It’s no secret that Americans are stressed. In fact, The American Institute of Stress reports that about 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress and 73-77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical or mental health. That leaves many people desperate for a fix–preferably one that comes without side effects–which is where the conversation starts to shift to adaptogens, nature’s not-so-secret stress reducers.
But what are adaptogens and how can they help? Is there any research to back up this natural path to a stress free life? Luckily, there is. Before you add adaptogens to your daily wellness regimen, here’s what you need to know:
Adaptogens are compounds that regulate the way the body handles stress.
Some adaptogens are relaxing, while others are known to fight off stress-related fatigue.
Various studies have underscored the positive effects of specific adaptogens, such as Ashwagandha for anxiety relief, Ginseng for fatigue reduction, and Lion’s Mane for cognitive health, each demonstrating unique benefits in stress management and overall well-being.
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Adaptogens are Nature’s Stress Reducer
Adaptogens are supplements derived from plants, roots, mushrooms, or other natural sources that are known to positively impact the body’s stress response. Usually, adaptogens work to up-regulate or down-regulate cortisol production to help the body respond appropriately to your environment. Other adaptogens may simply help promote relaxation to help you unwind and process stress more effectively.
How Do Adaptgoens Work?
According to experts, adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA controls cortisol production and helps to maintain homeostasis, or a sense of balance between bodily systems.
Of course, every adaptogenic compound works via unique mechanisms in the body, which is why it is important to grasp the full scope of adaptogens and what they can do.
What Counts as an Adaptogen?
Of course, not all herbs are adaptogens. Adaptogens must meet certain criteria, including that they are:
- Nontoxic at normal doses
- Able to help regulate the body’s stress response
- Capable of helping to restore homeostasis
Top Adaptogens and Benefits
Although there are parameters to what can be considered an adaptogen, there are still many herbs that make the list. According to a growing body of evidence, several adaptogenic herbs may be useful for improving mood, balancing hormone activity, and boosting immunity. The specific benefits you’ll get from adaptogenic supplements depends on the type you choose. Here are some common adaptogens and the research available to support their use:
Ashwagandha is a well known Ayurvedic herb that’s frequently used to help manage anxiety. In fact, studies (2014, 2019) have repeatedly observed Ashwagandha’s positive impact on stress and anxiety levels. One study even found that ashwagandha may improve sleep quality in the same manner when compared to placebo doses.
Panax Ginseng, also known as American Ginseng, is a root that’s known for its relaxing effects. A 2017 study confirms that Ginseng may provide a “potential approach to regaining homeostasis after abnormal physiological changes caused by the stress of everyday life.” More specifically, it may have a positive impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and the production of hormones, such as cortisol.
Some research shows that Panax Ginseng may even help to reduce fatigue, which may be a side effect of its ability to promote cortisol production when needed. A lack of cortisol causes low motivation and fatigue. The same evidence suggests that Ginseng may be useful for fighting off mental fatigue, too, which is why many people consider it a nootropic.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of a handful of adaptogenic mushrooms that’s most well known for its immune-boosting properties. Some cultures today even use Reishi as an immune system stimulant for patients with certain immune-system disorders, like HIV or cancer. A 2014 study highlighted Reishi as one of four functional mushrooms with prominent immune stimulating effects.
Reishi also has potent adaptogenic benefits. One study found that Resihi supplementation improved the pain and mood changes surrounding a condition caused by chronic exhaustion.
Other evidence suggests that Reishi, as well as other adaptogenic mushrooms, may also help to improve mood. In this survey of nutritional habits, those who regularly consumed mushrooms reported significantly lower rates of depression. Various smaller trials have verified similar results, claiming that consuming more mushrooms in general may help reduce both depression and anxiety. Plus, reishi is often considered one of the best mushrooms for gut health, which plays a huge role in the balance of neurotransmitters implicated in anxiety.
Cordyceps is one type of mushroom that has been studied for its potential adaptogenic effects. Human trials are limited, but one animal trial suggests that cordyceps can help reduce stress markers while increasing the ability to handle stress-related activities. Another similar study confirmed these results, stating that cordyceps may be useful for combating stress-related fatigue.
A 2014 human trial examined the use of cordyceps in combination with another herbal remedy said to have adaptogenic effects–rhodiola crenulata. This study also confirmed stress-relieving effects and an improvement in fatigue levels after only 2 weeks of dosing. Another study combined cordyceps with reishi mushroom and found the pair to help reduce the effects of physical stress on athletes caused by overtraining.
Although these studies do shed some light on the potential stress-regulating effects of cordyceps, more evidence is needed to understand the full extent of its adaptogenic nature.
However, Lion's Mane is also becoming well-known for its potential adaptogenic effects. One study found that Lion’s Mane may help reverse stress-related changes impacting crucial neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin. It may also help reduce certain inflammatory markers known to increase when experiencing stress.
Another study suggests that Lion’s Mane may prevent the downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) when experiencing a stressful event, which may help decrease the chances of experiencing stress-related depression.
One study even found that Lion’s Mane extract may encourage the growth of new nerve cells and may stimulate faster healing within the nervous system, which may help to reduce the impact of stress-related damage to the brain.
