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What Are Adaptogens? Everything You Need To Know

adaptogens

Not just for people who are stressed, adaptogens prove to be safe and consistent solutions for a variety of health problems.

We cover the spectrum from strength training, anxiety, depression to cancer, schizophrenia, and even staving off death.

The word adaptogen was first recorded in 1947 by N.V. Lazarev, a Russian scientist, who found that certain plants increased the body’s resistance to stress.

Later, researchers discovered these herbs impact multiple systems in “non-specific” ways, bringing under or overactive systems back to normal. They determined adaptogens must be relatively harmless and cause minimal irregularity in the body.

Adaptogenic herbs have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and even thousands of years in Ayurveda. Evidence was strong, but still purely anecdotal.

Don’t assume adaptogens are only used in ancient medicine, though.

Modern researchers are just now unlocking some of the most exciting uses for these natural remedies.

So, what are these potent plants? How can you use them to enhance your health and body?

 

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are particular plants or herbs that help balance hormones, so your body can better respond to stressors. They uniquely interact with the needs of your body.

Example: In the adrenal system, adaptogens allow you to more quickly start or stop making stress hormones, so you spend less time being strained.

Some of the most common and powerful adaptogens include plants like:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Astragalus
  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Chaga
  • Cordyceps
  • Holy Basil
  • Ginseng
  • Licorice Root
  • Maca
  • Mucuna Pruriens
  • Reishi
  • Rhodiola Rosea

Each adaptogen works in its own somewhat unique way, and not all adaptogens should be taken for long periods of time. Keep in mind that you should know the individual dosages, side effects, and known concerns before starting to take adaptogen supplements.

This adaptogens list tackles different health categories and provides the corresponding effective plants.

Let’s look at some of many ways you can use adaptogens in your life.

 

1. Adaptogens For Exercise and Weight Loss

Ashwagandha

Looking to build lean muscle? You can turn to more than just protein.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study measured young healthy men with little experience in the weight room.

Researchers gave one group 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily. They had a significantly greater muscle size increase in arms and chest, marked reduction of muscle damage, and increased testosterone. This study reports participants also had a greater decrease in body fat percentage. (1)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Exercise: 600 milligrams, taken in two doses

Ginseng

In humans, taking ginseng can help to improve: (2)

  • Total oxygen capacity (VO2 max)
  • Exercise capacity
  • Strength, especially in the leg muscles

These results have only been shown in humans a couple of times, although many animal studies have suggested the same effects.

A study in the 1990s also found that, in patients who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, ginseng may help with weight loss. (3)

Ginseng Dosage for Exercise and Weight Loss: 200-300 milligrams of standardized ginseng extract a day

Rhodiola Rosea

If you’re into weight training, you’re probably familiar with ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

But if not, here’s a quick primer: ATP is an organic compound that stores energy in every cell of your body. When one of your cells requires energy to complete a task, it breaks down ATP to acquire it.

When you can keep producing ATP, your “working capacity” improves, so a lot of fitness researchers focus on how increase ATP production.

In an animal study, administering rhodiola rosea helped the subjects produce ATP faster, which drove up their ability to work harder. (4)

The results were duplicated in humans the next year in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. (5)

Rhodiola Rosea Dosage for Exercise: 200 milligrams daily (3% rosavin + 1% salidroside)

 

2. Adaptogens For Thyroid

Ashwagandha

Millions of people suffer from thyroid problems. 3% to 8% of the global population have a thyroid disorder without obvious symptoms. Underactive thyroid can cause fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, and unexplained weight gain.

In 2018, scientists concluded ashwagandha may be beneficial for normalizing thyroid levels in patients with hypothyroidism. (6)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Thyroid: 600 milligrams daily

 

3. Adaptogens For Anxiety

Ashwagandha

One of the ashwagandha benefits is its effectiveness as a natural remedy herb for anxiety.

It’s even shown to be on par with pharmaceutical drugs imipramine and lorazepam, minus the side effects. (7)

When your anxiety medication has side effects such as anxiety, aggressive behavior, and swelling of face, why not consider a natural alternative?

250 milligrams twice daily of root extract brings significant improvement to people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. (8, 9)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Anxiety: 500 milligrams per day, taken in two doses

Holy Basil

Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as holy basil or tulsi, is a fragrant perennial grown in the Southeast Asian tropics and the Indian subcontinent.

