- What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?
- What are adaptogens?
- Do adaptogens actually work?
- What are the best adaptogenic herbs?
- How do you add adaptogens to your diet?
- What about adaptogen supplements?
- Thank you!
- Do adaptogens have side effects?
- Are “Adaptogens” a Real Thing? 25 Scientific Papers Reviewed
- What Are Adaptogens?
- Is There Any Research?
- Are Adaptogens Safe?
- Adaptogens: Are They Legit?
- How do Adaptogens Work?
- Are Adaptogens Worth Jumping On the Bandwagon?
- I Took Adaptogens Every Single Day for a Month—Here’s What Happened
- About the product
- The process of taking it
- What I noticed
- The drawbacks
- The bottom line
- What Are Adaptogens & Do I Need Them?
- How Do Adaptogens Work in the Body?
- How to Take Adaptogens
- Adaptogen All-Stars
- Ashwagandha: the mood master
- Turmeric: potent anti-inflammatory
- CBD: a “girl scout” for your body
- Maca: the battery pack
- Holy Basil: hello, tranquility
- Medicinal Mushrooms: a turbo shot for immunity
- Adaptogens 101
- What are adaptogen herbs?
- So what are adaptogen herbs?
- So, how do adaptogen herbs work?
- 1. Ashwagandha
- 2. Tulsi – Holy Basil
- 3. Turmeric
- What Are Adaptogens and Can They Help Power Up Your Workouts?
What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?
Adaptogens are a buzzword in the wellness world, popping up everywhere from juice bars to lifestyle blogs. But what are adaptogenic herbs, exactly? Here’s what you need to know.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that are marketed as helping the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, but they’re having a renaissance today. Some, like holy basil, can be eaten as part of a meal, and some are consumed as supplements or brewed into teas.
Each one claims to do something a little different, but on the whole, “adaptogens help your body handle stress,” says Dr. Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “They’re meant to bring us back to the middle.”
Do adaptogens actually work?
Proponents believe so, though more research is needed. Adaptogens may do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for your muscles, Powell says. “When we exercise, it’s a stress on our body. But as we continue to train and exercise, our body becomes better at dealing with the stress of it, so we no longer get as tired or as high a heart rate,” she says. When you take adaptogens, meanwhile, “you’re training your body to handle the effects of stress.”
Powell says the plants do this by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, both of which are involved in the body’s response to stress. Adaptogens may tweak hormone production and physiological responses to stress to ensure that your body—from your mind to your immune system to your energy levels—functions as it should, Powell says.
That said, there’s not much scientific research on how adaptogens affect human health. Most studies have been conducted either in animals or in human cell samples; even those that have been published tend to appear in small, niche journals. And while there’s plenty of research to suggest that what you eat affects your health, from reducing inflammation to helping you sleep better, it’s too soon to tell whether adaptogens can have such a direct and significant effect on the body.
What are the best adaptogenic herbs?
Each adaptogen has a slightly different function, so the best one for you depends on the specific ailment you’re experiencing, Powell says. Here are some common adaptogens and what they claim to be good for.
- Adaptogens for long-term stress: Powell recommends ashwagandha and Asian ginseng to soothe long-term sources of stress and the hormone imbalances that may result from it. Some research has suggested that holy basil, or tulsi, may help lower stress levels.
- Adaptogens for acute stress and anxiety: Some research suggests that Siberian ginseng (also known as eleutherococcus senticosus), rhodiola and schisandra may help mediate fight-or-flight stress responses. People use Siberian ginseng to boost the immune system, physical stamina and sexual health; rhodiola is believed to improve energy, physical performance and memory; and schisandra is thought to improve liver function and gastrointestinal problems. A big caveat: there’s very little human research to back up those claims. Much more research is needed.
- Adaptogens for immune health: Reishi and ginseng have been found in some small studies to boost immunity.
How do you add adaptogens to your diet?
If you’re looking for a straight dose of herbs, you can sip adaptogen teas or combine tinctures with water. To add adaptogens to the foods you’re already eating, you can buy pre-mixed powder to spice up everything from smoothies to soups to salad dressings.
What about adaptogen supplements?
Some adaptogens can be taken as capsules. Just be sure you know what you’re getting, Powell cautions. “A lot of supplement companies put small amounts of this and that in a pill,” she says. “I think they are just assuming or wishing for a synergistic effect.”
Get our Health Newsletter. Sign up to receive the latest health and science news, plus answers to wellness questions and expert tips.
For your security, we’ve sent a confirmation email to the address you entered. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don’t get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder.
Supplements in general are also notoriously under-regulated and, in many cases, dubiously effective and potentially dangerous.
Do adaptogens have side effects?
You should talk to your doctor before adding adaptogens to your diet or routine. A 2018 study found that common herbal supplements can interact negatively with prescription medications, and many people don’t tell their doctors which over-the-counter drugs and supplements they’re taking.
Powell says there’s little evidence to suggest that adaptogens can cause side effects or health problems—though, like any plant, they can be allergenic or cause gastrointestinal distress for some people. She also says there’s little long-term research about adaptogens’ effects on the body over time.
While it’s probably safe for most people to take adaptogens, Powell says doing so may be more of a bandage than a cure. “People are basically wanting to take these adaptogens all the time for their chronic stress that they’re not managing otherwise,” Powell says. While “it’s easier to take a pill than change your lifestyle,” Powell says getting at the root cause of stress is healthier in the long run.
Most Popular on TIME
Write to Jamie Ducharme at [email protected]
Are “Adaptogens” a Real Thing? 25 Scientific Papers Reviewed
Somehow I got through medical school, a PhD in pharmacology and 25 years as a practising doctor and never heard of ‘adaptogens’ until last year.
Essentially adaptogens are compounds that help us deal with or ‘adapt to’ the stresses and strains of life. Now that I know what ‘adaptogens’ are, I can think of lots of friends, colleagues and patients who could benefit from ‘adaptogens’. Who am I fooling, I myself would like an adaptogen please.
Maybe we should just add adaptogens to the water supply like fluoride? Maybe I could get a Nobel Prize for helping billions of people with one simple public health intervention?
But wait, what exactly are ‘adaptogens’ and more importantly do ‘adaptogens’ actually work?
What Are Adaptogens?
