What Are Adaptogens?


The latest and greatest buzzword consuming your healthy household – adaptogens. Coined in 1947 during World War II, with various stimulants given to pilots and submarine crews, adaptogens refer to various ayurvedic herbs that possess anxiolytic effects and that can “adapt” to what your body needs. But what exactly are these herbs popping up in your local juice bar and natural foods stores?

Adaptogens are ancient herbs used in traditional Chinese and Indian ayurvedic medicine, marketed as natural healers of stress and anxiety. Studies show that several adaptogens such as Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Rhodiola Rosea, L-Theanine, producing a calming effect and balance stress.

Research has shown that several adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anxiolytic, nootropic, anti-depressive, and anti-fatigue effects that may enhance overall productivity, mood state, sleep, and enable better stress response. 

Adaptogens are found to help you “adapt” to stress and better cope with anxiety. Adaptogens regulate a delicate balanced with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, pituitary, and the sympathoadrenal system, all of which are involved in the body’s response to stress.

Researchers also believe that adaptogens work by altering the reactivity of defense systems, such as the immune system, endocrine response, and central nervous system.  

Several adaptogens such as ashwagandha, theanine, and valerian root all stimulate the release of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that produces serotonin and melatonin, the “sleep hormone” achieving a calmer state of mind and body. Inhibitory neurons reduce excitatory neurons, essentially blocking emotions such as fear, anxiety, and stress enhancing alpha wave production in the brain promoting relaxation.

1. Improve Sleep, Stress, And Anxiety

Several studies have shown that ashwagandha, theanine, and valerian root exhibit anti-anxiety effects, helping promote a sense of calm, reducing stress, anxiety and optimizing sleep quality. These specific adaptogens stimulate the release of GABA inhibiting emotional markers of stress, and essentially putting the brakes on excitatory neurons glutamate and it’s positive modulators epinephrine and norepinephrine. Evidence also purports that Siberian ginseng and Rhodiola are very effective at reducing stress-induced symptoms. 

2. Enhance Cognitive Function

Several adaptogens also exhibit neuroprotective effects, which may help improve overall brain function. Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin have been the subject of several studies investigating their effects on cognitive performance, due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Phenolic compounds are often found in several different adaptogens such as turmeric and rhodiola which may play a significant role in chronic disease. 

3. May Improve Athletic Performance

Studies have shown that herbal adaptogens like rhodiola, ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, and coryceps, and magnolia berry may help improve VO2 and execise endurance capacity.  

Dependent upon the specific adaptogen, some have been extensively studied, while others still need more research to prove their therapeutic benefits. Below you’ll find a list of the most popular and well research adaptogens with proven clinical benefits.



Potential benefit

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

Boosts working memory, reaction time, calmness, and immune system

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, increases testosterone levels

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Combats fatigue,

controls blood sugar levels

Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)

Boosts stamina, improves cardiovascular endurance

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum)

Boosts energy, physical and mental performance, calmness, and sense of well-being, and can also improve sleep, improves immune system function

Eluethero root “Siberian Ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Improves focus and staves off mental fatigue, may improve endurance capacity

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma Pentaphyllum)

Reduces stress and boosts endurance, may improve diabetes, helps obesity  

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Reduces stress, significantly improves skin conditions such as eczema

Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea)

Staves off physical and mental fatigue, reduces stress and anxiety, improves cognitive health, helps treat depression

Schisandra berry/Magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis)

Boosts endurance, mental performance, and working capacity


Optimizes sleep quality and duration, reduces stress and anxiety

Tulsi/Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)

Reduces physical and mental stress, stress-related anxiety, and depression

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Boosts brain function and reduces depression, improves joint health and mobility, improves memory, helps arthritic symptoms and reduces pain

Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis)

Improves sleep quality, reduces anxiety

Feelings of stress and anxiety can create chronic fatigue, impaired mental acuity, and enhance the aging process. Adaptogens can help you adjust and adapt to physical and mental stress, to cope and find balance. Just as with any other supplement, to produce the desired effects and benefits, you must stay consistent and supplement daily for several weeks. Research suggests that taking adaptogens could be extremely beneficial to boost mental clarity, improve sleep, and optimize quality of life. 

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