This plant substantially lessened generalized anxiety disorders and its correlated stress and depression in a human trial published in 2008. (10)

Word of warning: Holy Basil should not be used by anyone trying to conceive children. It has a strong sterilizing effect on sperm. (11)

Holy Basil Dosage for Anxiety: 1000 milligrams per day, taken in two doses

 

4. Adaptogens For Stress

Since “adaptogen” is synonymous with “stress reliever,” all adaptogens are technically herbs for stress. Here, we’ve covered some of the most potent adaptogens for stress.

Ashwagandha

This king of adaptogens is one of the most widely studied and available adaptogens. In capsule or powder form, this extract effectively improves an individual’s resistance to stress and self-assessed quality of life. (12)  

Ashwagandha is imbued with groups of naturally occurring steroids called “withanolides.” This active ingredient means stronger effects in higher doses. Purchased supplements should have a withanolide range from 5-10%.

Buying from reputable sources with high standards is the best way to guarantee withanolide potency.

Start with 300 milligrams per day and slowly increase to 1000-1500 milligrams as a full daily dose. It’s always wise to find out what’s right for you with the help of a natural healthcare provider.

You may find that ashwagandha smells like an unwashed horse.  If you choose to use it in powder form, mix it with other foods and drinks to make it more palatable.

Ashwagandha Dosage for Stress: 300 milligrams daily to start, increasing to as much as 1500 milligrams per day, taken in two doses

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa shows strong evidence as a stress-reducer.

These adaptogenic herbs for adrenal fatigue take time to work, so you won’t usually see quick results. Research shows, when taken over several weeks, bacopa possesses a strong adaptogenic effect. (13)

Bacopa Dosage for Stress: 300 milligrams daily

Licorice Root

This isn’t your corner store licorice candy — real licorice root is a powerful adaptogen for the ability to handle stressful situations.

If your body isn’t able to consistently produce cortisol (the stress hormone) and activate your fight-or-flight response under stress, consider using licorice. In both humans and animals, licorice allows your body to make more cortisol under stress so that you can resolve the situation more quickly. (14, 15)

Licorice Dosage for Stress: Up to 3.5 grams daily (7.9% Glycyrrhetic acid)

*Keep in mind that licorice should not be taken for more than about 12 weeks and has more precautions than most adaptogens. See the “precautions” section below for more information.

Rhodiola Rosea

Find yourself exhausted by stress from your job, family, and life in general?

Rhodiola may help.

The extract of this herb displays a very strong ability to reduce fatigue associated with stress. In multiple clinical trials, rhodiola helps stressed out people be more alert and able to handle challenging mental tasks. (16, 17, 18)

Rhodiola Dosage for Stress: 288-680 milligrams per day (more than 680 milligrams is unlikely to be effective)

 

5. Adaptogens For Energy

Rhodiola Rosea

Today’s modern, busy life is difficult.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, brought on by stress, prohibits many from the mental performance they desire. Rhodiola rosea specifically boosts the ability to concentrate and decreases feelings of burnout. (19)

Rhodiola Dosage for Energy: 50-680 milligrams per day (more than 680 milligrams is unlikely to be effective)

Related article: Top 15 Vitamins and Supplements for Natural Energy 

6. Adaptogens For Depression

Ashwagandha

We have found ashwagandha benefits people who deal with anxiety and chronic stress, but it can also treat people who deal with depression. With harsh side effects accompanying most medications, a natural remedy that balances hormones would be a vast improvement.

The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha can improve your response to stress and, in turn, the self-assessed quality of your life. (29)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Depression: 300 milligrams per day

Bacopa monnieri

In the elderly, depression is incredibly prevalent. Many depressed older adults are driven to suicide in much larger percentages than younger people. Awareness about this disease is also much lower in people over the age of 65.

Fortunately, the adaptogenic herb bacopa may be able to improve depression scores for older adults without dementia. The study authors also noted that anxiety, working memory, and attention all showed improvements throughout the 12 weeks of treatment. (30)

Bacopa Dosage for Depression: 300 milligrams daily

Rhodiola Rosea

This herb shows potency fighting overall depression, insomnia, and emotional instability. (31)

Rhodiola Dosage for Depression: 340 milligrams for mild depression and 680 milligrams for moderate depression per day

7. Adaptogens For Endurance

Panax Ginseng

Sometimes, you need a coffee substitute.

