Adaptogens are compounds found in certain plants said to help reduce the negative effects of stress on the body. They’re often taken as dietary supplements, but caution is advised.

Adaptogens increase your body’s resistance to physical, biological, and chemical stress. These compounds also protect against stress-related damage.

Adaptogens have long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine but have recently gained popularity in Western households.

So, are adaptogens a miracle cure-all? Not exactly.

Precautions are in order when thinking about taking adaptogen supplements. Lack of strict federal regulation, side effects, and potential drug interactions are considerations to keep in mind.

Adaptogens are natural components found in certain plants and mushrooms.

As the name suggests, they help your body adapt and respond to various external and internal stressors. They may help you manage stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue when taken in specific doses for specific lengths of time.

How is this possible?

When you face a physical or mental stressor, your body responds in the following ways:

  1. alarm
  2. resistance
  3. exhaustion

The alarm stage is more commonly known as the fight, flight, or freeze stress response. It’s activated so you can respond to the perceived danger.

During the resistance phase, your body releases hormones that help you focus and improve physical performance, so you can stand up to the challenge. You typically feel energized and clear-headed during this stage as you resist the stressor.

Adaptogens help your body remain in the resistance phase longer so you can get through and not crash during a stressful event.

Adaptogens have an effect on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis consists of three glands – the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. These glands are responsible for sending messages that regulate the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in response to stressors.

Cortisol levels naturally rise in the morning to promote wakefulness and alertness. But, during periods of stress, your body releases more cortisol. As stressors decrease, the HPA axis works on secreting less cortisol.

But if you experience prolonged or frequent stress, your cortisol levels can remain high for an extended period. Long-term high cortisol levels can contribute to various chronic health conditions.

Adaptogens are believed to promote homeostasis in your body by helping the HPA axis keep your body in a state of balance.

For example, if you’re stressed and your cortisol levels are already high, adaptogens may help in reducing cortisol release. On the other hand, if you’re fatigued and have low cortisol levels, adaptogens might help your body release more cortisol to increase alertness.

Adaptogen supplements are commonly marketed as a way to:

  • boost the immune system
  • improve sleep regulation
  • improve cognitive focus
  • increase overall energy
  • manage chronic stress
  • manage symptoms of depression
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce fatigue
  • reduce chronic inflammation

Adaptogens come in several forms, including supplements, herbs, teas, and tinctures.

To be considered an adaptogen, a plant or mushroom must have the following three characteristics:

  • It’s nontoxic when taken in low doses.
  • It helps your body cope with a variety of external and internal stressors.
  • It helps your body maintain homeostasis.

The following is a list of popular plants, herbs, and mushrooms used as adaptogen supplements:

  • American ginseng
  • rhodiola
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • Reishi mushroom
  • Schisandra berry
  • Siberian ginseng or eleuthero
  • Tulsi or holy basil
  • curcumin

Adaptogens are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Adaptogen supplements don’t need to comply with the same federal quality or safety standards as pharmaceutical drugs. It also means that these supplements don’t need to be proven effective to commercialize, unlike pharmaceuticals.

A 2018 review suggests that some adaptogens, including Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng, can help some people regulate stress hormone release, specifically in the adrenal glands. Adaptogens may help you better cope with internal and external stressors.

Other ginseng varieties seem to have this effect by reducing feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Other studies have found that adaptogens, such as American ginseng and Schisandra, may also help improve sleep.

Research published in 2010found that some adaptogens, such as arctic root and holy basil, may help give you a boost when your body feels fatigued. They may also help you increase cognitive focus and concentration.

More research is needed to determine adaptogen supplements’ overall effectiveness and safety.

Adaptogens aren’t quick fixes, and they’re not meant for everyone.

Adaptogens are not a replacement for adequate rest, stress management, mental health support, or professional health advice or treatment.

Consider discussing the pros and cons of starting any new supplements, including adaptogens, with a health professional.

Adaptogens are compounds found n plants and mushrooms that may help your body adapt to stressors to reduce their potential effects on the body. These substances aren’t a substitute for medications or professional treatment.

Adaptogens have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but more comprehensive research is needed to determine their safety and effectiveness.