As the world around us gets more stressful, many of us are looking for ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Are you stressed out? Do you wish there was a simple solution to stress and anxiety? Adaptogens may be your solution.
Many of us suffer from stress and anxiety at some point in our lives. Whether it's a little bit or all the time, everyone has a difficult time feeling good when they're stressed out.
Adaptogenic herbs are one of the best ways to reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
We live in an incredible time where we have access to the most potent superfoods and herbal medicines on the planet.
Adaptogens are an essential ingredient when dealing with stress, pressure and anxiety. There are various ingredients on the market and some of these work very effectively at reducing stress levels and allowing you to get on with daily life with minimal stress.
Adding adaptogens into our everyday lives is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our overall health and wellbeing.
This article explores the best adaptogens for stress, adaptogens for anxiety and how you can include adaptogenic herbs in your diet to support your best health.
Table of Contents
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogenic herbs have become extremely popular in the health and wellness community and for good reasons but what are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are extraordinary herbs derived from plants and fungi that enhance an individual's resistance to stress, essentially making the body more “adaptable” to all kinds of stressors.
An adaptogen is a stress-reducing herb that helps the body balance itself in response to stress. Adaptogens for stress are used as natural remedies to help your body cope with stress and negative emotion.
Each adaptogenic herbs has unique characteristics that make it helpful for all types of stress, however, they all share certain characteristics such as anti-stress and anti-anxiety qualities.
The word “adaptogenic” is relatively new to the western world, however, adaptogenic herbs have long been used in Asian and Indian traditional medicine to combat a variety of symptoms.
To be classified as a true adaptogen, an adaptogenic herb must exhibit three functions;
- Adaptogenic herbs must be non-toxic and safe for long-term consumption.
- Adaptogenic herbs must produce a non-specific benefit and resistance to stress. Adaptogens don’t just work on one biological pathway as many pharmaceuticals do, they work on hundreds of biological pathways simultaneously. This makes them truly unique and remarkable.
- Adaptogenic herbs must have the effect of bringing the body closer to homeostasis, back to balance, and harmonising imbalances caused by stress.
In the 1940s and post-WWII, the USSR commissioned scientist Nikolai Lazarev to search for a performance-enhancing herb with pharmacological qualities to Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng). What he discovered was Siberian Ginseng, also known as Eleuthero root (6).
Nikolai Lazarev coined the term “adaptogen” during this period.
Adaptogenic herbs contain a variety of potent compounds such as triterpenes, beta-glucans, antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids, lactones and other polysaccharides. Their chemical makeup and structure make them incredibly unique unlike any other herbal medicine on the planet.
Some common and well-known adaptogens for stress include Reishi Mushroom, Cordyceps mushroom, Ashwagandha root, Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero root), Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Panax Ginseng and Schizandra berry.
The best adaptogens for immunity include Reishi mushroom, Cordyceps mushroom and Rhodiola rosea.
The best adaptogens for mood elevation are Ashwagandha root, Lion's Mane mushroom, Reishi mushroom and Siberian Ginseng.
All adaptogenic herbs work to enhance the adaptability and resilience of the individual taking them.
Adaptogens themselves follow the doctrine of signatures. This class of incredible herbs must grow and adapt in the harshest climates and environments in the world–from sub-arctic to desert-like conditions. It’s known that the strongest survivors of these herbs possess the most potent adaptogenic qualities.
A perfect example is Rhodiola which grows wild on cliff sides hundreds of meters above sea level in Siberia, Tibet and China.
We’re beginning to see the emergence of these potent adaptogens supplements within the mainstream. Their presence could not be more welcomed in the highly stressful times we live in.
How Adaptogens Deal with Stress & Fatigue
Stress is like a thief that robs us of our joy, well-being and health.
Most of us face stress on a daily basis. Our bodies are designed to deal with stress — and the occasional bout of anxiety.Adaptogenic herbs work by influencing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This intelligent feedback loop is the body’s stress response and also plays a significant role in immune regulation, digestion, metabolism and mood.
Also known as the neurohormonal system, the HPA axis is part of the endocrine system and is the connection between the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) and adrenal glands—the organ that releases stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
The body experiences two types of stress— acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is the type of stress the body-mind has evolved with. Acute stress is an isolated moment or an event in which the brain registers impending danger or a change in homeostasis.
If we think back to our primal ancestor days, let’s imagine a lion is chasing you and ready to attack. This is an example of an acute stressor.
In this emergency situation, the body responds to the stressor by first, activating the emotional centre of the brain (the amygdala). This triggers the hypothalamus to send warning signals to the pituitary gland which then sends hormonal messages to the adrenal glands to release stress hormones.
Cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline flood the nervous system and switch the body into fight or flight (sympathetic) mode. This primes the body to deal with the impending stressor by enhancing the body’s performance–elevates heart rate, boosts energy levels, digestion shuts down, and the mind is sharper and more focused.
Once the threat leaves or is under control, the adrenals signal to the brain that the stressor is over and the nervous system responds by activating the parasympathetic state–rest and digest and recuperation mode.
