The What, Why & How of Adaptogens

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Jul 26, 2022

The What, Why & How of Adaptogens

Make the most of the medicinal plants that Mother Nature has blessed us with.

Whether scrolling Twitter, listening to the radio or your favorite podcast, or stepping into a downtown café, you've probably heard something about adaptogens. These time-tested remedies are enjoying a new wave of popularity in the supplement and wellness industries.

But what are they? And why are they such a big deal? Take a look at the what, why, and how of adaptogens to learn how you can benefit from them, and discover the most effective ways to incorporate them into your lifestyle.

What Are Adaptogens?

The term adaptogen may sound like something out of a sci-fi story or fantasy video game, but its meaning is simple: 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, maybe even millennia, to improve their overall well-being.

Officially, a plant or fungi 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 simply refers to the stability and optimal functionality of the body.

Some adaptogens are so common that you may be using them without even knowing. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have both relied on adaptogenic herbs and fungi for centuries, which has led to their incorporation in many traditional dishes. For example, turmeric is a staple in Indian cuisine, lending curry its signature bright yellow color, while ginseng is often used in soups in Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese kitchens.

Adaptogenic Plants

When most people think of natural medicine and supplements, they imagine herbs taken in the form of tea or as powder in capsules. When it comes to adaptogens today, this assumption is pretty much spot-on. In addition to turmeric and ginseng, some of the most well-known adaptogenic plants include:

  • Licorice root
  • Holy basil
  • Goji berry
  • Astragalus
  • Ashwagandha

Adaptogenic Fungi

Herbs aren't the only way to incorporate adaptogens into your supplement regimen. Fungi, more specifically mushrooms, are another great source of adaptogens. Here are a few of the most popular types of functional mushrooms:

  • Turkey tail
  • Reishi
  • Lion's mane
  • Cordyceps
  • Chaga

Next, we'll look at these adaptogens in more detail to learn how you can benefit from them.

Why Should You Try Them?

It's in the name — more specifically, the root word adapt. Adaptogens help your body adjust to stressful situations, both physical and mental.

As mentioned earlier, adaptogens promote homeostasis, or stability in the body. When the body is in homeostasis, its systems are functioning optimally independently as well as interdependently. Some adaptogens can raise energy levels, allowing you to feel more awake and be more productive during the day. Others can allow you to relax and can lead to better sleep at night.

Here is more detail about 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 anti-oxidant.
  • Licorice root, aside from offering a tasty, strong flavor, may reduce inflammation and soothe a sore throat, heartburn, or various skin conditions.
  • Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a strong-smelling plant used to reduce anxiety and enhance focus.
  • Goji berry has been found to increase energy levels and focus while also helping you feel calmer and get better sleep.
  • Ginseng grows on both the Asian and American continents, and both varieties have their uses. It's often found in energy drinks because it might enhance cognitive ability and decrease reaction time.
  • Astragalus is used to promote wakefulness but might also contribute to fewer head colds and less severe hay fever during allergy season.
  • Ashwagandha is another variety of ginseng (Indian ginseng) and is used to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Turkey tail 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.
  • Reishi mushrooms offer support for your adrenal glands, which create the stress hormone cortisol. Reishi mushrooms can help reduce stress-related mental fatigue and physical injuries.
  • Lion's mane also works closely with your body's hormones to reduce stress-related damage. Specifically, lion's mane extract can reduce stress's effects on neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
  • Cordyceps can reduce physical stress and can be a great supplement for athletes.
  • Chaga mushrooms may be harder to find, but they are an excellent way to reduce inflammation in the body. They may also help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

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.

How Should You Use Adaptogens?

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.

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 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. Rather than overriding your body's natural rhythm, as caffeine does, adaptogens like goji berries allow you to lean into and maximize that natural rhythm. 

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.

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 or CBN.

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.

Research Sources:

What Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms? Benefits, Risks, and Types; Jillian Kubala, MS, RD; Healthline; accessed July 2022

The No BS Guide to Adaptogens for Hormonal Balance and Stress; Jennifer Chesak; Healthline; accessed July 2022

List of Adaptogens, and What These Adaptogenic Herbs Can Do For You; Gardening Channel; accessed July 2022

10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin; Kris Gunnars, BSc; Healthline; accessed July 2022

5 Immune-Boosting Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushroom; Jillian Kubala, MS, RD; Healthline; accessed July 2022

Chaga Mushroom Health Benefits; Cleveland Clinic; accessed July 2022

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