Adaptogens are stress-busting herbs and mushrooms that can help the body find balance in the face of daily stress.
We talk a lot about identifying and managing the sources of stress in our lives. However, according to Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of Moon Juice Adaptogen company, the biggest stressors “are the ones we have little to no control over, like pollution in the air and our water. The amount of noise we experience and even the artificial light in our environment.” This kind of stress impacts us all.
In The Anatomy of Anxiety, holistic psychiatrist Dr. Ellen Vora has found time and again that the symptoms of anxiety and stress can often be traced to imbalances in the body. The emotional and physical discomfort we experience—sleeplessness, brain fog, stomach pain, jitters—are a result of the body’s stress response to those hard-to-control stressors.
So, the useful question becomes: How can we control the symptoms of stress if we can’t necessarily eliminate the sources? The body-balancing lifestyle tweak that’s helped me most? In a word: adaptogens.
The use of adaptogens as medicine, taken internally or applied topically, has been championed by traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for 5,000 years. Adaptogens are plant-based herbs filled with complex compounds that can help your body regulate, mediate, or adapt (hence the name “adaptogen”) to physical or psychological stress by interacting with your cells.
Research shows that adaptogens work by re-regulating the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. They can help to produce a positive stress response within the body and balance hormonal function. Even the U.S. military educates on the benefits of adaptogens as a way to support the body’s ability to deal with stress—whether that stress is from anxiety, fatigue, trauma, or infection.
How to Use Adaptogens
Adaptogens come in multiple forms—edible powders, capsules, and gummies; tinctures, and topicals—and work in a variety of balancing ways. “If you are high-strung and irritable, they can help you to find a sense of calm,” notes the Botanical Institute. “On the other hand, if you are low energy and fatigued, adaptogens can help to energize your body.”
Taylor Rae, a community herbalist, herbal educator, and founder of Raeflower Holistics, notes that, “the biggest thing about taking adaptogens is consistency. Adaptogens work on your endocrine system and nervous system but over long periods of time.”
Note: Because adaptogens can influence the endocrine (i.e., hormonal) system, they are not recommended for children. Also, there is limited safety data on taking adaptogens while pregnant.
You may benefit from adaptogens if you suffer from:
- Burnout/adrenal fatigue
- Imbalanced hormones
- Trouble focusing
- Anxious feelings
- Trouble sleeping
7 Adaptogens and Their Specific Benefits
At least 70 types of herbal plants are considered adaptogens. Each has a slightly different function, so the best one for you depends on the specific ailment you’re experiencing.
For thousands of years, people have used ashwagandha to reduce stress, anxiety, fatigue, inflammation, and arthritis, while improving immunity and quality of life. It is relied upon heavily in Ayurveda to harmonize mind, body, and spirit. Clinically shown to help reduce stress and regulate cortisol levels, enhance focus and mental stamina, reduce irritability and stress-related cravings.
Siberian ginseng (which is different than Asian or American ginseng) is believed to strengthen the spleen, nourish the kidneys, boost energy, reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, and more. Its potency lies in its supreme ability to energize.
Native to parts of the Middle East, as well as Korea and Mongolia, the roots of this flowering plant have long been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to fight off emotional stress. Astragalus is traditionally used to support immunity, brain, and emotional wellbeing. In addition to its primary power benefits, Astragalus supports spirit and brain.
Cordyceps were traditionally gathered from the Himalayas in Bhutan and Tibet. Cordyceps work to increase energy and endurance, encourage lung health and capacity, and support the immune system.
One of the most widely studied medicinal mushrooms, reishi grows on trees in the United States, Asia, and even parts of the Amazon, under a wide range of conditions. Reishi has been crowned queen healer by traditional Chinese herbalists for centuries because of its ability to strengthen the heart and mind, allowing you to unlock creativity and connect. This super mushroom is a brain nourisher, immune supporter, energizer, stress reliever, and beauty food. In addition to its primary brain, dream, and spiritual benefits, Reishi supports power.
According to MoonJuice.com, Mucuna is used in Ayurveda, TCM, and shamanic medicine and is native to tropical areas of Africa and Asia. “Mucuna is a potent psychoactive. Its natural bounty of L-dopa [a.k.a. levodopa] supplies the brain with the fuel to create more of the beneficial neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Able to nourish and revitalize the whole body, it supports mental and physical health with both invigorating and calming effects.”
Maca root has been used to balance and regulate hormones for centuries in Peru. Clinical studies have shown that consuming Maca regularly can alleviate and improve the symptoms associated with PMS and menopause independent of hormonal production or stage of life. Maca also benefits thyroid function, and as a result can help to normalize our metabolism.
And the list goes on! Check out more adaptogens to increase your resistance to stress, anxiety, and fatigue.