What are adaptogens and can they help your health? This article shares the most popular adaptogens and how they affect hormones, weight loss, energy, and stress. 

adaptogen coffee with chocolate shavings

Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that adapt to what your body needs. Adaptogens have been used as natural treatments in traditions such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for centuries, but have recently experienced a resurgence in popularity.

You’ve probably seen influencers and lifestyle bloggers making potions, coffees, and teas with a variety of adaptogens, or you’ve even seen colorful bags and tins on the shelves of your local health food store. Adaptogens are having a moment again, and for good reason. These non-toxic plants are proposed to help reduce stress, increase energy, balance hormones, and more.

How Do They Work?

When ingested, adaptogens interact with your adrenal system (also known as your HPA axis) to regulate your body’s responses. This means that they recognize what your body needs and offer that, rather than any one specific response. Some are recognized for being useful for certain issues, but in general, there’s no way to know exactly how an adaptogen will affect you. It’s all up to your body!

tea with flowers

Effects on Health

Different adaptogens can have certain effects in your body. Claims are adaptogens include stress management, hormone balance, increased libido, better memory, and even weight loss. Keep in mind that the one thing adaptogens do for certain is help restore your body to homeostasis.

You’ll also need to give your adaptogens some time to work–a general rule of thumb is to take them consistently for two to three months before expecting effects, although it could take less time. And, as always, it is important that you discuss any supplements with your doctor or healthcare provider before you start taking them.

Popular Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens help your health

1. Ashwagandha

This herb is particularly prized for its stress management benefits. It’s especially calming, helping to reduce anxiety and lower inflammation. It’s been found to have neuroprotective effects in cases of Parkinson and dementia and has reduced inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have shown that ashwagandha reduced anxiety in groups compared to placebo groups.

 

Please note that ashwagandha is a nightshade and those with autoimmune disease or nightshade intolerance should avoid or use carefully.

2. Rhodiola

A stimulating herb, rhodiola is best known for its energizing effect. It’s also used for weight loss, stress management, and cognitive performance. Rhodiola contains an active compound that signals your body to burn fat more efficiently.

Another study found that rhodiola improved athletic performance and endurance, helping many people reach their weight and fat loss goals. Preclinical reviews also point to rhodiola as useful for improving memory and learning.

3. Reishi

Reishi is a non-psychotropic mushroom with a calming effect. It’s very high in antioxidants, making it a great choice for immune system support. The beta glucons present in reishi enhance immune system function; it’s even being studied in cancer treatment. Reishi can also be helpful for blood glucose regulation.

4. Maca

Maca is prized for its libido-enhancing benefits. Also known as “Peruvian ginseng,” maca is a cruciferous root vegetable that has been used for thousands of years as herbal medicine.

Maca is an adaptogen that finds its way into many natural treatments for women’s hormonal balance. It can improve depression in postmenopausal women and enhance libido and fertility in women of childbearing age.

5. Ginseng

Ginseng is the top choice for those wishing to heal adrenal fatigue, improve cognitive function, and enhance immune system function; among a myriad of other benefits! Ginseng gives you the most bang for your buck, as far as adaptogens are concerned. Other potential benefits include improved blood glucose regulation and enhanced sexual function.

6. Lion’s Mane

Another adaptogenic mushroom, lion’s mane gets its name from its elaborate shape. Lion’s mane protects against neurodegeneration and has been shown to improve cognitive performance.

herbal tea

FAQs 

Can adaptogens reduce stress? 

Adaptogens can help reduce your stress levels if that’s what your body needs. However, there’s no pill or supplement that can reduce your stress on its own, or permanently.

Stress is pervasive and requires a multi-faceted approach that includes lifestyle changes. While adaptogens can certainly help, they are not necessary and should not be solely relied upon for stress management.

Can you take adaptogens when pregnant or breast-feeding?

It’s important to always consult your doctor regarding any herbs, supplements, or medications taken during pregnancy and when you’re breastfeeding.

Unlike medications, herbal supplements are not strictly regulated by the FDA, and there are generally fewer studies conducted regarding their safety–especially for pregnant women. In general, stay away from any adaptogens that alter hormonal activity in the body (such as maca or dong quai) or ones that are immune-stimulating (such as reishi or ginseng).

How do I reduce cortisol?

It’s important to test your cortisol levels to see whether they need to be lowered. Reduced cortisol does not equal reduced stress. Cortisol is a very important and necessary steroid hormone that, when too low, can cause fatigue, weight loss, mood disorders, and other issues.

Ideally, your cortisol should spike and decrease at the appropriate times during the day. Cortisol should only be reduced when it is proven to be too high. Along with proper diet and lifestyle changes, adaptogens can help regulate your body’s cortisol levels by interacting with the HPA axis.

Can adaptogens help with weight loss?

It’s possible. Some adaptogens help with weight loss directly while others affect weight indirectly. Herbs such as rhodiola and cordyceps have a stimulating effect on the body, improving workout endurance, performance, and recovery.

Rhodiola has been found to reduce visceral fat (also known as belly fat, and the most dangerous to have in excess). Other herbs such as ashwagandha and holy basil are calming and help regulate cortisol levels, which ensures healthy weight management.

Stress is a leading contributor to obesity on many different levels, so reducing your stress can be a major help for weight loss. You might also like this article on reasons why you’re not losing weight.

Now it’s your turn. Have you tried adaptogens? Share your experiences in the comments! 

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