10 Powerful Adaptogens

10 Powerful Adaptogens

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Our action-packed schedules demand a lot from our bodies—between work, family, laundry, social obligations…and let’s not forget all that pressure to “be our best” by exercising, meditating and eating healthy, cooked-from-scratch meals with nary a single added gram of artificial anything! Before we know it, all that work (and no play) can lead to mental and physical effects of stress.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a “magical” something you could take, to help you get through your day and fend off the aftereffects of unmanaged stress? (Magical, and legal and non-addictive, of course!) While not actually magical, adaptogens, like ashwagandha or reishi mushrooms, may very well be that “something” to help your body navigate those more difficult days, so you can efficiently fight the overall effects of stress. These ancient nutrients have been used for several millennia for their health-promoting properties.

What exactly are adaptogens, and how do they work? Here’s everything you need to know.

What are adaptogens?

Woman reading about adaptogens for managing stress and homeostasis

Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and mushrooms that, as their name suggests, help the body better “adapt” to stressful situations. They’re also thought to help maintain homeostasis by supporting energy production, cognitive health and a healthy inflammatory response.

Note that adaptogens help you respond to stress—but they don’t eliminate it, and that’s okay. Stress has gained a negative reputation because it can take a toll on our health, but your stress response isn’t the bad guy. It’s a biological process designed to keep you alive (famously known as “fight or flight”); you know, back when a predator could pop up out of nowhere. We might not spend our days being chased around by tigers anymore, but in modern go-go-go-days, our bodies tend to stay in an alert state, keeping us frazzled and our internal systems working overtime.

That’s why nurturing a healthy stress response is crucial for whole-body health. And adding adaptogenic nutrients to your wellness routine can help you stay calm during stressful moments, keep those energy levels going, and even manage a healthy weight; they don’t call them “superfoods” for nothing!

How do adaptogens work?

Woman supplementing with adaptogens for mind-body balance

When we consume adaptogenic nutrients, our body uses them to be more efficient at maintaining homeostasis, or a balanced state. The right adaptogen might even help your body support a healthy hormone balance.

Adaptogens work at a molecular level to promote resistance to stress, support a healthy weight, and keep you energized. In that way, they are similar to the effect exercise has on your mind and muscles.

Adaptogen benefits: what do they do for you?

Woman drinking green smoothie to fuel energy after workout

Animal and cell studies have shown that adaptogens have neuroprotective properties and can also inhibit fatigue. In other words, they protect brain cells, boost mental performance and concentration, and support cellular energy, helping you get the most out of your day without feeling run down.

They may also support other aspects of overall health:

  • Managing a healthy weight—By helping you better cope with stressful situations, adaptogens may help you change those behaviors that get in the way of your efforts to maintain a healthy weight (like reaching for a bag of M&Ms every time you’re stressed).
  • Maintaining hormone balance—Adaptogens interact with your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the area in your brain associated with hormone production and your stress response.
  • Getting restful sleep—By promoting a sense of well-being, adaptogens may also support sleep quality.
  • Fueling energy production—Adaptogens help you get sustained energy. Because they support a healthy metabolism, your body is able to produce energy more efficiently.
Woman thinking on adaptogens and their side effects

Are there side effects of adaptogens?

Carefully follow the usage labels on any adaptogen supplement you take. If you don’t take them as recommended (you take them too long or at incorrect dosages), they can cause side effects.

As with anything you decide to put into your body, choosing adaptogens that tailor to your unique needs will yield the best results.

10 Best Adaptogens

Now that you better understand adaptogens and their many health benefits, you can get to work assembling a health-promoting arsenal to help you live your best life. Here’s a list to get you started.

1. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha berry in bud promoting relaxation

An essential herb in Ayurvedic tradition, ashwagandha has been shown to promote a state of calm and relaxation, maintain already-healthy blood sugar levels and support a healthy weight.

2. Turmeric

Tumeric powder known for antioxidant proterties

This golden spice has antioxidant properties, but is best known for its curcuminoids (the active component in turmeric), which encourage a healthy inflammatory response.

3. Holy Basil

Sprig of holy basil linked with supporting metabolic function

Not to be confused with the basil in marinara sauce, this nurturing herb has been shown to support immune health, stress management and metabolic function.

4. Maca Root

Maca rootsa rich source in fiber and fatty acids

Native to the Andean region, maca is rich in fiber, fatty acids, vitamin C and other nutrients. It’s been shown to support sexual health and protect brain cells (and so much more!).

5. Asian Ginseng

Asian ginseng root good for managing stress

Asian ginseng has been shown to encourage the body’s ability to manage stress and boost cellular energy… no caffeine required.

6. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms containing stress-modulating compounds

Studies have shown reishi mushrooms contain stress-modulating compounds that encourage immune health and help maintain already-healthy blood pressure and more.

7. Siberian Ginseng

Siberian ginseng has been shown to promot immune health

Has been shown to support physical activity, encourage cognitive performance, and promote immune health.

8. Rhodiola

Rhodiola leaves and flowers offereing antioxiadive protection

Rhodiola has powerful stress-modulating and antioxidant properties that offer protection against oxidative stress, supporting physical and mental health.

9. Goji Berries

Goji berries studied and supportive of heart and eye health

Research shows goji berries support immune health and function, promote heart and eye health, and maintains sexual health.

10. Licorice Root

Licorice root with compounds that support healthy digestion

Licorice root has been shown to encourage healthy digestion, cardiovascular health, and it may support skin health when used topically.

Word to the wise: Before you stack your pantry with goji berry teas and ashwagandha supplements, keep in mind that each body is unique, so what worked for your friend may not work for you. Always make sure you discuss with your healthcare provider before you add any supplements to your routine.

How can I incorporate adaptogens into my daily routine?

Glass cup of tumeric milk latte

The best way to add adaptogens to your wellness routine is to find creative ways to incorporate them into your meals. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a turmeric milk latte recipe to help you add some golden benefits to your mornings or evenings. Supplements that are formulated with dosages based on scientific research are also a great way to get the exact amount you need to experience an adaptogen’s full benefits.

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