If you've been feeling stressed or tired lately, someone may have suggested adaptogens as a possible solution. Often touted as super herbs that can help reduce anxiety and fatigue, adaptogens have been quietly growing in popularity in recent years, especially among health-conscious folks. But what are adaptogens? Are they safe? And do they actually work? We break down everything you need to know about adaptogenic herbs — and what medical experts have to say about them so far.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are medicinal herbs that enhance your ability to "adapt" to an environment, according to acupuncturist Galina Veresciak Roofener, LAc, of the Cleveland Clinic. First coined as a term back in 1947, adaptogens have been reported to help normalize body functions, strengthen systems that have been compromised from stress, and protect against environmental and emotional factors, according to the European Medicines Agency.
But how do adaptogens work? Studies have shown that adaptogens can actually help promote equilibrium in the body by supporting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which is responsible for regulating the body's stress hormones, such as cortisol. Although overall research on adaptogens is relatively limited, the stimulating and anti-fatigue effects of these herbs has been documented in both humans and animals — and the findings look quite promising.
Best Adaptogens for Stress and Fatigue
One of the most extensively studied adaptogens is Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). According to the journal Pharmaceuticals, one review of more than 35 clinical trials of this adaptogen in healthy humans found that there was an improvement of the physical and mental work capacities for participants in stressful situations. On top of that, more than 35 studies have focused on the effect of Siberian ginseng on more than 2,200 sick patients with health issues such as hypertension and diabetes. In most cases, researchers observed a moderate improvement in the patients, relative to the initial conditions.
Another popular adaptogen that has been the subject of research is Rhodiola rosea, which was shown to significantly reduce symptoms of fatigue and improve attention in participants after four weeks of repeated administration, according to a 2009 study. Schisandra chinensis is yet another widely used adaptogen that has been reported to be effective in treating exhaustion and reduced physical and mental performance on a population of 2,000 patients, according to Pharmaceuticals. It's worth noting that all three of these beloved adaptogens have been reported to be safe in toxicity studies as well.
Of course, the list of adaptogens goes on much longer than the top three studied adaptogenic herbs. For instance, Deb Soule of Avena Botanicals spoke to the University of New England about herbs such as ashwagandha, which is said to be calming and strengthening to the nervous system without overstimulating it. Also holy basil, which is said to increase resilience to emotional and physical stress, while also opening the mind and heart. Many adaptogens have been used as natural remedies for hundreds or even thousands of years in many cultures.
How to Use Adaptogens
Many adaptogen fans have admitted that a lot of these super herbs don't taste, well, all that super on their own. Luckily, there are many ways you can consume adaptogens without needing to scarf down an unsavory root whole; you can take them in the form of capsules, powders, extracts, and even teas.
One popular powder available for purchase online is Ora Organic, Renewable Energy: Pre-Workout Powder ($9.99, Amazon). This tasty mix includes a special adaptogen blend full of not only ginseng and Rhodiola, but also ashwagandha, maca, cordycep mushroom, and eleuthero. If you're particularly interested in trying a product with Schisandra instead, then Nature's Way Schisandra Fruit ($7.34, Amazon) is a popular option.
Remember, always get the okay from your doctor before trying any new supplement.
Next, learn about the tastiest superfoods that can help you live longer in the video below: