A big clue to understanding adaptogens is in the name itself: Adaptogens help the body adapt to lifestyle conditions by restoring homeostasis or balance, whether that means combatting stress, boosting the immune system or supporting overall vitality. The difference between adaptogens and other beneficial herbs is that adaptogens work on several parts of the body at once to help create lasting, holistic health.
Below are just a few of the herbs that fall under the adaptogenic umbrella, what they do for the body and how to consume them.
According to the American Botanical Council, ashwagandha root soared 185.2% in sales in 2020, representing the largest growth spurt of any herbal supplement in the mainstream channel. Why? It’s an Ayurvedic all-star known to reduce stress by reducing serum cortisol levels in the body. And with lower stress comes a host of other benefits from better sleep to reduced inflammation, stronger immunity and a healthier sex life. Experts say 125 mg to 600 mg can do the trick for stress and sleep support.
Rhodiola rosea is a traditional herb used for thousands of years in Siberia to make an energy enhancing tea. Today, it’s prized for its ability to increase mental performance and work output and decrease fatigue. Studies supporting a positive effect of R. rosea on physical performance reported doses of 200 mg perday and 680 mg per day, and those supporting a positive effect on mental fatigue reported doses between 100 and 576 mg per day.
With a rich history in Traditional Chinese Medicine for vitality, schisandra is in demand today for increasing energy, battling fatigue and promoting healthy sleep. Research shows that the ingredient’s antioxidant activity may promote a healthy nervous system and boost mental and physical functioning, including skeletal muscle strength. The typical dosage for schisandra extract is 100 mg twice daily.
Eleutherococcus senticosus is a natural stress reliever and mood booster, prized in Northern Asia for strengthening the body’s life energy, or “qi” as it’s called in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Eleuthero seems to work in the hippocampus, where memory is located, and helps keep brain neurons healthy for increased alertness and better focus during stress.
Holy basil (tulsi)
Holy basil has been found to protect organs and tissues against physical stress and chemical stressors, such as those from pollutants and other environmental factors. Plus, it’s been shown to counter metabolic stress through the normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels as well as psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. Doses for standardized extracts range from 200 to 500 mg daily.
Maca, a Peruvian tuber, has been traditionally known for its sexual support and fertility benefits, and studies back its benefits for helping women battle antidepressant induced sexual dysfunction. As a food, maca is highly nutritious; dried maca contains about 59% carbohydrates and slightly more than 10% protein. Single-dose studies used extract quantities ranging from 1.5 grams per day to 3 grams per day.
Used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus is commonly promoted for upper respiratory health (think hay fever and asthma) as well as chronic fatigue. Topically, it’s also thought to be beneficial for wound healing. Doses up to 60 grams daily for up to 4 months have been used without reported adverse effects.
Ginseng is known for increasing resistance to environmental stress and improving overall wellbeing. Mostly, ginseng is touted for its benefits for physical stamina, concentration and immune system function. Most published research studies have used a standardized ginseng extract in a dosage of 200 mg per day.