Russian researchers coined the term ‘adaptogen’ in the 1940s to describe a class of botanicals that increase resistance to physical, chemical, and biological stresses. In theory, adaptogens build up general vitality, including the physical and mental capacity for work. An adaptogen is also described as a remedy utilized to restore strength and vigor and is typically taken for an extended period of time.
There is no equivalent in western medicine. Whew. Otherwise I would feel like a fraud and would have to revoke my medical license and recall all the patients I ever saw to offer them this magical cure.
Adaptogens are believed to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the peripheral nervous system. This is the explanation commonly used to explain the ability of adaptogens to mitigate stress and other lifestyle related diseases.
In 1946, Seyle described the effect of stressors and broke stress down into two phases:
adaptation – when the body copes with the stressor and this learning helps the body deal not just with that stressor but also with other noxious agents (so a net benefit)
exhaustion- when the body is overwhelmed by the stressor and the net effect of stressor becomes negative.
According to the Seyle model, adaptogens are believed to help the body deal with stressful situations by expanding the adaptation phase while delaying or preventing the exhaustion phase.
Adaptogens can be classified in three major groups:
- Panax ginseng (e.g., Korean or Asian ginseng)
- Panax cinquefoils
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), sometimes called Arctic root or golden root,
- Astragalus (Astragalus membrananceus and A. mongholicus, Family Fabaceae) also known as huang qi,
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Family Solanceae)
- Licorice root
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
- Cat’s claw
- Gotu kola
- green tea (Camellia simensis)
Adaptogens form the backbone of many herbal formulas because of their perceived ability of bring harmony to an individuals life. Like I said, can you think of anyone (except maybe the Dalai Lama) who would not benefit from an adaptogen?
Each adaptogen has its own unique signature and identity according to herbal medicine. Herbalists will choose among the adaptogens to choose the adaptogen that best matches the individual.
For example, ashwagandha is used for people with anxiety and people with high cortisol levels while liquorice root would be preferred in someone who is burned out as it helps prolong the effects of cortisol. At least, that’s the theory.
There are over 1000 adaptogens listed for sale on Amazon and range in price from a few dollars to $600.
Is This Philosophy Verified?
Adaptogens are widely used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine but are not recognized as therapeutic agents in the type of western Cartesian medicine that I practice.
Is There Any Research?
There are 358 clinical trials related to the search terms ‘adaptogen’ or ‘adaptogenic’. To put this into context there are over 3000 human clinical trials on insomnia which is a signature symptom related to the stress of modern living.
There are 43 clinical studies on rhodiolia, 266 on ginseng, 26 on coryceps and 18 on bacopa.
Ashwagandha is the overall winner in terms of publications and has 976 publications and 20 clinical trials.
Does Ashwaganda Reduce Stress?
Ashwagandha (family solanaceae) is fascinating. It is classified as a medha (mind) rasayana (rejuvenator) in Ayurvedic medicine). It even gets a special menition in the Kama Sutra as an aphrodisiac. (Now do I have your attention?).
It is also known as Indian ginseng but in fact has nothing to do with the ginseng family. Other names include winter cherry or Indian cherry.
The key textbook on herbal medicine says that ashwagandha is ‘widely used as an adaptogen in the US but such employment is supported almost entirely by Indian tradition rather than by science’. (I love the ye olde English).
A 2012 study evaluated ashwagandha 300mg twice daily versus placebo for 60 days in 64 subjects with a history of chronic stress (1). This was a prospective, single center, randomized double blind study. Compliance and tolerability were assessed by follow up phone calls on days 15, 30 and 45.
Three patients were non-compliant with the study protocol. The investigators used intent to treat (64 subjects) for safety analysis and on-treatment (61 subjects) for efficacy analysis.
There was a statistically significant decrease in all stress assessment scales in the treatment as compared to the placebo arm of the study. There was also a statistically significant decrease in plasma cortisol levels in the treatment arm versus the control arm of the study.
A second study was carried out by the Indian Red cross Society and published in the Journal of evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine last year (2). The study evaluated the effect of ashwagandha on body weight.
There are many links between chronic stress and obesity including higher intake of sugar laden comfort foods, reduced physical activity and the pro-obesity effects of stress hormones. A total of 52 subjects under chronic stress were randomized to either ashwagandha 300mg twice daily of placebo. Subjects were assessed at weeks 4 and 8.
Overall the study found that ashwagandha reduced serum cortisol, body weight and BMI.
There is very limited (but positive) information on ashwagandha for chronic stress.
Does Ginseng Improve Mental Performance?
Panax ginsneg is native to Korea and China. The dried roots contain over 300 glycosoidal saponins which are believed to be responsible for the therapeutic effects of ginseng.
A review from the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement group evaluated ginseng for cognition (3). The researchers justified the need for the review based on the fact that ginseng is a herbal bestseller and accounts for over $350 million in China alone. A total of 9 trials were identified but only 5 of these trials (289 participants) had extractable data.
The authors concluded that here is a lack of convincing evidence to show a cognitive enhancing effect of Panax ginseng in healthy participants and no high quality evidence about its efficacy in patients with dementia.
As the Cochrane reviewers have said ‘there is a lack of convincing evidence to support Panax ginseng for cognitive enhancing effects’.
Does Holy Basil Improve Libido? Protect The Liver?
Holy basil (Tulsi or Ocimum sanctum Linn) is a sacred medicinal plant in ancient Indian medicine. It contains a high ratio of phenylpropanoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
Holy basil is believed to play a role in liver cancer. Investigators from the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in India carried out a complex computer modelling and an in vitro study to examine this claim (4). The study found that ‘contrary to the assumption’, holy basil did not show any anticancer activity on liver cancer cell lines. Oops.
A study from India evaluated the effect of holy basil on paracetemol induced liver injury in albino rats (5). The study divided the rats into five different groups: groups A and B were normal and experimental controls, groups C received holy basil 200 mg/kg BW/day, groups D received silymarin 100 mg/kg BW/day and holy basil 100 mg/kg BW/day and group E received silymarin 50 mg/kg BW/day p.o.
The study took place over 10 days. Liver enzymes and albumin globulin ratio were significantly (P < 0.01) closer to normal in groups C,D and E as compared to group B. There was also a reduction in sinusoidal congestion, cloudy swelling and fatty changes in the arms of the study treated with Holy Basil.
Unfortunately, this benefit was not borne out in human studies.
