Stress can be physical or mental. Due to factors like everyday pollutants and processed food, stress can even be chemical. The symptoms of acute or chronic stress are wide ranging, from fatigue, insomnia, and headaches, to racing thoughts and indigestion.
But many researchers and wellness devotees claim nature created an answer to all of this - adaptogens.
Today, we’ll answer some common questions about adaptogens. What are they, why should we consider taking them, and which are the most popular?
Let’s have a look.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbs or mushrooms said to encourage homeostasis. A staple of ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, adaptogens help the body “adapt” and stabilize internal processes, essentially evening out stress.
What do adaptogens do?
Research suggests that adaptogens decrease our sensitivity to stressors. However, this does not mean that all adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms promote relaxation.
Think of a spectrum where 5 is the most stress you can feel and -5 is so calm you feel sleepy. The goal of adaptogens is a clean 0 right in the middle, where you’re alert and focused, but completely capable. Some call it an herbal equilibrium, where you achieve optimal balance.
But far from just moderating how you feel, the benefits of balance extend to every bodily process there is. In just a minute, we’ll look at the specific benefits of individual adaptogens. But in general, benefits people report include:
- Reducing inflammation
- Maintaining a healthy immune system
- Help regulating hormones
- Improved sleep quality
- Greater physical endurance
- Supporting metabolic health
- Reducing fatigue
- Better response to stress
Are adaptogens safe and non-addictive?
Yes, adaptogens are generally considered safe in normal doses. There also isn’t any evidence they’re addictive.
However, some adaptogens can interact with medication. If you have any diagnosed health condition or are on any prescription medicine, speak to a physician before taking an adaptogenic mushroom or herb in any form. They’re also inappropriate for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Over the last few thousand years, humanity has identified more than 70 adaptogenic plants. Only a handful have been researched, including some of the most popular ones we’ll look at now.
Considered by many to be the superstar of the adaptogen world, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub native to parts of the Middle East, India, and Africa. It is deeply rooted in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medical system, and is one of the more well-researched adaptogens.
Experimental studies have determined ashwagandha has anti-arthritic, anti-bacterial, anti-stress, anti-tumor, and anti-cancer activities.
Today, it’s most popularly seen in supplements for performance, stress, and sleep. You’ll find it in every form, from teas and other drink mixes to capsules, drops, and tinctures.
Astragalus is really a blanket term for thousands of shrubs and herbs but rose to fame medicinally as a perennial native to parts of China and Korea. Extensively studied, astragalus is a strong anti-inflammatory that was used in TCM for heart health.
Overall, it is considered one of the most protective adaptogens. It’s common in tinctures and capsules and can even be applied topically. LivPur adds it to the Recovery formula to help encourage rest and repair on every level.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also a shrub. It is also known as Siberian ginseng, but it’s not technically a type of ginseng. It’s thought that it was promoted this way due to a Panax ginseng shortage where individuals were looking for an alternative.
Eleuthero is native to parts of Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. Most modern research on it focuses on the classic benefit of an adaptogen – protecting from stress and promoting homeostasis.
While it can be found in capsule supplements, popular teas in stores nationwide often contain it for its anti-stress effect.
4. Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng is an herbaceous perennial native to parts of Korea and northern China. A close relative called American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) is also common in the United States and Canada.
Its popularity today is nothing new; ginseng has been foundational to TCM for at least 2,000 years. In modern times, studies identify potential benefits for the immune system, mental focus, and even some conditions associated with diabetes.
Ginseng is a common sight on a supplement label, although it’s regularly underdosed (the minimum studied dosage is 200 mg). Historically, drinking a hot cup of ginseng tea is the most popular way to enjoy the benefits.
A true herb, Rhodiola rosea thrives in higher altitude locations around Europe, Asia, and North America. There aren’t a lot of human studies on it, but that hasn’t kept it from spreading like wildfire in the supplement world.
Another TCM staple, it belongs to the Crassulaceae family, which is known for having a positive effect on cognition, performance, and more. Users report an elevated sense of wellbeing as well as increases in focus and productivity.
You’ll find Rhodiola bundled into formulas with other herbs and nutrients. Its most effective dosage is estimated to be 100 to 200 mg, although many can feel the effects at 50 mg.
Also called holy basil, the Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) plant is sacred in Ayurveda. While native to India, it can thrive in most locations without frost, its appearance and fragrance quite similar to the common basil we know and love.
Research on Tulsi examines its positive effects on blood sugar, inflammation, brain health, and metabolic conditions. Of course, its most popular application is for stress levels, although what part of the plant you consume as well as the dosage can divide results.
Like other adaptogenic plants, Tulsi is very commonly taken as a tea. The ground powder of dry Tulsi leaves is also traditionally added to condiments such as ghee.
Mushrooms with adaptogenic capabilities have recently burst onto the supplement scene, but just like the plant group, have a history going back thousands of years. The following biological species have become many an adaptogen lover’s favorite fungi.
Chaga mushrooms grow on birch trees in Earth’s colder climes, where populations began recognizing its therapeutic potential centuries ago. In addition to being adaptogenic, these shrooms have an incredible antioxidant content. As such, they have long been used as a tonic for the immune system.
Its adaptogenic benefits include arthritis relief plus stabilizing blood glucose and blood pressure levels. Chaga is traditionally taken as a tea, but the powdered mushroom can be beneficial in almost any form.
Native to the mountains of China and other parts of Asia, the cordyceps mushroom stands out as an energy-supporting adaptogen. Some users even report that this mushroom alone is just as effective as your average pre-workout supplement.
This likely comes down to its effect on adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. It helps the cells absorb and use oxygen, potentially increasing endurance. Populations have also relied upon cordyceps for libido support and anti-aging.
3. Lion’s Mane
The next time you see a dead tree, check for a puffy, furry white growth – you might have come across a natural solution for brain health. Native to North America, Europe, and Asia, the lion’s mane mushroom has skyrocketed in popularity recently. The attention is warranted; lion’s mane mushrooms stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF).
Animal studies indicate that lion’s mane may help regenerate brain cells. As for its status as an adaptogenic mushroom, it’s undergone a lot of study for the treatment of mild mood disorders.
If you’ve ever tried a mushroom for its adaptogenic properties, it was probably this one. The Reishi mushroom grows low on trees and stumps in many parts of the world. Reishi in particular is prized for its hormone-regulating effect, especially on cortisol, the stress hormone.
For this reason, many use it to reduce the effects of stress and enhance sleep quality. However, it has also shown promise in stimulating the immune system and maintaining a healthy weight. Reishi contains polysaccharides, which may have an impact on obesity-related metabolic conditions.
5. Turkey Tail
Turkey tail is really common on hardwood and conifer trees in North America and the rest of the world. As a polypore, it tends to prefer dead trees and stumps. With strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties, it’s a must for immune function.
It also stands out for its prebiotic content. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in the gut, so turkey tail may promote digestive health.
What to Look for in an Adaptogen Supplement
With all of the balancing benefits for body and mind, adaptogens are a great addition to any wellness routine. They’re also easily taken in formulas containing other vitamins and nutrients, cutting out the clutter of taking multiple daily supplements.
Look for supplements that add adaptogens to work with other ingredients. For example, LivPur Energy blend uses ashwagandha to amplify the jitter-free mental focus and performance benefits. Meanwhile, LivPur’s Recovery formula adds in a few herbal adaptogens to help you de-stress and repair after strenuous activity.
Furthermore, always be on the lookout for quality assurances. Brands like LivPur manufacture supplements in GMP-certified facilities and are even NSF Certified for Sport, so you can keep calm and carry on with your training session.