What are Adaptogens? Herbs and Plants That Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
You have probably seen products cropping up on store shelves boasting that they contain "adaptogens" or have "adaptogen properties." Well, what exactly does that mean? Adaptogens are non-toxic herbs, roots, and fungi that work to increase or "adapt" the body's ability to resist stressors and restore the body to its normal physiological function.
I spent the last two months testing out adaptogenic products, initially with some skepticism, but after testing over a dozen of them, I am now a strong believer in these plants as powerful medicine. From powder supplements to coffee alternatives, infused teas to latte mixes, these products have helped me achieve enhanced mental performance, anxiety reduction and a diminishing of my stress level, naturally.
A Brief History of Adaptogens
Although the word "adaptogen" was first coined in the 1950s, the medicinal practice of using these herbs can be traced back to 3000 B.C., in Ancient Chinese and Ayurveda practices. Coined by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev, he defined an adaptogen as a plant that increases the "state of non-specific resistance" when applied to stress, meaning it can help protect the body against a range of stressors.
Adaptogens are herbs and plants with special properties that are naturally occurring in nature and can help the body resist emotional or physical stressors. They help heal stress and fatigue and work by targeting the body's three stages of stress: Alarm, resistance, and exhaustion (which is what happens when the stress alarm stays on). Some adaptogens you may already be familiar with are turmeric, goji berries, maca root and various types of mushrooms. But the list of common ones and their benefits is long:
Here are common adaptogens and their benefits:
- Schisandra: Boosts memory, focus and mental performance
- Ashwagandha: Protects the body against stress and anxiety
- Tulsi Basil: Reduces anxiety, stress and inflammation
- Maca Root: Boosts mood and energy levels
- Reishi Mushroom: Helps the body create a healthy sleep pattern and adapt to stress
- Cordyceps Mushroom: Reduces stress and balances hormones
- Turmeric: Helps the body balance stress hormones and reduces inflammation
- Nettle Leaf: Reduces stress and tension
- Licorice: Boosts endurance and overall energy
Are Adaptogens Safe?
Like any other supplement, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor before deciding to add one to your routine. Although adaptogens are considered a safer alternative than traditional medicines, they can still pose risks. Since the herbs affect a range of systems in your body, including the endocrine system (which governs your hormones) pregnant or breastfeeding women should probably avoid them.
Some adaptogens like Ashwagandha can interact with certain medications, as the plant is known to boost thyroid function, so anyone on thyroid medicine should consult their doctor before taking it. Herbal supplements don't have to be reviewed by the FDA for safety or effectiveness, so it's always a good idea to research a product before trying it out and consult your doctor with any concerns.
Are Adaptogens Effective?
So, do adaptogens really work? It can be hard to believe that something as naturally-occurring as plants, herbs, roots, and fungi can aid in treating health problems, especially those that western medicine prescribes drugs for. Yet in a 2010 study by the Swedish Herbal Institute Research & Development, researchers concluded that "Adaptogens have a significant, beneficial and specific effect on stress-induced symptoms under fatigue." The study showed that "the most convincing evidence of the efficacy of adaptogens were found in studies related to its effects on cognitive function and mental performance, and on its efficacy in asthenia and depression."
More anecdotally, my personal testing of adaptogens, over two months of trying out various supplements and products featuring the plants, leaves me more convinced than ever that these work not just to protect against stress, but also to increase mental capacity, reduce anxiety and boost mood.
Here are some of my favorite adaptogenic products:
1. Cosmic Matcha Adaptogenic Matcha Latte, Moon Juice, $40
Moon Juice, a company well known for their potent "Plant-sourced alchemy to elevate body, beauty and consciousness", delivers a dose of powerful plant healing alongside chic packaging that will make you want to indulge in these luxurious-yet-practical products daily. Their well-curated Instagram is one of my favorites to look to for inspiration to live a natural, well-balanced life. Beyond supplements, Moon Juice also has a line of skincare products, juices, and has even released a cookbook.
Moon Juice's Cosmic Matcha Latte combines the health benefits of matcha with vegan collagen and adaptogens like goji berries, Schisandra and ashwagandha in a drink that will benefit your mind, body and skin. Anyone who is a fan of the earthy taste of matcha will love this latte mix, which can easily be blended with non-dairy milk or hot water for a frothy, superfood-packed morning drink. I love that it offers an energy boost free of jitters thanks to the adaptogens, and is non-GMO and gluten-free. Buy it here.
2. Chlorella Powder, Sun Potion $34
Sun Potion is a brand known for their extremely high-quality nutritional supplements which are organic and fairly-sourced. Chlorella is an adaptogenic algae that contains 10% chlorophyll and is known to support detoxification and boasts high protein content.