Adaptogen benefits can be helpful for stress in a number of ways but the goal is always to recover the body's ability to cope with outside influences.
In modern times, stress is a constant in our everyday lives. Stress is no longer an acute situation, it becomes chronic stress.
Chronic stress happens continually when we’re dealing with traffic, work deadlines, toxic relationships, financial hardships, lack of sleep, and the overconsumption of processed and nutrient-deficient foods.
Over time, chronic stress leads to burnout and exhaustion. This is when the adrenal glands no longer respond appropriately and cortisol and adrenaline are either no longer produced or at the wrong times. The body becomes “wired and tired”, highly anxious, and mentally and physically fatigued all by an overactive and depleted nervous system running on fumes.
The resulting chronic stress manifests in the body as elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol, leaky gut, food allergies, viral infections, bacterial infections, acidosis, hypoxia, injury or damaged tissue, infection, and inflammation. These symptoms all signal the body is out of balance and depleted.
This is where the light of adaptogens really shines.
When consumed, the intelligence of adaptogenic herbs enters the body and read all the imbalances in the system and works to restore homeostasis.
Adaptogen benefits support the HPA axis - the response between the brain and adrenals and essentially “buffer” the stress response, blocking the release of cortisol or releasing cortisol in individuals who are chronically fatigued. They blanket the physiological response to stress, enabling us to not launch into that fight or flight state and instead, preserve cortisol and support the adrenals, helping to restore proper function.
How Adaptogens Work
Each adaptogens supplements is unique in how it helps manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Adaptogenic herbs function by regulating numerous mediators of the stress response and are essentially stress-protective (1,7).
One of the best adaptogens for stress is the Ashwagandha root. It modulates the entire HPA axis, buffering the communication between the brain and adrenals, and balances the stress response and sympathetic activation (1,6,7).
Other adaptogens for energy such as Siberian Ginseng directly work on the adrenals to preserve cortisol and prevent adrenal insufficiency and the feelings we experience with fatigue, chronic fatigue and burnout (1,7).
Another key example is the Schisandra berry. Schisandra stimulates the expression of heat shock proteins - a type of communicator that is involved in cell protection and enhances the production of mitochondrial glutathione - our body's own master antioxidant that protects cells and DNA from oxidative stress (damage). (1,6,7)
The best adaptogens for stress work by activating stress-defence mechanisms—preventing the negative effects of chronic stress exposure (6).
We know chronic stress depletes an individual, it weakens the immune system, fertility, digestive function, recovery, drives cellular ageing, DNA damage and alters gene expression. By including adaptogens for stress in our diet, we’re able to nourish and support the HPA axis to manage stress effectively.
List of Adaptogens That Helps in Stress & Anxiety
The best adaptogens for stress and anxiety are featured below.
These adaptogenic herbs have been used for centuries to support energy, fight fatigue, and improve cognition and are proven to be the best adaptogens for stress.
Numerous studies have further shown us the science behind adaptogen benefits and how these potent adaptogens for anxiety and adaptogens for stress can support various symptoms.
Ashwagandha root is one of the best adaptogens for stress and anxiety. By modulating and supporting the entire nervous system, Ashwagandha root spares the adrenals and preserves cortisol, as well as being a nutritive - rich in iron.
Ashwagandha is amazing for exhaustion and ideal for anyone battling low energy and mental fatigue.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is most well known for being the best adaptogen for anxiety and reducing stress.
Reishi mushroom is naturally a heart-opening, calming, nourishing adaptogenic herb that hugs the HPA axis and improves mood, anxiety and sleep - a key ingredient for helping with stress and anxiety.
Cordyceps mushroom is revered as an ancient performance-enhancing tonic and through its nitric oxide boosting properties, speeds up the breakdown of stress hormones, improving the return to homeostasis (1).
Cordyceps mushroom also binds to adenosine receptors - same as caffeine, without giving the adrenal taxing effects of caffeine, improving energy and fighting fatigue.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero root)
Siberian Ginseng, also known as Eleuthero root, is one of the best adaptogenic herbs of all time. It’s perfect for high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, students, and anyone who wants to be on top of their game.
Siberian Ginseng is one of the best adaptogens for immunity and improving energy.
Siberian Ginseng extract helps boost physical strength and energy, increases endurance and stamina, promotes fast recovery, boosts performance, and reduces stress.
Rhodiola rosea is one of the best adaptogenic herbs, and it has a long history of use in traditional medicine.
Rhodiola Rosea is native to Siberia and mountain ranges in northwest China. Throughout history, the Chinese sent expeditions to Siberia to cultivate and bring back Rhodiola, nicknaming it “The Golden Root”. In TCM, Rhodiola strengthens and nourishes the Lung and Heart meridians and replenishes Qi.
Rhodiola Rosea is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety and reducing stress. The root has been clinically tested and found to help with stress-related disorders.
Although Rhodiola rosea can help with more than just stress—it also has a wide range of health benefits including boosting immunity, reducing fatigue, alleviating symptoms of depression, improving memory and concentration, and promoting fast recovery from a cold or flu.