A study published last year in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry randomized 30 overweight/obese subjects to either Tulsi 250 mg twice daily or no intervention for 8 weeks (6). The study showed a statistically significant improvement in plasma lipids. However no significant changes in liver function tests were noted.
The only study that vaguely relates Holy Basil to sex looked at the effect of 3 plants, Ocimum sanctum, Drynaria quercifolia, and Annona squamosa, for activity against Neisseria gonorrhoeae (7). The plant extract showed anti-neisseria activity esepcially for drug resistant gonorrhoea.
At this time, holy basil is unproven as a liver protective or libido enhancing herb.
Does Astragalus Root Boost Immunity?
Astragalus is the root of the Astragalus membranaceous, family Fabacea. It is now cultivated worldwide but originated in northern China and Mongolia.
A Chinese study reported good outcomes using astragalus injections in patients with TB (8). As a practising infectious diseases doctor, I struggled to understand the abstract. The full paper is only available in Chinese. I think the issue was mainly due to the fact that the science may have been ‘lost in translation’ but I could not be sure of the quality of the research due to the lack of information and the quality of the writing.
Another Chinese study compared astragalus to placebo in 66 patients with congestive heart failure (9). The study found that astragalus significantly improved cardiac function and cellular immunity as compared to matched controls.
Yet another Chinese study looked at the effect of astragalus on immune function in patients who had experienced serious abdominal trauma (10). Administration of astragalus 20 ml intravenously improved cellular immunity in these patients. This was based on laboratory values and the study did not extend to evaluate the clinical relevance of these findings.
A small pilot study showed that Echinacea purpurea, Astragalus membranaceus and Glycyrrhiza glabra activated immune cells in human subjects as quantified by CD69 expression on CD4 and CD8 T cells (11).
Finally, a study from China looked at patients with severe sepsis and allocated them to either the placebo or Hengyan medicinal recipe group (n=22), in which patients were treated with Hengyan medicinal recipe 50 ml, 3 times daily, for 7 days (in addition to standard of care) (12).
Hengyan medicinal recipe was composed of Bombyx batryticatus 10 g, Cicada slough 10 g, Curcuma 10 g, Rhubarb 3 g, Radix astragalus 10 g, Radix ophiopogonis 10 g, Red ginseng 10 g, Paeony 10 g, Walnut kernel 10 g and Safflower 10 g. The researchers report improvements in the APACHE score (ICU severity score) and immune parameters in the Hengyan recipe arm.
It is pretty much impossible to isolate out the effects of astragalus in the above concoction. Additionally it is a bit hard to take this research too seriously as the first result reported in the study was the fact that the Hengyan group had a significant decrease in the number of bowel movements.
There is no convincing evidence that astragalus boosts immunity (or does anything).
Does Bacopa Monnieri Do Anything?
There are 18 clinical trials looking at human outcomes with Bacopa Monnieri. Fifteen of these trials looked at the nootropic or cognitive enhanching effects of Bacopa Monnieri.
Luckily for us, investigators from Thailand and the University of Illinois carried out a meta-analysis of the cognitive effects of Bacopa Monnieri (13).
Meta-analysis of available studies suggest that Bacopa has the potential to improve cognition but there is too little research available to make a general recommendation at this time.
Does It Rhodiola Rosea Reduce Fatigue?
Rhodiola is a perennial plant native to Alpine Europe, Asia and North America. It has been extensively researched by Russian scientists over the past 80 years.
An Armenian study looked at Rhodiola on fatigue during night duty in 56 healthy young physicians (14). The study design was a double blind cross over trial. A total of five tests were used and involved complex perceptive and cognitive cerebral functions, such as associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation and ability of concentration, and speed of audio-visual perception. A statistically significant improvement in these tests was observed in the treatment group.
A Canadian study looked at rhodiola in nursing students. A parallel-group randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of 18-55 year old students from the Faculty of Nursing from the University of Alberta (15). Participants were randomized to take 364 mg of either R. rosea or identical placebo at the start of their wakeful period and up to one additional capsule within the following four hours on a daily basis over a 42-day period. A total of 48 participants were randomized to R. rosea (n = 24) or placebo (n = 24). This study indicates that among nursing students on shift work, a 42-day course of R. Rosea compared with placebo worsened fatigue. Not ideal at all.
Another study looked at the effect of rhodiola or placebo on stress related fatigue in 60 adults (16). Study participants were randomised to either rhodiola 576 mg four times daily or placebo for 28 days. A battery of different tests were used. The results of the study depend on which tests were used. Significant improvements were noted for both the treatment and intervention arms of the study using some tests, while other tests showed that rhodiola outperformed the placebo arm of the study.
Results of studies on rhodiola are inexplicably inconsistent.
Do Cordyceps Mushrooms Do Anything?
Cordyceps (dong chong xiaco) is the small blade shaped fruiting body of a parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of moths. It grows particularly well in China and Tibet.
A total of 60 patients with moderate asthma were randomized to either dong chong xiaco plus standard of care or just standard of care for two months (17). There were statistically significant differences in the levels of inflammatory makers in the dong chino xiaco treated arm of the study.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 85 children with asthma aged 7-15 years were randomly assigned to receive either a daily oral herbal formula of five herbs (Astragalus mongholius Bunge, Cordyceps sinensis Sacc., Radix stemonae, Bulbus fritillariae cirrhosae, and Radix scutellariae) or placebo for 6 months (18). No significant difference was found between the two study groups.
A total of 22 male cyclists participated in a 5 week study comparing cordyceps versus placebo on the effect of exercise endurance (19). Cordyceps supplementation had no effect in aerobic exercise capacity or exercise endurance.
Similar negative results were observed in 8 male cyclists in a study done in Waco, Texas (20).
A pilot study in 20 healthy elderly subjects suggests that supplementation with Cordyceps sinensis improves exercise performance and might contribute to wellness in healthy older subjects (21).
A combination of cordyceps plus rhodiola was used in 18 male subjects to see if the herbal combination could enhance exercise endurance over a two week trial at an altitude of 2200 metres (22). Subjects were randomized to either rhodiola 1400mg plus cordyceps 600mg or placebo. The study found that the exhaustive run time was statistically longer and the decline of parasympathetic activity was significantly prevented in treatment arm of the study.
A Chinese study found that the combination of cordyceps with artemesinin ( a herbal medicine now used as the treatment of choice for malaria worldwide) prevents recurrence of lupus nephritis and protected renal function in 30/31 study subjects (23).