In individuals already experiencing fatigue, panax ginseng improved brain power and focus. (32) It’s easier to go the extra mile when your brain isn’t in the slow lane!

Panax Ginseng Dosage for Endurance: 200 milligrams per day

Ashwagandha

A 2015 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study evaluated ashwagandha’s effect on endurance in healthy adult athletes. In a high-intensity, 20-minute exercise, participants were measured for total oxygen consumption.

Researchers discovered the adaptogenic group’s endurance highly surpassed the placebo group at eight and 12 weeks of treatment. (33)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Endurance: 600 milligrams daily (5% withanolides), taken in two doses

Cordyceps

Not a healthy adult athlete? That’s ok, because a promising study showed improvement in exercise performance and wellness in healthy older subjects given cordyceps. (34)

Cordyceps Dosage for Endurance: 1000 milligrams per day, taken in three doses

Rhodiola Rosea

Repeated administration of rhodiola extract exerts an anti-fatigue response. It increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases stress hormones in patients with fatigue. (35)

Even doctors on the night shift got a 20% boost when taking rhodiola, preventing fatigue. (36)

Rhodiola Dosage for Endurance: 500-700 milligrams per day, taken in two doses

 

8. Adaptogens For Brain Fog

Cordyceps

Adaptogens may be a key to unlocking new treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative ailments.

Cordyceps, for instance, reversed memory loss by supporting nerve growth in a 2013 study. This bolstered growth of the neuron pathways that are vital for neuroplasticity, memory progression, and regeneration. (37)

Cordyceps Dosage for Brain Fog: 1000-3000 milligrams daily, taken in 2-3 doses

Bacopa Monnieri

Another adaptogen for more serious brain issues, bacopa can help you retain new information. (38) Even a lower dose of just 150 milligrams twice daily greatly improves cognitive function and allows increased memory acquisition and retention. (39, 40)

Some people do experience digestive issues such as increased stool, abdominal cramps, or nausea with bacopa monnieri.

Bacopa Dosage for Brain Fog: 150-300 milligrams per day

Mucuna pruriens

Young adults need help remembering things, too. Whether it’s studying for law school or general mental performance, who doesn’t need help remembering what a significant other said?

L-dopa found in mucuna can help you focus and even learn better. It aids in lasting memory recall of new words. (41, 42, 43)

I guess you can get that word-of-the-day calendar!

Mucuna Dosage for Brain Fog: 200-500 milligrams per day, taken in 1-5 doses

Rhodiola Rosea

Foggy brain got you tired of concentrating? Well, rhodiola combats this type of fatigue and decreases burnout. (35)

This adaptogenic herb grows in cold mountainous regions. It is effective in as low as 50 milligrams a day for general fatigue, but no higher than 680 milligrams for fast-acting use.

Rhodiola Dosage for Brain Fog: 50-680 milligrams per day

 

9. Adaptogens For Inflammation

Ashwagandha

Inflammation occurs when part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection. This can happen from trauma, disease, and even as a chronic fact of many people’s lives on a low-level throughout the body.

The king of adaptogens, ashwagandha, can provide over a 36% reduction in inflammation with just standard oral doses of 125mg. (44)

Ashwagandha Dosage for Inflammation: 125 milligrams per day

Rhodiola Rosea

Inflammation also happens when you workout. Rhodiola exhibits an antiinflammatory effect and protects muscle tissue during exercise. (45)

The study was done on healthy volunteers before and after exhaustive exercise. I wonder what kind of protection comes with a daily run to the donut shop!

Rhodiola Dosage for Inflammation: Varies, probably 50-680 milligrams per day

 

10. Adaptogens For Sexual Health

Ashwagandha

In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has historically been taken as a natural aphrodisiac to help improve sexual dysfunction. It’s also used to bolster testosterone levels and enhance male fertility.

Modern research backs up what Ayurvedic practitioners have known for centuries.

