If you're interested in optimizing your health, mood, and well-being the all-natural way, there's a good chance you've already heard about adaptogens. A class of plants and mushrooms treasured for their ability to help us manage stress, stabilize our physiological processes and promote homeostasis, these humble fungi are enjoying a new wave of popularity in the supplement and wellness industries and beyond.
But…what's the story behind adaptogens and how can such simple natural remedies do so much good in our bodies? In today's post, we'll answer these questions and many more, including:
- What are adaptogens?
- What are some adaptogenic plants and their benefits?
- What are some adaptogenic mushrooms and their benefits?
- Is there a "best" kind of adaptogen?
Let's dive into the what, the why, and the how of adaptogens to learn how you can benefit from them and discover the most effective ways to incorporate them into your wellness regimen.
What Are Adaptogens?
The term adaptogen may sound like something out of a sci-fi story or fantasy video game, but its meaning is actually fairly straightforward. An adaptogen is a plant or fungi that works with your body to reduce physical, emotional, or mental stress. Humans around the world have been using adaptogens for centuries—perhaps even millennia—to improve their physical and emotional well-being.
What makes a plant or fungi adaptogenic? Generally, a substance must meet these three criteria to be deemed an adaptogen:
- Promotes homeostasis
- Is non-toxic in appropriate doses
- Helps the body cope with stress
Homeostasis, by the way, refers here to the stability and optimal functionality of the body. Think of it as a stable and healthy baseline to which your body and its natural processes want to return.
Some adaptogens are so common that you may be using them without even being aware of it!
Ayurvedic and Chinese medical traditions have relied on adaptogenic herbs and fungi for centuries, which has led to their incorporation in many foods. The turmeric that colors curry powder as well as countless other Indian, Thai, and other southeast Asian dishes? That's an adaptogen. Ginseng, a powerful root which may boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and reduce stress, is an adaptogen often used in soups in Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese kitchens.
Some of the other most well-known adaptogenic plants include:
- Licorice root
- Holy basil
- Goji berry
The ancient physicians who identified these and other adaptogenic substances were on to something. These days, clinical research on the active compounds in these plants is growing and beginning to validate many of these traditional beliefs.
While the members of the fungus family are often dismissed as, well, mere fungi, these fascinating life forms are among the most diverse, adaptable and—from our human perspective—useful substances on earth.
Whether digesting oil spills or enriching the soil or even helping form rainclouds—fungi such as mushrooms are essential partners in human life. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of adaptogenic medicinal mushrooms, or what we at HempLucid also refer to as functional mushrooms.
Here are a few of the most popular types of functional mushrooms:
- Turkey tail
- Lion's mane
We should point out that adaptogenic mushrooms aren't the same thing as "magic" (or psychedelic) mushrooms. They won't cause intoxication or otherwise make you feel strange. Rather, they help our bodies cope with stress naturally in a variety of ways.
One such way is by mediating the actions of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). The HPA axis is our body's primary stress-response system, which involves a highly complex interaction between multiple organs and parts of the brain. The HPA axis' main function is to control the release of glucocorticoids, powerful natural chemicals that fight inflammation and partner with your immune system. You've probably heard of one of the glucocorticoids: cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
Cortisol increases energy in the form of glucose in the bloodstream, enhances the way your brain uses glucose, and decreases functions that would be nonessential or even harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. But when the release of cortisol is out of balance, we end up feeling maxed-out, pushed over the limit, and generally stressed.
Stress is a big deal. In 2022, roughly three-quarters of adults in the United States said they'd experienced negative health impacts due to stress. And pharmaceutical interventions such as tranquilizers, SSRIs, and beta-blockers all impose their own negative side effects.
By comparison, adaptogenic medicinal mushrooms have few side effects. A small proportion of users report that they experience nausea, diarrhea, and stomach upset, with some experiencing dry mouth and headaches.
Additionally, functional mushrooms work to support our gut's microbiota as a prebiotic and may offer over a hundred other medicinal benefits such as antitumor, immunomodulation, antioxidant, radical scavenging, cardioprotective and antiviral actions.
In the next section, we'll look at these and other adaptogens in more detail to learn how you might benefit from incorporating them into your wellness practice.
12 Adaptogens and Their Potential Benefits
The key to adaptogenic substances is in the name: the root word adapt. Adaptogens help your body adjust to stressful situations, both physical and mental. As we covered earlier, adaptogens promote homeostasis, or stability within the body. When the body is in homeostasis, its systems are functioning optimally, both independently as well as interdependently.
Here's a little more detail about some of the adaptogens we've discussed so far:
- Turmeric: Is said to reduce depression and improve the function of the brain. Turmeric also includes compounds called curcuminoids, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
- Licorice Root: Aside from offering a tasty and easily recognizable flavor, research on licorice root has shown it has many potential health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and soothing a sore throat, heartburn, or various skin conditions.
- Holy Basil: Also known as tulsi, holy basil is a strong-smelling plant that may be used for its many adaptogenic and general health benefits, such as anxiety reduction and focus enhancement.
- Goji Berry: In addition to its impressive antioxidant benefits, goji juice has been found to increase energy levels and focus while also helping you feel calmer and get better sleep.
- Ginseng: Ginseng is a root that grows on both the Asian and American continents and is often found in energy drinks because it might enhance cognitive ability and decrease reaction time. Ginseng has also been demonstrated to have therapeutic impacts on cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, while also promoting immune function, central nervous system (CNS) function and relieving stress.
- Astragalus: Astragalus has been used traditionally to promote wakefulness but it might also contribute to fewer head colds and less severe hay fever during allergy season. Research on astragalus supports a variety of potential health benefits such as immune regulation, anti-aging, anti-tumor, blood glucose regulation, anti-fibrosis and antimicrobial activities, among others.