Some evidence suggests that maitake may have significant brain-boosting and antidepressant effects thanks to its interactions with AMPA receptors, or neuroreceptors that help to regulate emotions. It’s also known to have a fair amount of beta-glucans, which may also offer significant antidepressant effects.
One trial found that when maitake was combined with ashwagandha, it could significantly decrease the cortisol production (or the stress response) in animal models. More research is needed to verify maitake’s adaptogenic potential.
Rhodiola, also known as “arctic root” and “golden root,” has been well-known as a medicinal herb for hundreds of years. It contains over 140 active ingredients–but most notably contain rosavin and salidroside, two compounds known to be potent adaptogens.
Traditionally, Rhodiola has been used to treat psychological conditions, but now we believe it to have benefits for the whole brain. In fact, one large review of 36 animal studies concluded this to be true–stating that “R. rosea L. can improve learning and memory function” possibly due it’s “antioxidant properties, cholinergic regulation, anti-apoptosis activities, anti-inflammatory, improving coronary blood flow, and cerebral metabolism.”
Thanks to its adaptogenic effects, taking it daily has been linked to reduced mental fatigue and increased feelings of well-being while under stress.
Some people disagree on whether Ginkgo Biloba belongs in the adaptogen category or in the nootropic category. This age-old health-boosting supplement is derived from one of the world’s oldest trees and has traditionally been used for improving kidney health, treating asthma and bronchitis, and for managing senility in older adults.
Researchers have also found that Ginkgo may keep cortisol and blood-pressure levels low during stress-related experiences, which can help decrease the risk of tissue damage and improve overall performance. Researchers aren’t sure what makes ginkgo effective, but they theorize that it has something to do with its ability to improve blood flow to the brain.
What are Adaptogen Side Effects?
It’s important to understand that adaptogens are classified as substances that are non-toxic at normal doses, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot cause side effects. In some cases, using the incorrect dosage, drug interactions, or allergic reactions can be the cause for side effects.
Luckily, side effects caused by adaptogens are rare and usually mild. The specific side effects vary by supplement, but the most common side effects associated with adaptogenic compounds include:
- Allergic reaction
- Abdominal pain
Adaptogen Drug Interactions
Some adaptogenic supplements may interfere or interact with certain medications, especially those used to treat hormone-related illness, hypertension, diabetes, mental illness, or other related conditions. Some of the side effects that may come from adaptogen drug interactions include:
- Change in appetite
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased sleep latency or quality
- Increased thyroid activity
- Reduced efficacy for medications (especially antidepressants)
Can You Take Several Adaptogens Together?
With so many adaptogens (with so many different potential benefits) on the table, many people want to know if you can take two or more adaptogens at the same time. The answer is yes, and it’s actually very common to combine adaptogens into “stacks” that support a more full-coverage approach to stress-relief and wellness.
Some people even combine adaptogens with nootropics, substances known to positively impact cognitive and mental health. Most herbal supplements are safe to combine, but not all. You’ll want to watch out for stimulants, as combining too many stimulants (like caffeine and ginseng) can cause adverse effects. Otherwise, always talk to a healthcare professional before combining different herbal supplements or combining herbs with your current medications.
How to Take Adaptogens
If you’re ready to get started with adaptogens (and have gotten to go-ahead from your doctor), there are several options you can use to incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine.
Adaptogens are mostly commonly taken in pill form, though dried herbal powders can also be used in foods and beverages. Or fresh or ground herbs can be used to brew teas or tinctures. You should consider the difference in whole powders vs extracts, as one offers a more full-spectrum array of herbal compounds while the latter is more concentrated.
You will need to do research on the specific adaptogens you choose because some benefit more from hot water extraction than dual extraction, the two primary extraction techniques used on mushrooms and other herbal compounds.
Before you start taking any adaptogenic supplement, be sure to consider the quality of the supplements you choose. In the U.SSupplements are not as well regulated as prescription drugs, so it’s possible that the label is misleading.
To reduce the chance of encountering quality related issues, look for brands that use a cGMP compliant manufacturer and who utilize third-party testing to ensure label accuracy. The supplement label should give accurate potency information and dosing recommendations.
Adaptogens present a natural, effective solution for stress management and overall well-being. They work by harmonizing the body's response to stress, offering varied benefits from reducing anxiety to boosting cognitive health.
However, their integration into daily wellness routines should be approached with professional guidance to ensure safe and optimal use. Embracing adaptogens is a step towards a balanced and healthier lifestyle, aligned with nature's healing powers.
Lucid: Adaptogens, Nootropics, Medicinal Mushrooms All In One
Lucid instant beverages are known for their medicinal mushroom and nootropic power, but many of the unique ingredients double as adaptogens. That’s why Lucid is so good at making you feel level, coherent, and strong–the exact balance you need to feel lucid and motivated to take on your day.
Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients: What’s in a Lucid Stack?” to learn more about the Lucid formula, which includes a handful of nootropics and adaptogens, including:
- Lion’s mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
Or, check out one of our three flavor options: