Adaptogens aren’t like other herbs; they have a specific mode of action that involves normalizing physiologic functions and restoring the body to equilibrium. The term was first used by Russian researchers in 1957 to describe substances that increase the “state of non-specific resistance” in stress. The definition was later expanded to include compounds that are safe and normalize body functions and strengthen systems compromised by stress.
This specific class of herbs works in part by influencing the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, a neuroendocrine system that controls the body’s response to stress and regulates energy, immunity, digestion, mood, emotions, and other physiologic processes. More recent research has found that adaptogens also protect mitochondria, the parts of the body’s cells that create energy, from the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.
Because adaptogens influence the body’s innate physiology, they can take time to work—and they shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. Start with one or two adaptogens that target a specific condition or need, and give them time; with the exception of energizing adaptogens like ginseng, cordyceps, and rhodiola, you may need at least two weeks to start noticing effects. And if you use adaptogens daily, take periodic breaks; some research suggests these breaks also enhance the ability of adaptogens to work better. Generally, a pattern of three weeks on,