Men are seeing a 167% increase in sperm count, 53% increase in semen volume, and a 57% boost in sperm motility. (46)

Don’t forget about the ladies. A study of 50 women taking 300 milligrams root extract supplementation twice daily for eight weeks yielded great results.

In the scope of arousal, lubrication, and orgasm, they found the adaptogen group displayed significantly higher improvements. (47)  

Ashwagandha Dosage for Sexual Health: 300-675 milligrams, taken in 2-3 doses

Holy Basil

Ocimum tenuiflorum is more of a niche in the sexual health spectrum.

Holy basil boosts libido. It’s an aphrodisiac and a testosterone-increasing supplement.

The only caveat is that it also has a potent ability to reduce fertility in men. Some studies suspect the high ursolic acid content to be the culprit.

So, it’s not good for anyone trying to conceive a child, but for people who have already moved past that desire, it could be fun. (48, 49)

Holy Basil Dosage for Sexual Health: Varies, usually between 1100-9100 milligrams per day, broken into multiple doses

Panax Ginseng

Men with erectile dysfunction experience the quality of erections improved as well as overall friskiness with the use of panax ginseng. Suggested dosage is 1000 milligrams twice a day. (50, 51, 52)

Women have the option of taking Korean red ginseng to improve arousal. Specifically this is helpful in the post-menopausal stage of life. (53)

Panax Ginseng Dosage for Sexual Health: 2000 milligrams daily for men, taken in two doses, or 1000 milligrams daily for women

Mucuna pruriens

Stress and infertility can often go hand in hand. Stress from work or even the attempt to conceive can have a vicious circle effect on the efforts to have a baby.

Mucuna has been shown not only to improve semen quality in infertile men, but to increase libido and reduce stress. Subjects were taking 5 grams of mucuna seed powder a day for three months. (54)

Mucuna Dosage for Sexual Health: 5 grams daily

Maca

Everyone can benefit from this adaptogen, a Peruvian root that grows in the Andes. It can support a healthy sex drive and boost fertility, which is prone to decrease in periods of stress. (55, 56)

After going through menopause, many women turn to antidepressants to cope. Common side effects include loss of sexual desire and decreased orgasm.

One trial specifically found, “Maca root may alleviate SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women.” (57, 58)

For men and women, difficulties can arise when trying to conceive children. Some couples want to try everything before going to a physician.

Maca is beneficial to both genders. For men, it increases sperm count and motility. For women, these adaptogenic herbs for hormone balance regulate menstrual cycles. (59, 60)

From antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction to mild erectile trouble, maca is a natural way to increase libido and get anyone in the mood. (61)

Maca Dosage for Sexual Health: 1500-3000 milligrams daily, broken into 2-3 doses

 

11. Adaptogens For Longer Life

Astragalus

One study of a branded and patented form of astragalus could prove to be groundbreaking. A much more potent form that a normal supplement extract, this study shows a statistical and clinical possibility of lengthening telomeres.

What is a telomere? Well, our genes are arranged along molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data.

Telomeres make it possible for cells to divide, and determine how we age. There are even DNA tests that claim to accurately measure your telomeres. (62)

Astragalus is the only natural substance that contains cycloastragenol, a molecule that can lengthen telomeres by activating production 2-3x more. (63)

By increasing telomeres, you could basically put off cell death and slow down aging on a genetic level.

200 milligrams of cycloastragenol is equivalent to about 100 pounds of astragalus. It’s incredibly expensive, so buyer beware.

Astragalus Dosage for Longer Life: Varies by product

 

12. Adaptogens For Schizophrenia

Ashwagandha

Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. There is no cure, and it can last a lifetime.

But a study just released in 2018 administered treatment to patients with recent exacerbation of symptoms.

With minimal side effects, withania somnifera provided significant outcomes for negative, general, and total symptoms and stressors. It was given alongside standard schizophrenia medications but greatly increased their effectiveness. (64)

Drugs for schizophrenia have intense side effects that usually impact how much patients agree to take their meds. Because of this, effective natural alternatives like ashwagandha are vital to breakthroughs in schizophrenia treatment.

