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What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are active ingredients in certain plants and mushrooms that may impact how your body deals with stressanxiety, and fatigue. Plants and mushrooms provide adaptogenic actions. When consumed, these plants target specific stressors in your body.

There are three qualities that plants must have to be an adaptogen:

  • It is non-toxic when taken in normal doses.

  • It helps your body cope with stress.

  • It allows your body to return to balance (homeostasis).

Adaptogens work as a temporary bandage but aren’t the solution to long-term stress.

What do adaptogens do to my body?

The goal of taking adaptogens is to return your body back to a state of balance (homeostasis). The herbal action in adaptogens increases or decreases chemical reactions within your body.

For example, if you’re stressed (elevated cortisol), an adaptogen will respond by reducing cortisol levels. If you experience chronic fatigue with low cortisol levels, an adaptogen will increase the level of cortisol in your body.

Are adaptogens regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration?

While some adaptogens like ashwagandha and Asian ginseng have a number of studies on their varied actions, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and FDA approval does not equate to safety.

If you plan to add plants with adaptogenic qualities to your diet, talk with your healthcare provider to discuss how they could impact your health and if they are right for you.

What types of adaptogens exist?

There are several types of adaptogens. Common adaptogens include:

  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): American ginseng offers immune system support (immune modulators) that helps reduce inflammation to relieve pain (anti-inflammatory). In addition, this type of ginseng combats stress and boosts your nervous system, which improves how your body responds to stimuli (fight or flight). Some studies suggest that American ginseng can reset dopamine levels and regulate your mood.

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Ashwagandha has a positive effect on the endocrine, nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems by regulating your metabolism and helping you relax by calming how your brain responds to stress. Ashwagandha offers protection for your cells as an antioxidant and reduces swelling (an anti-inflammatory reaction).

  • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng): This type of ginseng helps relieve both mental and physical fatigue. Ginseng can improve your energy and performance during stressful activities.

  • Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Similar to ginseng, eleuthero relieves stress and fatigue. This adaptogen helps boost immune function as an immune modulator.

  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Rhodiola alleviates symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression. Studies show that Rhodiola helps improve performance during stressful situations like at work or during physical activity.

How do I take adaptogens?

Adaptogens come from plants, so you can take them in several different ways, including:

  • Adding adaptogens to food or beverages.

  • Taking adaptogens as capsules.

  • Using tinctures: a liquid form of a plant extract.

Can I drink adaptogens in tea?

Drinking a cup of tea is a great way to pause and reduce stress with each warm, calming sip. Some adaptogenic plants can be dried, ground up, and steeped in hot water in the same way you would steep your favorite tea. There are several different types of tea blends on the market that use some adaptogens as the main ingredient. Be sure to read the label to see what the intended effects of the tea are, how long you should steep the tea in water, and how often you should drink it.

Why should I take adaptogens?

Adaptogens support the way that your body handles stress. Some people consume adaptogens to:

Which adaptogen is for you?

Each adaptogen has a different effect on the body, so the choice of which one to take will depend on the result you seek. Ashwagandha, for example, can both energize and relax you.

Here are some more examples:


AdaptogenPossible benefit possible side effects

  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)may boost memory, reaction time, and calmness, and the immune system interacts Source with blood thinners.

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)may reduce stress and anxiety but may cause stomach upset; it is not safe during pregnancy. 

  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) may combatTrusted Source fatigue and may interact with drugs that affect the immune system; cordyceps (Cordyceps militarist) may boost stamina may cause dry mouth, nausea, abdominal distension, throat discomfort, headache, diarrhea, allergic reactions; may cause lead poisoning; not safe for people with RA, multiple sclerosis, or systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). 

  • Goji berry (Lycium barbarum)may boost energy, physical and mental performance, calmness, and sense of well-being, and can improve sleep and cause allergic reactions. 

  • Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus)may improve focus and stave off mental fatigue but may cause upset stomach and headache.  

  • Jaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)may reduce stress and boost endurance, but no side effects have been recorded as yet. 

  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)may reduce oxidative stress but may cause high blood pressure and reduced potassium. It is possibly unsafe for people with kidney disease or cardiovascular problems; it is not suitable during pregnancy. 

  • Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea)may stave off physical and mental fatigue and may cause dizziness, dry mouth, or excess salivation. 

  • Magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis) Schisandra berry may boost endurance, mental performance, and working capacity and may cause restlessness, sleep problems, and breathing difficulty. 

  • Tulsi / holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)may reduce physical and mental stress, stress-related anxiety, and depression and improve memory and thinking, which is likely safe for most people, but more research is needed.  

  • Tumeric (Curcuma longa)turmeric may reduce depression and is likely safe in small amounts.  Tumeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory.

Adaptogens can have a powerful effect, so it’s essential to follow the instructions when using them.

A naturopathic physician can recommend specific adaptogens and reputable formulas and dosages. They can also adjust your dosage as needed based on the effects you hope to achieve.

Always check with a doctor before taking adaptogens or any type of supplement. They can interact with medications and may not be suitable for everyone.

It’s also essential to check with a doctor before using supplements if you are pregnant or may become pregnant or if you are breastfeeding. Some supplements, including adaptogens, may harm a developing fetus or infant.

A doctor may recommend using adaptogens for a few days or weeks to get through a busy time at work or taking them for a longer stretch if necessary. Some adaptogens take several weeks to have an effect.

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