A total of 182 renal transplant recipients in China were randomized to either standard immunosuppression or immunosuppresssion plus cordyceps (24). Immunosuppression is required after any transplant to prevent rejection of the graft. Cyclosporin is used after renal transplants and the dose of the drug is adjusted based on blood levels and tailored to the individual. The renal function and survival rates of grafts and patients did not differ significantly between the control group and the treatment group.
However, the incidences of complications were significantly lower in the treatment group compared with the control group with the exception of those showing acute rejection. Furthermore the dose of Cyclosporin A was significantly lower in the cordyceps than in the control group.
The authors conduced that cordyceps may play a role in the longterm care of renal transplants. It is unclear from this study whether cordyceps was acting as an immunomudulator itself or whether it was just affecting the levels of the Cyclosporin A and maybe acting as a Cyclosporin sparing agent.
There are a number of studies looking at cordyceps but it is impossible to make any overarching recommendations due to variability in the study designs and outcomes.
Are Adaptogens Safe?
Panax ginseng extract (1 g/day or 2 g/day) over a 4-week period was shown to be well tolerated in healthy volunteers (25)
Equally, ashwagandha was shown to be safe at doses of 600 mg for 60 days (1)
Ginseng can cause nervousness or sleeplessness, especially if taken at high doses or combined with caffeine. Other side effects are rare, but may include:high blood pressure, insomnia, diarrhea, nose bleeds, breast pain and vaginal bleeding. Ginseng should be taken with food to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia (even in people who are not taking blood sugar lowering medication). Ginseng should be avoided perioperatively as it increases the risk of bleeding.
Astragalus can raise plasma levels of lithium and is is best avoided in patients taking lithium for mania. It is also generally avoided in people with autoimmune dysfunction because of theoretical concerns about immune stimulation.
I consider myself reasonably sane and balanced but here is my confession. I totally understand why someone could say ‘science be damned’ and invest their hard earned money (out of sheer desperation) in the promise of adaptogens.
Last week, I would happily have bought an adaptogen from any snake oil salesman. (Reason being, I had the real flu, the kids had the real flu, my colleagues had the flu and the waiting room was full of patients with the real flu. It was miserable and I knew that I was on the wrong side of the Seyle two phase curve).
Of course, now that I am better and some sort of order has been restored in my life, I would now totally regret that decision (based on the science and the fact that the adaptogen would probably not have worked). Buyer’s remorse.
Healthy but smart is all about helping us separate out those ‘impulse buys’ from rational shopping decisions. As things currently stand, adaptogens could not be classified as a rational shopping decision.
How can the science on adaptogens be so confusing? Rhodiolia works for doctors but not for nurses? Ginseng works for normal people but not extreme athletes?
Dr Low-Dog is a well-known wetstern doctor who specializes in herbal medicine and she explains the fact that the studies on ginseng have yielded such radical different results. In some studies ginseng relieves anxiety and in other studies it stimulates anxiety. Equally some studies show that ginseng raises BP while in others lowers BP. She reminds us that adaptogens are essentially smart drugs that ‘normalize’ things.
One person may need their BP increased and another may need their BP decreased. Very confusing I have to say. It is also very disconcerting as a prescribing physician. Doctors (and many patients) like to give a drug with a known therapeutic effect as opposed to let the agent make up its own mind as to what is needed on the day.
The blogosphere is awash with positive commentary on adaptogens. Let me just say that I am reminded of the quotation by Mark Twain:
‘Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint’.
Was this page helpful?
Adaptogens: Are They Legit?
by Molly Rieger, RD, NLC and Leah Silberman, RD, NLC
Your morning just began and your inbox is already inundated with emails, reminding you that there’s no end in sight to your “to-do” list. You’re supposed to go grocery shopping after work, but at this rate you’ll be lucky if you even have time to eat dinner.
The pressure is on figuratively and literally to get everything done AND stay healthy, as that discomfort in your sinuses is warning you that a headache is on the horizon. Your normal fix would be to pop a couple pain relievers and hope they kick in. Fast. But what if there’s a way to avoid the stress headache from coming on in the first place?
Rather than turning to Western medicine to relieve the anxiety-induced pain, there may be a solution growing right in your garden.
Adaptogens are a specific group of herbs that have been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. They’ve gained attention recently for their ability to help our bodies better cope with stress and fatigue. Today, you can find the adaptogens herbs in supplement form in the aisles of most health food stores and vitamin shops.
They definitely sound appealing, but are they worth the money or are they another passing health fad? Let’s dig deeper.
How do Adaptogens Work?
Adaptogens work by strengthening the adrenal system and moderating stress responses. They tend to be good sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, which helps to prevent cellular damage.
When the body is under stress, it pumps out adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that spike our blood sugar and increase our heart rate in order to face the stressor. In other words, that feeling you get when your boss throws an urgent assignment on your desk when you were about to leave for yoga.
Our amazing bodies are built to slow back down again and regain homeostasis when the stress is over. (i.e. when you finish that assignment and walk out of the office feeling like a BOSS).
However, when we face constant stress (and who doesn’t have at least a little daily stress), the stress response system stays turned on, potentially leading to problems such as chronic inflammation and adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens work to mitigate this response system by reducing the effects of stressors.
Though it is difficult to test for adrenal fatigue, as testing is conducted in a multitude of forms—hormone testing (especially cortisol), questionnaires, or a combination of the two —there are some common symptoms that may help tip you off.
For instance, someone with adrenal fatigue may experience: sugar or caffeine cravings, difficulty concentrating, high blood sugar, frequent colds, hormonal imbalances, anxiety and depression, troubling waking up, and weight gain around the abdomen. Any sound familiar??
Adaptogen supplements got their name because once they enter the body they “adapt” to the individual’s specific needs either by gently energizing or calming the body.
As Dr. Frank Lipman, internationally recognized expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine, explains, “Think of adaptogens like your body’s thermostat.” They are able to calm you down or boost your energy subtly. For instance, stress may cause unwanted spikes in blood sugar. Adaptogens work to reduce this effect and stabilize blood sugar. Sounds like a better alternative to sugary energy drinks, doesn’t it?
Are Adaptogens Worth Jumping On the Bandwagon?
