Adaptogens: Bringing the Body Back into Balance by Stephanie Karozos, MD
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a category of herbs and mushrooms that can help the body cope with physical or emotional stress. They help bring the body back to its natural state of balance, or homeostasis. They are typically safe, working on the adrenals to reduce or increase cortisol (a stress hormone) to normalize your body’s stress response. This can have the effect of either calming the body or increasing energy levels, depending upon what your body needs. If you are feeling chronically fatigued, anxious, or unbalanced, your doctor may recommend a course of one or more adaptogens as part of a treatment plan to help bring your body and mind back to its natural resting state, more capable of responding in a healthy way to life’s stressors.
Note: Adaptogens are available in capsules, tinctures, powders, and unprocessed forms and doses may vary. Always follow the dosing instructions provided unless otherwise instructed by a trusted health care provider. They are best used temporarily, for a period of 2-3 months typically, unless you have been instructed to use them for longer periods of time by a health professional. Please refer our Dietary Supplements article to better understand how to purchase high-quality supplements or consult with your integrative or functional health care provider.
Why would I take an adaptogen?
If you have chronic fatigue or stress, an adaptogen may be a good fit for you. They help your body recover from physical or mental stress, returning the body to its natural resting state. Cancer patients* and sufferers of insomnia, anxiety and thyroid disease could potentially benefit from adaptogen use for a period of time as well. Those with fibromyalgia or chronic pain know that long-standing pain can also cause fatigue, brain fog, low motivation, depressed mood, and anxiety. For these reasons, fibromyalgia or chronic pain patients can also benefit from adaptogen use.
Types of adaptogens
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a single herb supplement that can be helpful for stress, insomnia, anxiety, and thyroid health. This is a great adaptogen to take if you are finding that you have difficulty falling asleep or feel anxious/worried on a regular basis. If you have an under-performing thyroid, it may be a helpful addition to your daily routine. If you are taking thyroid medication and wish to try ashwagandha, please discuss it with your healthcare provider so that they can monitor your thyroid levels more closely. You may be able to reduce the dose of your thyroid medication over time with regular use.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a root that is useful for those who suffer from depression and chronic mental or physical fatigue or during times of acute or anticipated physical or mental stress. If you wake up after a full night of sleep and still feel fatigued or foggy-brained, Rhodiola for a period of time (typically 8-12 weeks) may help to increase your energy levels and mental clarity, allowing you to exercise, eat healthy, and adopt other healthy habits to have more sustained, long-lasting increased energy levels.
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or holy basil, is an adaptogenic herb that can help to alleviate anxiety, physical or emotional stress, and to steady an active mind during turbulent times. If you are finding yourself in a state of overwhelm, tulsi can offer gentle calming or stimulating effects and is safe to use daily in tea or tincture form.
Worthy of their own post, adaptogenic mushrooms are experiencing a rise in popularity, found in many powdered supplement blends and coffee-substitutes. Reishi, cordyceps, chaga, turkey tail, and lion’s mane mushrooms are all adaptogenic, each carrying their own unique benefits. Popular culinary mushrooms like shiitake and maitake also have adaptogenic benefits. It’s important that shiitake and maitake are fully cooked to reap the health benefits that they offer.
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) also offers relief of mental and physical fatigue. Typically a more energizing adaptogen, its therapeutically acting compounds have been researched and found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity, as well as immune-modulating and blood sugar balancing effects.
Also anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating, American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) offers nervous system support and improves fatigue. It can be used for memory support as well.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is an adaptogen that acts similarly to ginseng. It has immune modulating properties, helping your immune system to function better, and can be energy-boosting.
*If you are a cancer patient, please consult with your Oncologist or Integrative Oncology specialist prior to taking any supplement.