What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens, a term coined in 1947, are plant substances believed to help the body “adapt” to whatever it needs to restore balance. They can help boost energy when you’re fatigued, support the nervous system when you’re stressed, and even increase stamina when adding more movement to your lifestyle. They have been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and can promote balance and resilience within the body, supporting the adrenal glands and stress response. You’ll find them as herbs, roots and mushrooms and they can be consumed as tea, oil, powders, drinks or capsules.
All adaptogens offer unique health benefits—some of the benefits overlap, some really shine in one specific area, and some can even be paired together for synergistic effects. Incorporating adaptogens into your routine can support overall well-being, and improve resilience against stress and various health challenges, but choosing the right one comes down to getting in touch with your symptoms, needs and goals. Some of the more commonly used adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Known for its stress-reducing and anxiolytic properties, it may also enhance cognitive function and support hormonal balance.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Often used to combat fatigue and enhance physical endurance, it may also improve cognitive function and support overall mood.
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng): Linked to improved mental clarity, enhanced immune function, and potential benefits for sexual health and performance.
- Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): Recognized for its stress-relieving properties, it may also promote a healthy inflammatory response and support overall immune function.
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Known for its potential cognitive benefits, it may support brain health and potentially aid in nerve regeneration and memory enhancement.
- Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis): Often used to improve exercise performance and endurance, it may also contribute to overall immune function and respiratory health.
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Can help to enhance the immune system and support stress reduction and overall well-being.
Choosing the Right Adaptogen for Your Needs
Adaptogens for Emotional Wellbeing:
- Rhodiola Rosea: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated the positive effects of Rhodiola on patients with mild to moderate depression. The study found that Rhodiola supplementation significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to the placebo group, suggesting its potential as an adjunct therapy for mood disorders.
- Ashwagandha: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry highlighted the anxiolytic effects of Ashwagandha. The research indicated that individuals receiving Ashwagandha extract experienced significant reductions in stress and anxiety levels, suggesting its potential as a natural alternative for managing anxiety-related disorders.
Adaptogens for Cognitive Function:
- Ashwagandha: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of healthy adults highlighted the cognitive-enhancing effects of Ashwagandha. The study indicated that Ashwagandha supplementation was associated with improvements in memory, attention, and cognitive processing speed.
- Holy Basil: In a study comparing results from Sternberg and Stroop test, the reaction time and error rate of the group consuming 300 milligram Holy Basil capsules was significantly improved after 30 days.
Adaptogens for Immunity:
- Turkey Tail: Contains natural polysaccharides, including polysaccharide K (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP). These polysaccharides help to support a healthy immune response as well as manage the inflammatory response at the cellular level. One study showed that Turkey Tail was able to improve quality of life in liver cancer patients—the control group had higher social and emotional functioning scores, less appetite loss and fewer pain symptoms than the control group.
- Maitake: In a study with mice where doses correspond to the recommended daily human equivalent, it was revealed that the immunomodulating glucans in Maitake stimulated the cellular and humoral branch of immune reactions.
- Ginseng: In one review, ginseng was associated with improved immune function, particularly because of its anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.
- Holy Basil: Studies have shown the immunomodulatory properties of Holy Basil. The research indicates that Holy Basil extract exhibited significant anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects, potentially contributing to improved overall immune function and a reduced risk of certain inflammatory diseases.
Adaptogens for Men’s Health:
- Ashwagandha: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study highlighted the potential benefits of Ashwagandha in enhancing male fertility. The study indicated that Ashwagandha supplementation improved semen quality, sperm count, and reproductive hormone levels, suggesting its potential role in addressing certain male reproductive health issues.
- Cordyceps: Not only can cordyceps act as a natural aphrodisiac, but one review suggested that cordyceps can improve sperm count and support male fertility. In another study with 189 impotent men, 66% saw an improvement after supplementing with cordyceps.
Adaptogens for Women’s Health:
- Maca: Studies have shown that Maca can help to ease hot flashes, sleep disturbances and other symptoms associated with menopause. Another study on maca has demonstrated its ability to help balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.
- Ashwagandha: Research suggests that ashwagandha supports the overall health and function of the endocrine system, helping to enhance mood, support the stress response and improve reproduction. The stress-supporting benefits can in turn ease hormonal imbalances, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances.
Adaptogens for Athletic Performance:
- Rhodiola Rosea: A systematic review and meta-analysis emphasized the potential benefits of Rhodiola in enhancing physical performance and reducing fatigue in athletes. The analysis indicated that Rhodiola supplementation was associated with improvements in endurance capacity, exercise performance, and recovery, suggesting its potential as a natural aid for athletic performance enhancement.
- Cordyceps: A study conducted on 20 healthy older individuals aged 50-75 using a control group and another group who took 999 mg of CS-4 per day found that after 12 weeks of supplementation, individuals’ lactate threshold increased by 10.5%, and their ventilatory threshold increased by 8.5%. The control group saw no changes in VO2 max. You can learn more about cordyceps in our blog here.
Adaptogens for Gut Health:
- Chaga: Chaga has been revered in folk medicine for centuries to encourage GI health and digestive comfort. This powder is a great source of antioxidants. Chaga has also been used to reduce oxidative stress. In a clinical study with 20 IBD patients, Chaga supplementation resulted in a 54.9% reduction of DNA damage within the patient group and 34.9% within the control group.
Using Adaptogens Synergistically
When combining adaptogens, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance. Dosing recommendations can vary depending on the specific adaptogens used and the desired outcomes. With their many benefits, you may think you need to start adding every adaptogen to your blend, but you wouldn’t try to eat every single vegetable for dinner just because there are perks, and it’s the same thing when it comes to supplements. Much like you would pair a couple of veggies together with a protein for dinner, you can carefully select which adaptogens pair best with your needs, goals and current supplement routine.
No matter which adaptogens you choose, it’s recommended to start with the lowest effective dose and gradually increase it while closely monitoring the body’s response. Combining adaptogens thoughtfully may lead to synergistic effects, potentially enhancing their overall benefits.
Another thing to note about adaptogens, is you’re only likely to reap the benefits if you’re consistent with your dose. If you only take a capsule here and there or pop a spoonful in your morning smoothie once in a while, you may not feel any different. Combining adaptogens into your all-in-one formula can help you stay on track.
Who Should Avoid Adaptogens?
While adaptogens are generally considered safe, certain individuals should exercise caution or avoid their use altogether. These groups may include pregnant or breastfeeding women, individuals with specific medical conditions (such as autoimmune disorders or hormone-sensitive conditions), and those taking certain medications. It’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider before incorporating adaptogens, especially if you fall into any of these categories.
Practitioners, are you ready to start formulating with adaptogens? Book a demo to learn more about our portal and create custom, all-in-one blends for your patients.