If you’re experiencing constant stress and think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, there’s no real downside to giving adaptogens a try. Adaptogens have been recognized by herbalists as non-toxic and safe for centuries. Since dietary supplements in general are not USDA or FDA regulated, it is up to you, the consumer, to read the ingredients carefully. While there is no one formula for an effective adaptogen, you should see at least some of the herbs below in the ingredient list:
- American and Asian Ginseng root
- Ashwagandha rootA
- Dang Shen root
- Eleuthero root
- Holy Basil herb
- Jiaogulan herb
- Licorice rhizome
- Reishi fungus
- Rhaponticum root
- Rhodiola root
- Wu Wei Zi berries/seeds (Schisandra)
The impact and effectiveness of the herbs depends on how they are grown, harvested and processed as well as how the herbs are combined. As each herb has a different effect on the body, herbalists aim to create the right harmony of calming and energizing herbs to create a balancing supplement. Herbalists recommend taking adaptogen supplements for at least 3 months to fully feel the benefits.
Molly Rieger and Leah Silberman are registered dietitians and the co-founders of Tovita Nutrition, a virtual nutrition counseling and concierge service. As graduates of the NYU masters of clinical nutrition program, they combine their science and clinical backgrounds with the counseling and business skills learned at The Nutrition School.
The following are four adaptogen herbs I consider most important. You can take these adaptogens individually or in a combination formula, but be sure to consult a doctor before you start taking them and pay attention to the cautions I’ve listed below.
For thousands of years, Asian Ginseng has been one of the most valued (and most expensive) medicinal plants in the world. It has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress and is believed to influence metabolism within individual cells.* Western herbalists say that it helps maintain the body’s normal immune response and supports the growth of normal cells.
Recommended dose: 100 to 200 mg per day of a standardized extract — most standardized ginseng extracts supply approximately 4 to 7% ginsenosides. Or 1 to 2 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, usually taken in gelatin capsules.
Caution: Ginseng is generally safe at the recommended dose, but occasionally it may cause agitation, palpitations or insomnia. Consuming large amounts of caffeine with large amounts of ginseng may increase the risk of overstimulation and gastrointestinal upset. If you have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be monitored when taking it. Ginseng is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Eleuthero is used in traditional Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, sleep issues, and fatigue. In Germany, its use is approved for chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and convalescing after illness.* Western herbalists note that it enhances memory, feelings of well-being and can lift the mood.*
Recommended dose: 2 to 3 grams per day of the dried root.
Caution: As with Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero is generally safe, but has occasionally been associated with agitation, palpitations or insomnia in patients with cardiovascular disorders. If you have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be monitored when taking it. I generally don’t recommend it for pregnant or breastfeeding women, even though limited research shows no evidence of harmful effects on the fetus.
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Like Asian Ginseng, ashwagandha is used to support vitality, energy, endurance and stamina, and support the immune system.* Today, herbalists often recommend it for people with high blood pressure, sleep problems, fatigue, and impotence associated with stress or exhaustion.* It’s been shown to enhance endocrine function, especially in the thyroid and adrenals.* Ayurvedic healers have long prescribed the herb for exhaustion brought on by both physical and mental strain.
Recommended dose: 3 to 6 grams per day of the dried root
I Took Adaptogens Every Single Day for a Month—Here’s What Happened
If you’ve been plugged into the weird wellness world of 2018, you’ve likely heard of adaptogens. These non-toxic herbs, roots, and mushrooms, used for centuries in Eastern medicine, have garnered recent attention in the Western world for their alleged ability to help your body better handle stress, fix hormone imbalances, improve immunity and boost energy, among other purported benefits.
In other words, they essentially are—in theory, that is—magical, cure-all formulations. Which is why when I got the chance to try a brand new adaptogenic product myself—Wildcrafted, a collection of herbal and mushroom powders out of Greenville, South Carolina—I jumped at the chance. Because there are so many reputed perks of consuming adaptogens on the reg, and I’m curious if these super substances really live up to all their hype, I decided to conduct a very unscientific experiment and test the powder out myself for 30 days.
Struggling to cook healthy? We’ll help you prep.
Sign up for our new weekly newsletter, ThePrep, for inspiration and support for all your meal plan struggles.
“People are really looking to the earth for medicinal value,” says Olivia Esquivel, Wildcrafted founder, of the recent buzz surrounding adaptogens. “Everyone is overstimulated and overstressed…, it’s a relief that they’re not made in a lab.”
Esquivel launched the company in June 2018 after about six months of experimenting with adaptogens at Southern Pressed, a restaurant she co-owns with outposts in Austin, Texas and Greenville, South Carolina. An adaptogenic consumer herself for 1.5 years, Esquivel consulted local herbalists to formulate the Wildcrafted products, and many of the ingredients are sourced from suppliers and farms in Asia.
Though the product was sent gratis, all opinions expressed here are my own.
About the product
The package arrived with three sleek, black jars each containing 40 grams of formulation (about 80 servings). There were three types: Energy, advertised for its anti-fatigue, metabolism boosting, and stamina-increasing properties; Brain, purported to be good for mood, anxiety reduction, and mental clarity; and Beauty, promoted as anti-fatigue, hormone balancing, and anti-inflammatory.
Though product guidelines said I could safely consume all three products at once (!), as an adaptogen newbie-slash-skeptic, I decided to pick just one. And thinking that hair and skin health would be easier to evaluate than mental health and energy levels, I opted for the Beauty formulation. According to the product fact sheet included in the shipment, the formula “works to restore emotional balance, enhancing elasticity of the skin, boost libido, and nourish the inner organs resulting in shiny hair and glowing skin.” It also works to “promote optimal thyroid and liver function while helping to fight free radical damage.” In other words, it’s a fountain-of-youth mix, thanks to its 3-ingredient formulation of ashwagandha, He Shou Wu, and Schisandra.
Ashwagandha, a medicinal herb, is known for its stress reducing effects, says Amanda Barnes, registered dietitian. He Shou Wu, another medicinal herb native to China, is known for anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties; and Schisandra, a berry, is an antioxidant used for coughs, insomnia, and liver disease, Barnes explains.
The process of taking it
Though Esquivel recommends adding the powder to salads, smoothies, coffee, or juice, I wanted to experience the flavors unmasked, and thus opted to simply mix it with about a half cup of water. I took the cloudy concoction every morning soon after rising. The formula wasn’t terrible tasting, per se. But with its bitter, earthy flavor (earthy in a dirt-esque way, not a beet-esque way), it certainly wasn’t something I looked forward to. On the plus side, my coffee, which I drank immediately after, had never tasted better.