I tried this powder in my morning smoothie for about two weeks, and after a few days felt that I was recovering quicker and with less soreness than usual from my daily yoga practice and workouts. Although it has a strong taste comparable to spirulina, when added to a smoothie with a banana, mango chunks, raspberries and almond milk I couldn't taste it at all. You can also dissolve a scoop of chlorella in a glass of water and drink it first thing in the morning, but for those who are averse to a strong algae taste I would recommend going the smoothie route.
After adding chlorella to my routine I feel more agile, energetic and noticed that I have longer, deeper night sleeps. It also seemed to help clear my skin and boost its radiance, and I even tried adding a scoop to the Amazonian clay mask I put on once a week, which was a fun way to mix up my beauty routine and delivered seriously glowy results. This powder is a great addition to your diet if you're looking to boost your energy detoxify your body. Purchase Sun Potion's Chlorella powder here.
3. ALIVE Adaptogenic Tea, GT Synergy, $3.49 at Whole Foods Markets
An easy way to get a daily dose of adaptogenic herbs is to sip on GT Synergy's ALIVE Adaptogenic Tea. If you're a fan of the brand's kombucha you'll love this product as well: It has the same earthy, fermented notes as the brand's signature offerings. I like to drink these in place of coffee on busy days to avoid getting overwhelmed and I truly feel a difference in managing my anxiety when I do. These are a great on-the-go option for workdays where you might not have powder supplements handy.
My favorite flavors are the Guayusa Turmeric, a tangy, earthy, refreshing blend that boasts anti-inflammatory properties thanks to the turmeric and the Pu-Erh Root, which tastes like healthy root beer to me! These are a little harder to find than their kombuchas, but all of the Whole Foods I've been to seem to always have them in stock!
4. Cacao Adaptogenic Brew, Rasa, $26
After ditching my coffee habit a couple months ago, I decided to try out lower-caffeine alternatives to find one that could fill the massive void left by forgoing my morning (and mid-morning, and afternoon...) latte. One of my favorite products that I tried was RASA, adaptogenic coffee alternatives that had all the rich flavor of my former favorite drink without the negative side effects like jitters and shakiness.
My favorite RASA variety is the Cacao, which has Chaga and Reishi mushrooms and ashwagandha in the ingredients. This rich hot-chocolate-like brew gave me a nice boost of energy without any of the shakes or anxiety I experience after drinking a cold brew coffee, which is likely thanks to the adaptogenic ingredients.
5. Spirit Dust, Moon Juice, $38
Like any self-respecting Gemini, I experience mood swings that can jump from blissfully happy to chronically stressed out in a matter of minutes. So, it's no surprise that I've been searching for a "miracle product" that helps me balance out and calm the swing of my emotional pendulum. It sounds too good to be true: A powder that helps brighten your mood? I was skeptical too, but after a week of mixing Moon Juice's Spirit Dust into my morning tea or Chai, I was sold on its effects. I noticed my mood swings had leveled out, I was maintaining a more positive mindset throughout the day, and I wasn't experiencing high levels of stress.
Thanks to the elixir of adaptogens in Spirit Dust including goji, ashwagandha and Reisi mushroom, this powder helped me feel centered and in control, even on the most hectic of days. I would absolutely recommend this magic mix to anyone who feels like they need a boost of happiness and wants to regain control over their emotions. Still don't believe me? Just check out the hundreds of glowing reviews on the Moon Juice website.
6. Ashitaba Powder, Sun Potion, $52
Ashitaba is a species of flowering plant native to Japan. Known for its skin and hair beautifying properties, this anti-inflammatory herb is also known to promote longevity and thought to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and reduce the risk of stress-induced ulcers. Personally, the effects I noticed from taking this Sun Potion Ashitaba supplement was that my skin looked more radiant and broke out less, and I felt less fatigued.
As a vegan, when I get lazy and start reaching for less whole foods like fruits and veggies and more simple carbs like pasta and white bread, I feel the effects almost immediately, in the form of lethargy and tiredness. One of the most noticeable effects of putting Ashitaba powder in my tea a couple times a week was that I had more sustained energy and didn't get any sort of fatigue. With a pleasant, mildly sweet taste, this supplement is easy to drink with water alone and gave me the kind of all-day energy that caffeine cannot. I would recommend Ashitaba to anybody who feels like they are lacking in energy on a vegan or plant-based diet because this plant is chock-full of vitamin B, an essential nutrient for energy.
Have you tried any adaptogenic products that you love? Let us know in the comments below.