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Adaptogens: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 28, 2021

Adaptogens are certain herb or mushrooms thought to have health benefits. Manufacturers who use them in products claim they have a variety of perks, including helping you deal with stress. They’re sold as teas, tinctures, powders you add to food, and capsules.

The theory behind adaptogens says they help your body adjust to physical, chemical, or biological stress. They're thought to stimulate your body's stress-protection response and help its systems return to a balanced state called "homeostasis."

As promising as that may sound, we need more research on adaptogens and their possible health benefits.

Talk to your doctor before you try an adaptogen product or any new supplement, especially if you have a health condition. Your doctor will let you know if it could affect your health or interact with medicines you take. The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements as strictly as drugs, so it’s important to get your doctor’s OK.

If they give you the green light, ask them:

  • What type of adaptogen to use
  • Which brand to buy
  • What dose to take
  • How long to use it

Types of Adaptogens

At least 70 types of herbal plants are considered adaptogens. Some have been used in traditional Eastern medicine for centuries. Here are a few adaptogens that are linked to stress relief:

Ashwagandha. This evergreen shrub grows in India, the Middle East, and regions of Africa. Early research suggests it may also help against aging, anxiety, and other conditions.

Tulsi (holy basil). Sometimes called “the queen of herbs,” this fragrant plant comes from India and grows in other areas of Asia. In traditional medicine, it's used for everything from coughs and colds to scorpion bites.

Ginseng. You might already know about this popular herb, which may boost your body’s defenses (immune system) among other possible benefits. Two types of it -- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian (Panax ginseng) -- are considered adaptogens.

Rhodiola rosea L. This high-altitude shrub grows in arctic and mountainous parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. Some studies suggest it may also have anti-aging and cancer-fighting effects, but more research is needed.

Astragalus. This plant has been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine for a long time. It’s usually used along with other herbs to treat problems like hay fever and to boost the immune system.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature.”

Chinese Medicine: “A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide.”

Current Pharmacology Reports: “Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention.”

European Medicines Agency: “Evaluation of Medicines for Human Use.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “Adaptogens.”

Food and Nutrition: “Exploring Adaptogenic Herbs.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Astragalus.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Mushroom Coffee: Should You Be Drinking It?”

Journal of Avuryeda and Clinical Medicine: Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons

Time: “What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?”

National Cancer Institute: “Homeostasis.”

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