In terms of dosage, the label advises taking ¼ teaspoon a day, and Esquivel recommends no more than ½ teaspoon. “You won’t overdose,” she says, “but eventually your body will eliminate what it doesn’t need.” Esquivel also recommends taking the product 6 days a week, with one day off to “help with absorption.” This I did not know until after the experiment, so I took a ¼ teaspoon dose religiously for 30 days straight. And though the powder wasn’t easy on my taste buds, it was easy on my stomach, with no difficulty digesting and no unpleasant burping, which I’ve experienced when taking other supplements (glaring at you, fish oil).
What I noticed
The brain and energy formulations usually produce a difference “right away,” Esquivel tells me, while the beauty formulation can require four to six weeks of consistent consumption before you might notice any benefits.
I was surprised to hear this, because I noticed changes in both my skin and my hair—especially my skin—within a week of taking the beauty supplement. My face, typically acne-prone, had a fresh, youthful glow to it that I swear I hadn’t seen since college, when I had relatively little stress and the luxury of sleeping 10-plus hours a night. My hair, which often looks more frizzy than fabulous, took on a healthy, glossy sheen.
That said, no one but me seemed to notice these changes (not even my roommate, who sees me day in and day out), and the “transformation” wasn’t really visible in photos, so although I did have fewer zits than normal, the skin glow and hair gloss could have very well been all in my mind (or just minute enough that it was only perceptible to me). But the resulting confidence boost was real, and these changes carried through weeks 2 and 3 of the experiment.
Unfortunately, the effects seemed to wear off in the final week of the experiment, when I got a bout of acne again, which included one of those particularly nasty beneath-the-surface bumps on my chin. But to be fair, it was an especially hectic week—both work-wise and life-wise—and these external stressors likely played a role.
This mindfulness of stress and the effects it may have on our bodies is a core component of the adaptogenic ritual, says Esquivel. The intent behind Wildcrafted, she explains, is to “just slow down, and be more mindful about how stress is affecting your life emotionally and physically.”
As hokey as it sounds, doing this experiment helped me on both fronts. The ritual of pouring, mixing and drinking the herbs each morning helped me take a small moment at the beginning of my day to reflect on my stress levels and adjust my day accordingly, whether it was finding time to hit the gym, saying “no” to a project that would overburden my schedule, or carving out an hour that night to call a friend.
And perhaps that’s part of the benefit of adaptogens—whether or not you actually consume the herbs, just thinking about them makes you more aware of your stress in the first place, which I think is a baseline necessity for knowing how to manage it.
“We aren’t clinicians,” says Esquivel of herself and the Wildcrafted team. “We can’t say won’t counteract with any medicine.” Indeed, studies have found some herbs can interfere with prescription medications, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before adding the herbs, roots and mushrooms to your diet.
Did I become more beautiful when taking the adaptogens? In my (sole, unsupported opinion), yes. Did the adaptogens absolutely cause these changes? That’s difficult—if not impossible—to say. There are so many factors that can contribute to your overall skin and hair health—diet, sleep, stress, hydration, etc.—that without a physician or scientific study, it’s hard to pinpoint which factors are influencing what. Even so, I have about 50 servings left in my jar of beauty powder, and I plan on taking them until it runs out. And when that happens, depending on how my skin and hair looks these next two months, I may go for the $35 refill. As for my stress levels, I now feel slightly better equipped to handle those—herbs or no herbs.
What Are Adaptogens & Do I Need Them?
Increasing numbers of people are experiencing tension, fatigue, lack of sleep, digital overload and a 24/7 lifestyle. While your body does an amazing job as a first-responder combating these challenges, it could certainly do with some back up in this modern era—that’s where adaptogens come in!
Used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, adaptogens are herbs that help you “adapt” by restoring balance and protecting your body from external challenges. They don’t have a specific action but, instead, help prevent imbalances
How Do Adaptogens Work in the Body?
The best way to think about adaptogens is to consider them an internal “thermostat” for your body. When your body gets out of balance, adaptogens work to bring your hormone levels back to normal and bring your internal “temperature” down if you need calming or back up if you need uplifting.
Plus, because your body’s e sympathetic nervous system controls hundreds of pathways that are responsible for occasional discomfort, it’s a powerhouse at keeping other nasty imbalances at bay.
How to Take Adaptogens
As with many herbs, adaptogens come in various forms that can be taken with water or added into smoothies, teas, snacks, and even beauty elixirs. While no option is necessarily better than the other, make sure you are buying from a high-quality source and go with a form that works in easily with your lifestyle (if you love smoothies then go for powdered forms but if you prefer to take a capsule then that works too).
Other things to be mindful of when taking adaptogens:
- Use 1 – 2 at one time, and no more than 3 at one once
- For ones that have a strong taste, consider adding them to recipes (rather than water).
- Choose one that supports how you’re feeling, what you need, and what you’re dealing with in life.
- They’re generally quite strong so you don’t need a lot.
- If you don’t notice a difference instantly, be patient—adaptogens are powerful, but slow-acting; allow up to a few weeks to notice a difference.
To be an adaptogen, herbs have to be non-toxic to the body’s physiological functions, offer comprehensive support, and help bring the body back to balance. There are more than 50 adaptogens to choose from, but below we’ve put together our team of “Adaptogen All-Stars”:
Ashwagandha: the mood master
Ashwagandha helps to facilitate calmness (which is why we use it in our Calm & Centered Collection).
Turmeric: potent anti-inflammatory
Known as one of the most powerful herbs on the planet, turmeric has a long list of natural benefits. But before you wonder how many curries you’re looking at each week, here are some of our turmeric recipe ideas.
CBD: a “girl scout” for your body
CBD always does the right thing for the body in any given situation (hence it’s “girl scout” reputation). It’s a “smart” molecule, a regulator, a modulator, and an adaptogen that fights inflammation—the root cause of so many imbalances in the body. It helps you find some relief, recover, and chill.
Maca: the battery pack
Often added to smoothies, raw desserts, protein powders and hot chocolate (yum!), maca is a great option if you need an energy lift as well as being a rich source of vitamin C—making it great for boosting your immune system.
