Adaptogens 101: Everything You Need to Know

Adaptogens 101: Everything You Need To Know

Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that help your body ‘adapt’ to stress. They may seem new but they’ve been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. With our bodies and minds struggling from more stress than ever, adaptogens are making an overdue comeback.

What exactly do they do?

Adaptogens can help your body cope with a range of stress related issues, from immune support to increasing energy and focus. They can even help manage anxiety and fatigue.

But how do they actually work?

Adaptogens work by supporting your adrenal glands, the system in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress - whether physical, emotional or environmental. When your body is stressed, your brain signals to your adrenal glands to produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. There are times when we benefit from this adrenaline and cortisol, but overexposure to them can disrupt almost all bodily processes and we start to feel the side effects pretty quickly through fatigue, anxiety, lack of focus, inflammation or immune issues.

(If you lived through 2020, you likely experienced some overexposure to stress hormones.) This is where adaptogens come in. When taken in therapeutic amounts, over at least a few weeks time, adaptogens can actually increase your body’s resistance to the effects of stress. Seriously. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional stress, adaptogens will work to normalize the body, supporting your wellbeing and restoring overall balance in the body. In short, “adaptogens help your body handle stress,” according to Dr. Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “They’re meant to bring us back to the middle.”

How do you add them into your diet?

Adaptogens like turmeric and holy basil can be added while you cook, or taken in supplement form. Others like cordyceps, reishi, ashwagandha or maca are easier to consume through capsules, tinctures, powders and teas. Since adaptogens come in many different forms, there’s no “right” way to consume them, but the key is consistency. We aim for taking them daily or as close to that as possible. We recommend habit stacking, like adding adaptogens to your morning smoothie or with your afternoon oat milk latte, so it best fits your lifestyle. Adaptogens are powerful, but slow-acting, so it can take up to a few weeks to notice a difference once you incorporate them into your wellness routine. Whatever form you decide on, we recommend purchasing adaptogens directly from high quality herb companies or checking the source from products that contain adaptogens where they use organically grown or consciously wildcrafted herbs.

How do you know which ones to take?

The idea is to focus on the benefits you’re looking for and work backwards. There are adaptogens for many wellness concerns: Immune boosting to prevent getting sick, immunosuppressives to help with allergies, energy and focus boosting, fatigue relief, sleep supporting, antinflammatory support… the list goes on and on. Like most things, it can be a bit of trial and error to see what works best for your body. The most commonly used adaptogens include ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, ginseng, lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi. The idea is to learn about the different “personalities” of adaptogens and figure out which ones fit what you’re looking for.

The takeaway:

Adaptogens are here to stay and about to be a mainstream wellness hack for stress relief.