Ashwagandha Dosage for Longer Life: 1000 milligrams per day, taken in two doses, as an adjunctive treatment alongside prescribed antipsychotics

 

13. Adaptogens for Oral Health

Holy Basil

The Surgeon General has said that the health of the mouth mirrors the health of the body. (65)

Many people do not realize the effect that oral health has on the rest of the body. In 2018, holy basil extract proved effective in inhibiting Streptococcus bacteria.

It was also active against Prevotella intermedia, which is often found in dental abscesses. Surprisingly, it also shows promise against Peptostreptococcus, a slow growing bacteria with increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs.

The good news is that, unlike many things used to kill oral bacteria, holy basil did not kill the healthy bacteria necessary for health of the oral microbiome. (66)

Holy Basil Dosage for Oral Health: Varies

 

14. Adaptogens For Cancer?

As a word of caution: New research tells us every day that we’re getting closer to natural treatments for cancer. However, these studies should not be taken as a suggestion to discontinue or refuse conventional treatments.

Many of the studies below show the potential of adaptogens being used to enhance traditional cancer drug regimens.

Do not make any changes to your cancer treatment protocol without thoroughly discussing it first with your healthcare provider(s).

Because of this, no dosage recommendations will be given for any adaptogens for cancer.

Ashwagandha

Anti-tumor research assures ashwagandha can help reduce tumors and prevent cancer cells from growing.

With immune support and antioxidant abilities, it specifically helps inhibit the growth of breast, lung, stomach, and colon cancers.

It’s believed that ashwagandha helps to prevent the growth of cancer cells mostly due to its immune boosting and antioxidant abilities. (20)  

A study in 2017 even found this adaptogen to enhance ovarian cancer treatment. It did this by targeting a specific protein that usually causes ovarian cancer cells to grow faster. (21)

Chaga

Chaga has shown to suppress cancer growth by regulating the use of energy in malignant cells, therefore decreasing temperature in tumors. This shrunk tumors by a whopping 60% in a 2016 animal study. (22)  

Multiple studies in mice have shown that chaga suppresses tumor growth in liver, lung, and breast cancers. (23, 24, 25)

Breast cancer more predominantly occurs in people with diabetes. Chaga, also called inonotus obliquus, shows promise to be a preventive approach for conditions like diabetes-related breast cancer. (26)

A 2005 study said, “Results strongly suggest the great potential of the aqueous extract from Inonotus obliquus as immune enhancer during chemotherapy.” (27)

Reishi

Research on select cancers show the possibility of reishi as a tumor reducer and cancer preventative. Prostate cancer cells showed sensitivity, causing a 45% to 55% decrease in cells. (28)

 

Precautions For Using Adaptogens

While all adaptogens should cause minimal disorders in physiological functions, several of them can interact with medications. Please consult a physician before starting a supplement regimen. Not all adaptogens are recommended for people with certain conditions.

Licorice root in its natural form is only safe to consume for about 6 to 12 weeks at a time. DGL licorice, on the other hand, removes the compound that can’t be taken long term. However, it also strips the licorice of its stress relieving benefits.

All licorice root acts as an androgen. Women who already produce too many sex hormones should find an alternative adaptogen.

Holy basil has a strong sterilization reaction in humans. Think about the risk/benefit of taking a supplement with this effect, particularly if you’re trying to conceive.

As always, the goal is to purchase high-quality supplements from trustworthy sources. Organic is best.

 

Conclusion

We’ve been covering the best adaptogens for life and diseases. Looking for Adaptogenic Herbs for anxiety, weight loss, or schizophrenia?

Here are some of the most common uses for Adaptogenic Herbs:

  1. Exercise and weight loss: ashwagandha, ginseng, and Rhodiola rosea
  2. Thyroid: ashwagandha
  3. Anxiety: ashwagandha and holy basil
  4. Stress: ashwagandha, Bacopa monnieri, licorice root, and rhodiola
  5. Energy: rhodiola
  6. Cancer: ashwagandha, chaga, and reishi
  7. Depression: ashwagandha, bacopa, and rhodiola
  8. Endurance: panax ginseng, cordyceps, and rhodiola
  9. Brain fog: cordyceps, bacopa, Mucuna pruriens, and rhodiola
  10. Inflammation: ashwagandha and rhodiola
  11. Sexual health: ashwagandha, holy basil, Panax ginseng, mucuna, maca root
  12. Longer life: astragalus

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