Everything You Need To Know About Using Adaptogens For Stress & Energy

A prevalent force within the health and wellness realm, adaptogens are no longer a foreign concept to most. However, if you’re yet to explore the world of adaptogens, now may be the perfect time. Between ongoing virus concerns, political anxiety, and our generally hectic lifestyles, feelings of fatigue and stress can become all-consuming.

Stress and fatigue can take a toll on your everyday wellbeing, affecting your health, skin, and energy levels. That’s where adaptogens come in. Here’s everything you need to know about these super-herbs.

IMAGE: GUY BOURDIN

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What are adaptogens?

Used for centuries in traditional Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, adaptogens are a class of non-toxic herbs and mushrooms that aid the body in ‘adapting’ to physical and emotional stress. 

“Adaptogens primarily work by acting to help modulate and lessen the negative impacts our stress response has on our bodies,” explains Eliza Matas, Naturopath and Head of Research & Development at Nutra Organics.

How do adaptogens work?

Essentially, adaptogens regulate our stress response by working to modulate and balance one of our body’s major hormonal systems, the adrenal system. “By helping our body be more resilient to stress, adaptogens can help support our overall energy levels. When we overwork ourselves or are exposed to excessive mental or environmental stresses over long periods of time, our hormones can become out of whack making us feel lethargic and tired all the time,” says Matas. “Adaptogens can help lessen the blow of this stress and ensure our hormones return to homeostasis without too many detrimental effects.” 

Types of adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms

There are a plethora of adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs out there, with each working in a unique way to tackle different types of stressors. “Not all adaptogens are created equal,” Matas notes. “In fact, some might be the exact opposite of what you need, so it’s important to remember that like us humans, herbs are multifaceted too and may have a lot of different actions besides being solely ‘adaptogenic,’” she adds.

With that in mind, here are some of our favourite adaptogens.

1. Ashwagandha

Likely the most well-known adaptogen, ashwagandha improves energy levels, balances cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and reduces stress and anxiety. Additionally, ashwagandha can support the immune system, promote restorative sleep (without making you feel drowsy), and reduce inflammation in the body.

2. Rhodiola 

During times of fatigue, mental and physical stress, rhodiola helps balance the body’s cortisol secretion, promoting sustainable energy levels and feelings of calmness. Rhodiola is also beneficial in improving mental performance, concentration, and memory, particularly when under stress. 

3. Reishi 

Reishi is a medicinal mushroom used to help the body adapt to stress and support the body’s sleep cycles. Reishi can potentially strengthen the immune system by enhancing monocyte, macrophage, and T-lymphocyte activity and down-regulating excessive immune responses and allergies.

4. Maca

Both an adaptogen and a superfood, maca is a Peruvian root vegetable which works to balance hormone production and improve libido, fertility, and mood. When taken consistently, maca also works on the HPA-axis, enhancing the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which balances the adrenal glands.

5. Cordyceps

A medicinal mushroom, cordyceps provides energy without the jitteriness of caffeine. It can be used to boost stamina, and prolong and restore energy, making it the ideal pre-workout drink. Some endurance athletes use cordyceps to prolong time until exhaustion during exercise.

6. Asian ginseng

Ginseng can be used to regulate stress response through the immune and endocrine systems, as well as improve brain function and energy levels. Historically, ginseng has also been used to regulate sex hormones and improve erectile dysfunction and hormonal functions, however more research is required on this front. 

How to take adaptogens

The ubiquitous nature of adaptogens means that they’re available in many forms, including powders, lattes, teas, and capsules. Whether you choose to incorporate them into your morning smoothie, or a relaxing bedtime drink is more your style, we’ve got you covered. 


Words by Theo Rosen
Feature image courtesy of Joyce Lee for Oprah Magazine