Holy Basil: hello, tranquility
Need to take a deep breath? One of the most important benefits of Holy Basil is that it facilitates relaxation and calmness. Plus, it also helps clear brain “fog” by gently working to increase cognitive function.
Medicinal Mushrooms: a turbo shot for immunity
Medicinal mushrooms, like Chaga, are an antioxidant powerhouse that fights free radicals and inflammation. This dark black mushroom acts as “damage control” in the body, combating the far-reaching effects of oxidative stress (when free radicals in the body start attacking fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins).
While you can’t eliminate tension from your life entirely, you can use adaptogens to help keep pace with your busy life and find balance when you need to. Plus, the beauty of adaptogens is that they meet you where you are rather than trying to be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. We are all different and life throws us challenges at different times in our lives which is why we love the flexibility that adaptogens provide— they work with your specific needs, adapting their function to your body’s needs.
So whether you’re interested in finding greater calm, avoiding burnout, or are simply looking for more ways to elevate your healthy lifestyle, this unique class of herbs has so much to offer for everyday well-being. Consider incorporating some adaptogenic herbs in your supplement stash, experiment to see what works for you, and relax knowing you’re well-equipped to support your body no matter what life throws at you next.
ADAPTOGENS ARE NATURAL ANCIENT STRESS FIGHTERS
The term adaptogen is newish as a health buzzword, but it’s rooted in thousands of years of Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicinal wisdom. The concept is actually pretty simple: adaptogens help your body ADAPT and function as it should when you’re under stress. And they all function a little differently.
Much like exercise trains our muscles and cardiovascular system, adaptogens strengthen us – our adrenal glands in particular – so that we can better handle the physical, mental, and emotional stressors life brings our way. That doesn’t mean we are automatically zen all the time, but it does mean that our bodies, immune systems, and minds are more capable of responding appropriately and managing stress.
HOW DO WE EASILY GET THEM INTO OUR DAILY LIFE? EAT THEM!
Turmeric is probably the most popular food adaptogen.
And most of our products are chock full of turmeric. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to drastically alter the body’s response to stress with regard to cortisol production and its effects on memory. Most of us know the feeling of getting stressed and not being able to remember what we NEED to recall…
Many adaptogens are available in supplement form and smoothie powders, but we recommend incorporating adaptogens like turmeric in with your food, so they can work naturally with the body’s digestive system to reach the deeper tissues and be most effective.
Happy Honey is our most Adaptogenic product.
Our Happy Honey is a mood-boosting, adaptogenic sweetener with benefits! The herbs in Happy Honey that de-stress your body and mind — tulsi, fo-ti root and rhodiola — are all adaptogens. You might have heard of adaptogens, but it’s a relatively new kid on the block outside of Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. Here we break down exactly what these powerful little plants can do for you.
By combining them in raw sage honey and formulating them with a delicious blend of mood-boosting, gut healthy and anti-inflammatory spices, Happy Honey delivers on our mission to make modern, everyday cooking products with both incredible flavor and functional health benefits.
Countertop is passionate about helping you cook with maximum health in minimum time. Our products re-imagine everyday staples like butter, sweetener, and seasonings into minimally processed, easy to use, outrageously delicious superfood blends that turn the foods you already love into foods your body will love you for. Read more about our Countertop story here.
What are adaptogen herbs?
None of us are immune to the pressures of modern life, whether it be work deadlines, the daily commute or just simply never having enough hours in the day.
The Health & Safety Executive estimate that in 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.
Our bodies are also regularly exposed to physical and toxic stress too – from household chemicals, pesticides in our foods, pollutants in the air, intensively farmed meats and refined sugar to name but a few.
All this can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope leading to insomnia, tiredness, anxiety, depression and even physical illness.
Thankfully there are some incredible rejuvenating herbs that can help. These are the amazing adaptogens.
So what are adaptogen herbs?
Well, the clue is their name. They literally help the body to adapt, adjust and recalibrate itself depending on our emotional and physical surroundings. So, for example, they can help calm in times of stress. They can bring peace to a racing mind in the middle of the night. They can give clarity when everything around is in turmoil. They can give energy when we are tired.
The term adaptogen was introduced into scientific literature by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957 to refer to ‘substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance’ in stress. Broadly, an adaptogen must have the four ‘Ns’
- Nourishing – bring nutritive strength
- Normalising – raise what is low and lower what is high (eg energy, stress)
- Non-specific – act on multiple parts of the body at the same time
- Non-toxic – be completely safe when used over extended periods of time.
So, how do adaptogen herbs work?
Adaptogens relieve stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. As biological response modifiers (BRMs) adaptogens restore the body’s innate immune function and help the body adapt to different stressors. This gives them preventative and protective as well as curative activity in compromised immunity.
By replenishing our deeper immunity and regulating our response to stress, adaptogens replenish the wellspring of health and vitality and are true rejuvenative tonics helping to:
- Improve overall wellbeing
- Increase energy
- Optimise organ function
- Reduce stress response
- Increase inner strength
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Optimise protein synthesis
- Reduce inflammatory cortisol levels
- Improve cholesterol ratios
- Regulate the hormonal balance
I often marvel at the fact that there are plants that can do all, yes, ALL of these things – and there are plenty. Here are three of my favourites.
The perfect herb for the 21st century as it both calms and energises, helping us to adapt to the stresses of everyday living. It’s helpful for assisting deep sleep and calming nervous tension. Its ability to replenish the blood, enhance nutrients and build bone strength make it indispensable in disorders of degeneration and ageing. Its affinity for the adrenal, endocrine and nervous systems point to its use in any imbalances affecting our energy or vitality.
Pukka supplements to try:
Wholistic™ Ashwagandha capsules
Find out how we source, grow and harvest ashwagandha.
2. Tulsi – Holy Basil
This leafy member of the mint family is known in Hindu mythology as an incarnation of the Goddess Tulsi, offering divine protection. As well as increasing circulation, aiding digestion and helping to protect against seasonal malaise, holy basil is also good for calming busy minds.
Pukka teas and supplements to try:
Wholistic™ Holy Basil capsules
Tulsi Clarity tea
The super-spice par excellence. High in flavonoids and with over 6,000 clinical studies attesting to its ability to protect and nourish the body, it prevents ageing, improves circulation, reduces inflammation, heals wounds and protects the liver and bowels. It has gained the reputation of one of nature’s most potent remedies for many of today’s health challenges.
