehensive listings of adaptogens in the marketplace. Be sure to do your due diligence in reviewing sourcing practices and unbiased user reviews before finalizing your purchase.
- Why take adaptogens?
- Who should take adaptogens?
People who are looking for natural ways to help the body adapt to stress and resist fatigue are prime candidates for adaptogenic herbal supplementation. **Of course, always consult with your naturopathic doctor or MD before making any significant dietary and lifestyle changes.
- Which adaptogens to take?
My personal 4 favorite adaptogen-based products are the following:
- Qualia: a combination of nootropics to support cognition and brain health.
- Four Sigmatic Adaptogen Blend: Containing ashwagandha, reishi, cordyceps, ginger, ginseng, amla, Schisandra, and tulsi. Great for calming and stress reduction.
- Gaia Herbs Adrenal Health Daily Support (Vegan liquid capsules): Fantastic for improving and supporting adrenal health, while improving response to stress, support optimal energy, and balance your circadian rhythm.
- Green Adaptogen Powder by Sun Potion: containing organic chlorella, maca, and suma blend – vegan-friendly. Promotes energy, strengthens immunity and overall well-being.