Known for their stress-busting effects, adaptogens have become increasingly popular in recent years. These herbs are found in everything from supplements to skincare products, and they claim to offer benefits such as lowered stress levels, better digestive health, improved focus, and more.
While these benefits might seem too good to be true, research has shown that adaptogens can in fact help the body to manage stress and the physical responses that come with it. Adaptogens have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and there’s a reason they continue to stick around today.
With so many different types of adaptogens out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Keep reading to learn all about adaptogens—what they are, the benefits they can offer, and how to incorporate them into your routine.
“Adaptogen” is a term that encompasses a variety of types of herbs and some mushrooms. The name itself helps to describe what they do, as they essentially “adapt” their function to what the body needs in order to manage stress.
When the body faces a stressor, whether it be mental or physical, it goes through a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens can help the body to stay in the resistance phase longer, rather than advancing to the exhaustion phase in the midst of a stressful event.
Stress impacts all of us differently. It can lead to a variety of health issues such as weight gain, digestive issues, and sleep problems. While adaptogens unfortunately can’t make stress completely disappear, they work to regulate the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands—which are all involved in the way our bodies respond to and cope with stress.
Adaptogens are often used as a more natural alternative to medications and stimulants. They’re also an incredible alternative to caffeine and sugar, as they can provide a boost of energy without the dreaded crash afterwards.
As a whole, adaptogens have been linked to a variety of benefits, including:
In general, adaptogens help the body to manage stress. However, each one does something a little bit different. The adaptogen you choose to take will depend on the results you’re looking for. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, ashwagandha may be a great choice.
There are a variety of different adaptogens out there, many of which are continuing to be researched. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most common adaptogens and the benefits they can offer:
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, ginseng is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The plant is also known to improve brain function, boost immunity, increase energy levels, and even lower blood sugar. Ginseng is easy to incorporate into your diet, whether you stew it in water to make tea or steam it and include it in recipes such as stir-frys or vegetable dishes.
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years to improve concentration, relieve stress, and increase energy levels. Several studies have found that it can lower blood sugar levels and even help to prevent the growth of new cancer cells. Ashwagandha is often taken in capsule form once or twice daily.
Commonly referred to as ‘sweet root,’ licorice root is a popular sweetener used in drinks and candies. However, it can also be taken as a supplement, whether it be a liquid extract or powder. Some of the benefits licorice root is most known for include reducing stress, treating respiratory issues, and even soothing gastrointestinal problems by repairing the stomach lining and maintaining balance in the gut.
Known for their bright red color and slightly sour taste, Goji berries have been said to fight signs of aging, support immunity, and even enhance eye health. These berries are often available in dried form and are delicious with oatmeal, cereal, trail mix, smoothies, and even in baked goods.
Turmeric has become quite a popular ingredient in the health and wellness industry. This bright yellow-colored spice has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may even help to fight depression, age-related chronic diseases, and lower risk of heart disease. Turmeric can be taken in the form of a supplement, but the powder is also used in a variety of recipes, such as in chicken and rice dishes, smoothies, soup, or even ‘golden milk’ lattes.
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable much like cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and broccoli. The maca plant is native to Peru, and its root is known to improve energy and stamina. It’s often dried and consumed in powder form, but is also available in capsules or as a liquid extract. In addition to being highly nutritious, maca root may help to boost your mood, improve memory, and when applied topically, protect the skin from UV radiation.
Rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc, and iron, holy basil is used to treat many different conditions. The plant offers a variety of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, lowered blood sugar and cholesterol, and decreased stomach acid. It’s even been shown to ease inflammation and joint pain. Holy basil is commonly taken in the form of a pill or capsule, but its leaves can also be used to make tea.
One of the most well-known benefits of reishi mushroom is boosted immunity. This mushroom also has anti-cancer properties and may even help to fight fatigue and depression. The highest doses come from consuming the mushroom itself, but dried extract is more commonly used.
Milk thistle is a prickly plant with purple flowers. Milk thistle extract is known for its ability to promote brain health, prevent bone loss, lower blood sugar levels, and help to treat acne. Milk thistle is also commonly taken by breastfeeding mothers, as it’s been known to boost milk production.
It’s no secret that there are a lot of scams out there when it comes to health and wellness products, supplements being among them. So, you might be wondering, “Do adaptogens really work, and should I try one?”
There are a lot of studies out there that prove the benefits of adaptogens. But, the field is lacking in larger, substantive studies, which is why some professionals in the medical community may doubt their claims. For natural, non-patentable ingredients, research is often hard to find because it is expensive to conduct.
Another complicated aspect of adaptogens is that they tend to offer different results for different people. These herbs are known to normalize the body, so depending on the individual’s needs, they’ll work to fill in the gaps. For example, someone who struggles with anxiety may find that ashwagandha helps to regulate this, while for someone else, the herb could help to improve low energy levels.
Despite these complicated factors, many people swear by adaptogens and the benefits they offer. As with any supplement, it’s important to closely monitor your body and the way you respond. Trying adaptogens may be a process of trial and error, and it’s always wise to consult with your doctor when in doubt.
When taking any supplement or plant, it’s important to consider potential side effects. While there isn’t necessarily evidence that shows adaptogens can cause negative side effects, these herbs might not be the best choice for people with certain conditions. They also may not interact well with other medications.
Additionally, when choosing an adaptogen product to try, always take the time to do some research beforehand. Is it a reputable brand? What are the ingredients? Can this be taken in combination with other supplements or medications? These are all important questions to ask.
As mentioned, adaptogens come in many different forms—teas, powders, liquid extracts, capsules, and in foods themselves. They’re even becoming increasingly popular in skincare. Once you’ve decided on an adaptogen to try, take some time to establish how you’re going to incorporate it into your routine. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
When used in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, adaptogens can be a great way to counteract the effects of stress in the body. Whether you have a specific concern you’re looking to treat or are in search of ways to boost your health overall, consider introducing one of these superhero herbs into your regimen.