- Ashwagandha: Technically another variety of ginseng (Indian ginseng), ashwagandha is used to relieve stress and anxiety and act as a general "rejuvenator" in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been shown to also protect against ulcers, have antitumor properties and offer neurocognitive protection, among other benefits.
- Turkey Tail: These mushrooms, in addition to being simply beautiful to look at, are a great immune booster, enhancing your white blood cells' effectiveness and improving the health of your gut biome. Via its active ingredient Polysaccharide-K (PSK), Turkey Tail has been shown to offer antioxidant and anticancer properties, too.
- Reishi: Reishi mushrooms have been used traditionally to support the adrenal glands, which create the stress hormone cortisol. Reishi mushrooms have also been used to reduce stress-related mental fatigue and physical injuries, while research supports further antitumour, antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits.
- Lion's Mane: Lion's mane extract can reduce stress's effects on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Animal studies with these mushrooms suggest they may also support memory and cognition, while offering antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiproliferative benefits and potentially relieving pain.
- Cordyceps: Containing the valuable cordycepin, these mushrooms can reduce physical stress and can be a great supplement for athletes thanks to its potential anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic properties, but research suggests these mushrooms may also offer anti-diabetic, anti-fungal, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, anticancer, and antiviral benefits, among many others.
- Chaga: These mushrooms may be harder to find, but Chaga are an excellent way to reduce inflammation in the body. They may also help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol while offering antitumor, antioxidant, and antiviral properties, while offering powerful immune support.
This is a great starting point if you want to add adaptogens into your supplement regimen, but this is by no means an exhaustive list! There's still plenty of research to be done into how different plants, roots, and fungi can benefit our minds and bodies, and you can find plenty of information at trusted sources online or by speaking with an herbalist or naturopath.
Tips on Using Adaptogens to Support Daily Health and Wellness
In our fast-paced modern world, we're used to quick fixes. If you're falling asleep at your desk, you brew a cup of coffee, and the caffeine speeds you up so you can get back to work. Adaptogens don't work like this, which can make them more of a challenge at first. But stick with it! The results are definitely worth the time. Here are some specific tips to help you maximize adaptogenic mushrooms benefits:
Take It Slow: As we discussed in the previous section, your body uses adaptogens to, quite literally, adapt to stressful situations.
For example, if you swap out your morning cup of coffee for a tea made with goji berries, you may find that over time you come to rely less on caffeine as your body learns how to be wakeful during the day and make the most of restorative sleep at night. A reasonable, small dose every day will be much more effective (and safer) than a larger dose once or twice a week.
Keep a Journal: When introducing a new adaptogen into your supplement regimen, consistency is key. Make sure to take your chosen adaptogen every day for a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, and keep track of how you feel. Are you getting more sleep? Do you feel more focused during the day?
A journal or chart can help you keep track of how your body and mind change, or adapt, over time. Let's stick with the example of goji berries. You might keep track of how often you wake up in the middle of the night or struggle to fall asleep. Over time, you might notice more full nights of sleep or that you're drifting off more easily.
Don't Go It Alone: As with any supplement regimen, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any adaptogens. Because adaptogens and other supplements aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the quality and effectiveness will vary depending on what brand you choose, how it was manufactured, the system of delivery (tea, capsule, or tincture), etc.
If you have any pre-existing conditions or take any medications already, some adaptogens may not be as effective or may have negative effects. Always speak with your healthcare provider if you plan to introduce adaptogens while taking other medication.
Make It Easy: Incorporating a new supplement into your routine can be tricky — especially if you don't really have a routine to speak of. But it's crucial to take your adaptogen consistently, so you should find a method that works for you.
For example, if you usually start the day with coffee, switch to a tea that includes your chosen adaptogen. If you enjoy smoothies, find a tincture or powdered form that you can easily include in a tasty blended drink. If you want to try capsules, keep them with your toothbrush or other pills so you remember to take them at the same time every day.
The easier it is to be consistent with your adaptogens, the more easily you'll be able to track and notice results.
Where Do Our Adaptogens Come From? The HempLucid Difference
While the clinical studies we reference demonstrate the potential benefits of CBD, that doesn't mean that all adaptogens are the same.
At HempLucid, we're committed to creating the purest, highest quality products on the market. The medicinal hemp strain we use in products such as our CBD Tinctures is grown to organic standards from clones cultivated and proven over the past decade, and we're incredibly proud to have maintained USDA Organic Handler's certification since 2020.
That means that when you use any of our CBD Edibles, CBD Topicals, or any other carefully crafted HempLucid products, you can rest easy knowing you're using the purest, most carefully handled CBD products available anywhere.
Wellness Supported by Adaptogens: What Are You Waiting For?
If you've made it this far, chances are you're interested in trying adaptogens for yourself. Whether you're looking for something specific or just want to feel more at home and at ease in your body, there's an adaptogen that can help you get there.
And if you're looking for somewhere to start, you're in the right place! At HempLucid, we manufactured our Stacks capsules to make it easy to benefit from adaptogens without having to buy dozens of supplements. CBD is also a great way to support the body's quest for homeostasis. Our Stacks include a variety of functional mushrooms and herbs as well as full-spectrum CBD, CBN or CBG.
You'll also find specific adaptogenic mushrooms such as the Lion's Mane in our Focus Mushroom Gummies, formulated to help you raise our energy levels, allowing you to feel more awake and be more productive during the day. Other adaptogens such as the reishi we use in our Sleep Mushroom Gummies can help you to relax and find better sleep at night.
If you have any questions about how to purchase or use any of our products, don't hesitate to reach out. We'd love to hear from you!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is presented purely for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any condition. As always, consult your doctor before introducing a new supplement to your routine.