If you already know what adaptogens are, you are probably here to read about what we believe are the best adaptogens and why. If you don’t already know what adaptogens are, then stay tuned and we will explain below!
Imagine if your body had a stress response thermometer… If you were feeling fatigued, the thermometer would stimulate energy levels to rise. If you felt anxious, the thermometer would trigger a soothing reaction.
There would be no need for that second cup of coffee in the morning, and maybe you would stop reaching for the wine after work. You would be able to function better and enjoy life more. Your body would be in balance.
Adaptogens do just that. Their ability to “adapt” to the needs of your body is unique and spectacular. This happens because they possess opposing qualities, such as the ability to be both calming and stimulating.
This means adaptogens can elicit the correct response to physical, chemical, and biological changes. This can benefit you in a number of ways, including supporting adrenal glands, regulating hormones, and improving mood.
Table of Contents
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are substances that have been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine, and they have finally made their way to the Western world. They are commonly sold today as herbal supplements in the form of pills, powders, teas, and other tinctures.
There are over seventy adaptogens currently cited in the scientific literature, and each one has special superpowers. This blog will discuss the six best adaptogens and give you recommendations.
Here’s a quick rundown of our six favorite adaptogenic herbs:
Ashwagandha is a revered Ayurvedic herb, and it is the most commonly used of all adaptogens. In Sanskrit, its name means “the smell of the horse,” hinting at its potential to enhance vitality and strength. Its name, Withania somnifera translates to “sleep-inducing” in Latin. As you can see, the contrasting abilities that are characteristic to adaptogens are even built into ashwagandha’s nomenclature.
Ashwagandha supplements differ based on two factors. The first differentiator is their concentration of withanolides, which are active compounds found in ashwagandha. Look for extracts that are at least 2.5% withanolides by weight.
The second main difference is whether or not the extract comes from the leaf, root, or both. The leaf is very potent, so it is more common to use the root. Either way, look for supplements labeled “full spectrum” to ensure that different components of the plant are all represented.
Meanwhile Sensoril is 10% withanolides and incorporates the leaf. As a result, Sensoril is more potent and known for its calming effect, whereas KSM-66 is less potent and thought to be energizing. Ashwagandha should be taken in the morning with breakfast.
Holy basil is an herb native to India, where it is known as tulsi. It has been coined “the incomparable one” in Ayurvedic text due to its long list of benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, relieves fatigue, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves energy. Holy basil has also been shown to normalize blood glucose levels and help the liver by enhancing detoxification and protecting it from damage.
The medicinal and therapeutic properties of holy basil come from a variety of compounds found in the leaf, such as rosmarinic acid and eugenol. Look for an extract that is standardized to at least 2% ursolic acid, for that specific substance has been shown to benefit health and prevent disease.
We like the capsules by NOW Foods because its NPA GMP certification means that the entire manufacturing process has been examined, including laboratory and testing methods. Holy basil should be taken with meals, preferably in the morning.
Rhodiola is a Siberian herb that has been used for centuries to promote health in various ways. Studies have tied it to anti-inflammatory activity, improving anxiety, aiding the immune system, boosting mood and increasing libido. It is also commonly used by athletes to help with endurance, coordination, and recovery.
Supplements usually contain extract from the root. Look for a brand that standardizes the percent of total rosavins and salidrosides as those are the compounds that are believed to offer the biggest benefits. We love Pure Encapsulations because it is third-party tested for purity and potency. Rhodiola is best taken between meals on an empty stomach.
Maca is a relative of radishes, and it has been cultivated in Peru for thousands of years. It is believed to reduce anxiety, normalize hormone levels, enhance energy and boost memory. This supplement might even help with menopause and improve libido.
It is commonly consumed as a powder added to foods and has a nutty, caramel taste. Maca root is usually sold in its raw form, but some brands offer gelatinized versions, which removes the starch to make it easier to digest. We recommend incorporating maca into a food that you consume every morning, such as mixing it into oatmeal or blending it in smoothies.
Cordyceps are harvested from mushrooms that grow in the mountainous regions of China. They are known for their energizing effect. Additionally, they have been shown to be anti-inflammatory, fight fatigue, combat stress, improve libido, and regulate blood sugar.
They are often sold in their powdered form and consumed by mixing with beverages. When choosing a powdered mushroom supplement, look for a brand that harvests mushrooms from their fruiting bodies in the wild. Also, the company should use dual extraction to ensure that a full spectrum of both the hot-water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds are available. We like how the earthy taste of Four Sigmatic Cordyceps pairs with coffee, and it adds an extra boost to a pre-workout regimen.
Reishi has been hailed as “the mushroom of immortality,” and it is harvested from a fungus that grows in warm climates in Asia. It is known for having a calming effect, and it is often taken to aid in sleep.
In addition, it is believed to be anti-inflammatory, help your body naturally detoxify, and stabilize blood sugar. We love to blend Four Sigmatic Cacao with Reishi with nut milk to make a sleepy “hot chocolate” before bed.
Choosing the Best Adaptogen for You
If you are considering trying adaptogens, begin by choosing one that best suits your individual needs. Make it part of your daily morning or night routine. Then, be patient; it can take weeks to months of daily use to notice a benefit.
Also, while adaptogens are generally safe, some can have drug nutrient interactions or side effects. Make sure to check with your doctor if you are on any medications, and do not take adaptogens if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Finally, remember that while adaptogens might be the superhero of supplements, their efforts are futile if you do not take care of yourself in fundamental ways. Never neglect to nourish your body, mind, and soul with proper nutrition, water, sleep, relaxation, and love. Help adaptogens to help you.
Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: Specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017;1401(1):49-64.
Liao L, He Y, Li L, et al. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: Comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chinese medicine. 2018;13:57. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30479654
Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: A rasayana (rejuvenator) of ayurveda. African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM. 2011;8(5):208-213. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22754076
Li Y, Pham V, Bui M, et al. Rhodiola rosea L.: An herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention. Current pharmacology reports. 2017;3(6):384-395. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30393593
Wang S, Zhu F. Chemical composition and health effects of maca (lepidium meyenii). Food Chem. 2019;288:422-443
Olatunji OJ, Tang J, Tola A, Auberon F, Oluwaniyi O, Ouyang Z. The genus cordyceps: An extensive review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Fitoterapia. 2018;129:293-316.
Batra P, Sharma AK, Khajuria R. Probing lingzhi or reishi medicinal mushroom ganoderma lucidum (higher basidiomycetes): A bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(2):127-143. Cohen MM. Tulsi – ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine. 2014;5(4):251-259. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25624701