Adaptogens are a class of herbs that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. Recently, they have become one of the buzzier topics in modern wellness culture. But unlike, say, a Peloton bike, there’s nothing new about the natural benefits and effectiveness of adaptogens.
In this blog, we’ll discuss common questions like: what are adaptogens, what are the benefits of adaptogens, and what are the best adaptogens for you.
What Are Adaptogens?
The term adaptogen refers to any number of herbs and roots—including ginseng, cordyceps, reishi, and astragalus—that have been shown to mitigate the body’s stress response and boost the immune system.
The word itself is credited to scientists conducting covert research in the Soviet Union beginning during the Cold War. Searching for a supplement to enhance the performance of national soldiers, athletes, and cosmonauts, they discovered a handful of plants with powerful anti-stress effects.
In addition to providing powerful stress protection, adaptogens are generally considered safe for most people to take, with few reported side effects.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
When your body encounters stress, it triggers the release of the hormone adrenaline followed by a surge of the hormone cortisol—both provide you with a quick hit of energy. “Once you metabolize them, though, your body crashes,” explains David Melladew, L.Ac., The Hao Life’s Traditional Chinese Medicine advisor. That’s why you feel so burnt out during prolonged periods of stress.
Adaptogenic herbs are thought to counterbalance that initial hormonal cascade—keeping your heart rate steady, your mind clear, and your energy levels even. Studies have shown that adaptogens can help to reduce cortisol levels, improve adrenal function, and enhance immunity. Additionally, adaptogens have been shown to improve mental performance, including memory and focus.
Adaptogens’ Chinese Medicine Roots
Long before the Soviets started their top-secret research, though, these herbs and roots were already commonplace in ancient healing practices like Traditional Chinese Medicine, where adaptogens are classified as Superior Herbs. And they do way more than just help you cope with stress.
“They provide all-around health benefits,” explains Melladew, noting reishi, cordyceps, ginseng, and astragalus as some of the most superior of the Superior Herbs. “In Chinese philosophy, if you’re healthier—your body is in balance—you’ll respond to stress better, period.”
By helping your body reduce stress in the long term, adaptogens don’t just help you deal with what’s in front of you. They actually help heal some of the damage that stress has done and help you build a stronger stress resistance.
Why Adaptogens Are Better in Blends
You can find adaptogens such as ginseng or cordyceps as a supplement on their own at the health food store, but that’s not the optimal way to take them. “Very rarely would a TCM practitioner prescribe a single herb,” says Melladew. This is because adaptogens or Superior Herbs (however you refer to them) can be amplified depending upon the other plants that are in the mix.
“Think of them like personalities,” says Melladew. “There are many dimensions to your personality. If you’re with a certain group of friends, they may bring out your playful side; another group brings out your more intellectual qualities.” The same goes for herbs.
The presence of other plants helps bring out the best in them. While adaptogens function like a general health booster and stress relievers, they also have unique characteristics that make them helpful for targeting specific issues.
So, Which Adaptogen Does What?
There are many different adaptogenic herbs, each with unique properties and benefits. By identifying the properties of each, you can better identify adaptogen blends that work together for greater synergy and greater range of benefits.
Here’s your handy cheat sheet to different types of adaptogens and which ones are the best for your health:
Astragalus: If you’re under the weather
While its anti-inflammatory effects make it potent tonic for the whole body, this root is particularly known for its immune system-supporting benefits. Astragalus helps to increase the number of white blood cells and antibodies, which can fight off infection and disease. It also helps to reduce inflammation, which protects the body from illness.
Cordyceps: If you want your workout to work harder
The ultimate gym buddy, research suggests this mushroom could rev the body’s energy stores, helping you and your body go the (literal) extra mile. Cordyceps help improve oxygen utilization and energy production, which can lead to improved performance during workouts. Additionally, cordyceps have been shown to help reduce inflammation and improve recovery from exercise-induced stress.
Ginseng: If you’re tired of being tired
This root is a potent antioxidant for recharging your body and fighting fatigue, whether you’re recovering from a cold, a late night, or both. Asian ginseng has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support health and vitality. They can improve energy and stamina by regulating our stress, and help the body resist stressors such as aging, toxins, and chronic inflammation.
Reishi: If you want to calm down
This is meditation in a mushroom. Studies indicate it may settle your nerves to reduce anxiety and restlessness and promote better sleep. Additionally, Reishi can help improve mental clarity, focus and energy levels.
Discover Adaptogens with Hao Life
Used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, adaptogens are finding their place in the modern world as a natural way to improve their health and stress resistance. There are many different adaptogens, each with its own unique set of benefits. High quality and carefully sourced adaptogen blends from Hao Life can help support your health in new, better ways. Explore The Hao Life’s Chinese herbal supplements to discover which best meets your needs.