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What Are Adaptogens and Do They Work?

You may be seeing more fancy ingredients such as ashwagandha or cordyceps on new products or even in trendy coffee shops. Well, these are better known as adaptogens. While adaptogens may seem new, they have actually been recognized and used since before the middle of the 20th century. Adaptogens are embedded in traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine and have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries.1


Adaptogens have been popularized more recently and have even gone through numerous scientific studies that investigate their health claims. What many studies are finding is that these herbs are actually living up to their hype. Clinical trials have found promise in adaptogens' ability to reduce stress and fatigue and boost attention and endurance.


What are adaptogens:


To adapt means to adjust to new conditions and that is exactly what adaptogens seem to do. If you haven’t yet heard of adaptogens, they are basically a type of herb that has been found to help you adapt to meet your current needs and help improve your tolerance and resilience to stress. For example, like a thermostat that controls the temperature, adaptogens are thought to turn up energy levels when fatigue hits or promote relaxation when stress hits. They can help stabilize mood, the stress response, and improve performance by strengthening your internal systems. There are various types of adaptogens that are used in practice for distinct purposes.


5 Adaptogens to Try/What they do:


Ashwagandha: This adaptogen has the potential to help reduce stress and anxiety. It can be used during times of stress to help with stress and anxiety management as an alternative option.2

Cordyceps: Cordycepin has been explored for its antioxidant properties and has the potential to both cure many diseases as well as enhance stamina.3

Tulsi/Holy Basil: As an adaptogen, tulsi has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This gives it the potential to reduce physical and mental stress, anxiety, and depression.4, 5

American Ginseng: This particular strain of ginseng has been found to enhance working memory.6

Goji Berry: Consuming goji berries daily was found to increase subjective feelings of general well-being and improve neurological performance.7


How to Use Adaptogens:


Now you may be wondering, how do I actually use these adaptogens and where can I find them? Well, you can actually add them in either raw or powder form to your usual recipes. Like the trendy smoothie and coffee shops, you can get creative and add them to your daily smoothie! They can also be found in supplement form as well. 


It is important to do your research before diving headfirst into an adaptogen regime. Adaptogens appear to be most effective when they follow a protocol of consistent daily use with periodic brakes to avoid building up a resistance. However, like any supplement, caution should be used when taking other over the counter drugs or supplements as well as prescription medications to limit negative interactions. If you are unsure or just starting to add adaptogens into your daily routine be sure to consult with your healthcare provider. 


What adaptogens are not:


While adaptogens may seem like the magic pill we have all been waiting for, it is important to address that without healthy foundations in place such as adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and hydration, you may not notice a difference. Further, they may not work in extreme cases of anxiety or depression. Like any supplement, adaptogens are certainly not a cure-all or a replacement to a balanced lifestyle. 


If you’re still on the fence about including adaptogens into your diet, take some time to research and talk to your healthcare team to figure out what makes the most sense for you and your goals! Again, adaptogens won’t eliminate stress, rather they can help your body adapt and handle stress more effectively. More research will need to be done to make any definitive health claims.



  1. Panossian, A. G., Efferth, T., Shikov, A. N., Pozharitskaya, O. N., Kuchta, K., Mukherjee, P. K., Banerjee, S., Heinrich, M., Wu, W., Guo, D. A., & Wagner, H. (2021). Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress- and aging-related diseases. Medicinal research reviews, 41(1), 630–703.
  2. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
  3. Tuli, H.S., Sandhu, S.S. & Sharma, A.K. Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech 4, 1–12 (2014).
  4. Negar Jamshidi, Marc M. Cohen, "The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature", Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2017, Article ID 9217567, 13 pages, 2017. 
  5. Cohen, Marc Maurice. “Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine vol. 5,4 (2014): 251-9. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.146554
  6. Scholey, A., Ossoukhova, A., Owen, L. et al. Effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on neurocognitive function: an acute, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Psychopharmacology 212, 345–356 (2010).
  7. Harunobu Amagase and Dwight M. Nance.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.May 2008.403-412.


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