Rhodiola also boosts serotonin and dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitters) levels in the brain. This can help increase energy levels and improve mood, which may be why it's often used as a natural antidepressant supplement.
Schisandra berry is a mild adaptogenic herb that helps balance the stress response and acts as a potent antioxidant buffering the catabolic effects of stress.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Schisandra Chinensis nourishes all five organs and enters all twelve meridians. Schizandra berry is a powerful tonic to support an individual's entire constitution; making it a unique adaptogen for stress and anxiety.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane mushroom is one of the best adaptogens for anxiety. Lion’s Mane has been shown in numerous studies to increase BDNF and NGF - two growth factors within the brain that improve memory, cognition and mood (6).
Lion’s Mane is amazing for buffering mental fatigue and brain fog. It’s also one of the best adaptogens for mood elevation.
Pine Pollen powder is a powerful restorative adaptogen, rich in nutrients and amino acids; requires by the adrenals to support healthy stress levels and cortisol production.
Vitamin C is also a key vitamin in the function of the adrenal glands, and Pine Pollen is rich in Vitamin C adds an additional layer of support from stress and anxiety.
Benefits of Adaptogens
The benefits of adaptogens for stress and anxiety revolve around the modulation of the body’s stress response, also known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals (HPA) axis.
Additionally, adaptogen benefits are anti-fatigue and anxiolytic. Adaptogens supplements provide key microminerals, nourish the adrenals, enhance antioxidant production, and support sleep, mood, cognition, memory and energy.
As we’ve explored throughout the article, each adaptogen has a unique way in which it benefits the individual taking them.
Adaptogen benefits may help restore health and vitality in those who are chronically fatigued and experiencing adrenal insufficiency.Adaptogens supplements support and calms an individual's nervous system that is stuck in overdrive, depleted, wired and tired, anxious, unable to get good quality sleep.
Tips to Add Adaptogens in your Diet
Adaptogens supplements come in a variety of forms. But not all adaptogens supplements are created equal. It’s important to do your due diligence to find the right adaptogen product for you.
At Teelixir, we recommend including adaptogenic herbs in your diet in five ways;
- Enjoy adaptogens powder on their own in hot water. Mix in and experience the full flavour profile and the reverence these adaptogenic herbs embody.
- Make an adaptogen tonic, similar to a medicinal mushroom latte. Simply add adaptogenic herbs powder to hot water or plant-based milk to create a delicious, low sugar, nutrient-rich adaptogen tonic. Perfect for every day.
- Try adding adaptogens to your beverages. Whether this is your morning coffee, tea, matcha, cacao elixir, smoothie or bone broth. The best adaptogen powders will easily dissolve in beverages with no damage to their structure or function when added to boiling water.
- Use adaptogenic herbs in your baking and cooking. Add the organic extract powder into baking batters, sauces, soups, stocks, broths, or salad dressings. All you need is ½ tsp of each adaptogen every day to experience its incredible benefits.
- One trick I enjoy is every time I have a new bag of granola or muesli, I open it and add 3 big tablespoons (or add the number of serves per packet times ½ tsp) into it. That way every time I have my breakfast I’m automatically consuming adaptogens without even thinking about it. I don’t even notice it, and whether I’m having it with coconut yoghurt or plant-based milk, they completely dissolve. Make it easy to consume. Make it fun!
Adaptogens are a valuable class of herbs–plants and fungi–that we can use on a daily basis to reduce stress and anxiety, elevate mood, increase energy and support hormones, brain health and the immune system.
Adaptogenic herbs have been traditionally used for many health benefits. There are specific adaptogens for stress, adaptogens for anxiety, adaptogens for immunity, adaptogens for energy and adaptogens for mood elevation.
The best adaptogens for stress include Ashwagandha root, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Cordyceps Mushroom, Reishi Mushroom, Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Schizandra berry and Pine Pollen.
These may also be the best adaptogens for anxiety.
All of these adaptogenic herbs are safe for long-term use and work to fight fatigue, reduce anxiety, boost energy, and cognition, and support the nervous system, conveying the powerful benefits of adding these adaptogens to your everyday life.
- Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
- Feeling a little low on energy? Here's how adaptogenic herbs for energy can help - https://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/nutrition/feeling-a-little-low-on-energy-heres-how-adapt
- Adaptogens for Healing Burnout — Dr. Karen Wallace, ND | Dartmouth, Nova Scotia - http://drkarenwallace.com/blog-drkaren-naturopathic-dartmouth/2018/7/31/burnout-and-adaptogen-herbs
- 12 Best Adaptogens for Stress and Hormonal Balance — And How to Use Them - https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/smart-girls-guide-to-adaptogens#how-do-they-work
- 12 Best Adaptogens for Stress and Hormonal Balance — And How to Use Them - https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/smart-girls-guide-to-adaptogens#how-to-use-adaptogens
- Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston & Steven Maimes
- Understanding adaptogenic herbs: new evidence on their possible effectiveness in stress-induced and ageing-associated disorders from a DNA microarray study of neuroglia cells - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273615817
- Adaptogens - https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/docs/Adaptogens.pdf