Pukka supplements and teas to try:
Wholistic™ Turmeric capsules
Turmeric Gold tea
Finally, perhaps our greatest rejuvenating friend is letting our hair down and peeling with laughter. There is a great Hindi adage that goes:“There is medicine for 100 problems, but laughter is my best healing friend!”
What Are Adaptogens and Can They Help Power Up Your Workouts?
Photo: S847 / Getty Images
Charcoal pills. Collagen powder. Coconut oil. When it comes to pricey pantry items, it seems there’s a new “must have” superfood or super-supplement every week. But what’s that saying? What’s old is new again. This time around, everyone from naturopaths and yogis to stressed-out execs and functional fitness fans are talking about something that’s been around for a long time: adaptogens.
While you may just be hearing the buzz around adaptogens, they have been a part of Ayurvedic, Chinese, and alternative medicines for centuries. ICYDK, they are a class of herbs and mushrooms that help boost your body’s resistance to things like stress, sickness, and fatigue, says Holly Herrington, a registered dietitian with the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Adaptogens have also been thought to be a helpful tool for balancing the body by regulating hormones, says functional medicine practitioner, Brooke Kalanick, N.D., a licensed naturopathic doctor. To take it a step further, Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of Bulletproof, describes them as herbs that fight biological and psychological stress. Sounds powerful right?
How do adaptogens work in the body?
The medical theory is that these herbs (such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice root, maca root, and lion’s mane) help restore communication between your brain and adrenal glands by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis-which is also known as the body’s “stress stem.” This axis is responsible for regulating the connection between the brain and your stress hormones, but it doesn’t always work perfectly, says Kalanick.
“When you’re under the unrelenting stress of modern life, your brain is constantly asking your body to help manage that stress, which causes the timing and release of the stress hormone cortisol to go awry,” says Kalanick. For example, that could mean that it takes your body too long to produce cortisol, and then consequently too long for it to level out, says Asprey. Basically, your hormones get off-kilter when there’s a brain-body disconnect.
But adaptogens may help restore this communication between the brain and adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing and regulating a variety of other hormones such as adrenaline, by focusing on the HPA axis, says Kalanick. Adaptogens may also play a role in managing your hormonal response to certain high-anxiety situations, adds Herrington.
Maybe you’re thinking this herbs-fix-everything idea is too good to be true? Or maybe you’re all in, and ready to dive headfirst into your local health food store. But the bottom line is this: Do adaptogens really work? And should you be adding them to your wellness routine or skip them?
What are the health benefits of adaptogens?
Adaptogens are not necessarily on the radar of many mainstream health care providers, says Herrington. But some research has found that adaptogens have the potential to reduce stress, improve attention, increase endurance, and fight fatigue. And within the broad category of “adaptogens” there are different types, explains Kalanick, which have each been researched to varying degrees.
Some adaptogens such as ginseng, rhodiola rosea, and maca root may be more stimulating, which means they may enhance mental performance and physical endurance. Others, such as ashwagandha and holy basil, may help the body chill out on its cortisol production when you’re super stressed. And you probably didn’t know that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are part of why this superfood spice is also in the adaptogen family.
Will adaptogens help with your fitness performance?
Because adaptogens are supposed to help your body adapt to stressful situations, it makes sense that they would also be inherently connected to exercise, which puts stress on your body, says registered dietitian Audra Wilson, with the Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.
Adaptogens could play a role in short and long workouts for both strength and endurance athletes, says Asprey. For example, after a short CrossFit WOD, you want your body to reduce the amount of cortisol being produced so that you can recover more quickly, he says. But for endurance athletes who are going to be running for five, six, seven hours, adaptogens can help keep stress levels steady so that you don’t go out too hot, or fade mid-run.
But exercise pros aren’t convinced. “There is very little conclusive research on adaptogens as a whole, and if you don’t know for certain that a supplement you’re taking is going to help with performance or recovery, I recommend leaving it out,” says exercise scientist, Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York and author of Strong and Sculpted. “I don’t personally recommend them because there are more research-backed ways to power your workouts,” adds exercise physiologist Pete McCall, C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness podcast. “But that’s not to say that they won’t make an individual feel better.” (ICYW, science-backed things that can improve your fitness: sports massage, heart-rate training, and new workout clothes.)
But even if they might improve fitness recovery and performance, adaptogens don’t work like a cup of coffee, says Herrington-you won’t feel the effects immediately. You’d need to be taking them for six to 12 weeks before they’d build up in your system enough to make any noticeable difference, she says.
How can you get more adaptogens in your diet?
Adaptogens come in a lot of different forms, including pills, powders, dissolvable tablets, liquid extracts, and teas.
For each adaptogen, how you take it may be a little different. For example, you could get turmeric as a fresh juice shot, dried turmeric powder to put into smoothies, or order a “golden milk” turmeric latte, suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap. To reap the benefits of ginger, you can try ginger tea or stir-fry dishes.
If you opt for an adaptogen supplement, Asprey recommends making sure you’re getting a pure form of the herb. But note that adaptogens are not officially approved for specific holistic use nor regulated by the FDA.
The bottom line on adaptogens: Adaptogens might not necessarily help with conditions such as anxiety and depression, says Herrington. But they could offer some benefits for healthy people who are looking for a natural way to decrease stress. This can be applied to your workout recovery as well. For example, if you’re training for an event or a race, and feel like your muscles (or mental muscles) are recovering slower than normal, it might be worth consulting with your doctor about trying, say, turmeric (which is known to help reduce inflammation), says Wilson. This consultation with a pro is nonnegotiable because some adaptogens can interfere with certain prescription medications, adds Herrington.
That said, adaptogens shouldn’t be used in place of active recovery, says McCall. “If you’re worried you aren’t recovering from your workouts properly, I’d recommend that simply adding an extra rest day to your training schedule, which has been shown to help muscle repair, as opposed to adaptogens, which are still shaky on the research,” he says. (Overtraining is real. Here are nine reasons you shouldn’t go to the gym every day.)
But if you want to give adaptogens a try remember that they are only one part of a wellness routine that must include healthful nutrition and recovery protocols as well. So if you’re really looking to improve your sports performance and recovery, Schoenfeld suggests focusing on the basics: a diet dense in whole foods, high-quality proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats in conjunction with active recovery and rest days.
- By By Gabrielle Kassel