Adaptogens are natural stress busters
Adaptogens protect the body from the toxic effects of stress, which includes anything from illness to intense workouts to straight-up stress. If feeling stressed and fatigued is your default mode, nature has a solution, according to Frank Lipman, MD, author of How to Be Well and founder of Be Well. “Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of your adrenal system, the system that’s in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress,” he explains. “They help strengthen the body’s response to stress and enhance its ability to cope with anxiety and fight fatigue—slowly and gently, without jolts or crashes.”
Many of the substances that are considered adaptogens have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda to boost energy, improve mood, and help alleviate stress for centuries, and are just now being studied by researchers—with some promising results. “They’re called adaptogens because of their unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to your body’s specific needs,” Dr. Lipman explains. As with any supplement, you should consult your doctor before taking an adaptogen; this is doubly true if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Read on for 12 of these superherbs to add to your diet.
“Panax ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng or P. ginseng, may be the best-known adaptogen,” notes Arti Lakhani, MD, medical director of the Integrative Oncology Program at the AMITA Health Cancer Institute. “It is commonly used to combat low energy, especially in the elderly who are recovering from illness or those with poor immune function.” There’s also American ginseng, which is considered to be more calming than the Asian variety, and may be beneficial for those with anxiety, she says. Research shows that it can help improve working memory and induce a feeling of calm.
Most adaptogens come in a variety of forms: teas, tonics, tinctures or extracts you can mix with water, tablets similar to supplements, or powders you can mix into a smoothie. Ultimately, how you take an adaptogen comes down to personal preference; Dr. Lakhani prefers tinctures and extracts or supplement pills because the doses are more exact. It’s worth noting that adaptogens are generally safe. “Adaptogens tend to have minimal side effects and drug interactions,” she says. “They are powerful but slow-acting, so benefits are seen after a few weeks.”
Rhodiola rosea, a flowering plant that grows in North America and Europe, helps to regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Dr. Lipman believes that cortisol levels can be out of whack when you’re stressed out and exhausted. “Cortisol levels are either too high when they should be low or not high enough when we need more.” Rhodiola can help, he says. “That’s why this herb is particularly useful for treating my stressed out clients.”
There are both capsule and powder formulations available, and most practitioners recommend taking it in the morning since it can have a stimulating effect.
Related: 5 Secret Signs You’re Stressed