We Love Adaptogens
Better Nutrition|February 2019

In the trendy world of aling herbs, you’ll d maca, ashwagandha, aga, and other aptogens packed by the handful into smoothies, energy bars, and even coffee drinks. But with these powerful plants, more isn’t better; it’s best to use them carefully, not randomly, choosing those matched to your specific needs

Lisa Turner

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, one week off, is recommended.

So which adaptogens should you take? Here’s a guide to the most popular of these potent herbs, and the conditions they best address:

COGNITIVE FUNCTION AND BRAIN HEALTH

BACOPA MONNIERI, from an herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions, has been shown to enhance cognitive function, improve memory and recall, and protect against age-related neurodegeneration, dementia, and cognitive decline.

RHODIOLA ROSEA, from a perennial flowering plant native to Europe, Asia, and North America, influences the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, improving mood, energy, memory, and the ability to concentrate. It may also help combat mental fog, boost mental performance, and enhance focus.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BETTER NUTRITIONView All

From No Meat to Grass-Fed Red Meat

Some vegetarians are rethinking the reasons they adopted a plant-only diet—and rediscovering high-quality animal protein, particularly pasture-raised meat.

7 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

Light Summer Refresher

Take a break from hot weather with this antioxidant-packed, cooling treat

5 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

Men's Health HANDBOOK

Advice for preventing and treating ailments that most commonly afflict men.

6 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

The Anti-Cancer Diet

Disease-proof your plate with science-backed foods shown to reduce cancer risk.

5 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

Digestion Progression

How to deal with intestinal distress the natural way.

7 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

5 Steps to Reverse Pandemic Weight Gain

How to shed the pounds you may have picked up after a year in social isolation.

5 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

5 Reasons You Need NAC

It’s best known for promoting a robust immune response, but NAC does so much more—and new research suggests that it may even play a role in protecting against Covid-19.

3 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

Collagen for Heart Health

This popular anti-aging supplement for joints and skin also boasts impressive cardiovascular benefits.

5 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

Are You Gluten Free And Healthy?

If you’ve developed unwanted weight gain or heart disease risk factors after eliminating gluten from your diet, better carb choices can help balance blood sugar and insulin levels to take you to a new level of health.

4 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021

7 Super Brain Boosters

Maybe you find yourself trying to remember why you needed to go to the grocery store. Or wondering where you parked the car after a movie. Or questioning whether or not you’ve already fed the dog. If so, it might be time to consider adding some of these brain-enhancing herbs to your supplement routine.

8 mins read
Better Nutrition
June 2021