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What Are Adaptogens?

Reishi Mushrooms are one of my favorite adaptogens for stress and immune system support.

There’s a reason everyone is talking about adaptogens. Many of them have been used for thousands of years by the native people in the countries where they grow. Adaptogens are my most favorite type of supplement to use! They are something I use regularly for stress and adrenal support. Here are the 7 nutrients critical for adrenal gland support, including adaptogens.

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are naturally occurring substances derived from plants, roots, and fungi and must meet the following strict requirements to proudly wear the badge of “adaptogen.”

1) Adaptogens are non-toxic, non-habit forming, and safe in normal therapeutic doses.

2) They produce a nonspecific biological response that promotes the body’s ability to resist physical, emotional, or environmental stress.

3) Adaptogens have a normalizing influence, meaning whatever direction the stressors are throwing the body out of balance, adaptogens help to bring the system back into balance.

Hack Your Stress with Adaptogens

Adaptogens are just like they sound – they help the body adapt to stress and support the body’s ability to cope more effectively with stress. Adaptogens work to modify the body’s reaction to stress and alter the release of stress hormones in the body, particularly from the adrenal glands. They do this by affecting the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

Stressor >>> Hypothalamus >>> Pituitary Gland >>> Adrenal Cortex >>> Stress Response

When we experience a stressor, whether physical or mental, our body goes through what’s called General Adaptation Syndrome, which is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and soldier on.

Hack Your Health with Adaptogens

Not one size fits all. Each adaptogen supports stress AND has its own unique characteristics. For example, some are calming, some stimulating, some warming, some moistening, and some drying. Which one to take depends on the results you seek.

Adaptogens to Hack Your Sleep

Adaptogens regulate the production of cortisol, reducing stress. A relaxed, less stressful body allows for better and more rejuvenating sleep.

  • American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Schisandra Berry

Adaptogens to Hack Your Daytime Fatigue

Certain adaptogens can give the body and mind an energy boost and increase steady energy flow throughout the day.

  • American & Asian Ginseng, Rhodiola, Eleuthero, Shilajit, Maca, Schisandra Berry, Ashwagandha

Adaptogens to Hack Your Nerves

Adaptogens have a direct effect on nervous system health. They enhance mood, manage stress, and promote relaxation.

  • Ashwagandha, Reishi, Schisandra Berry, Holy Basil

Adaptogens for Adrenal Fatigue

When a person is under stress, more stress hormones are released. Adaptogens help the adrenal glands respond more effectively and efficiently to the excess hormones.

  • American & Asian ginseng, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, Licorice, Reishi, Rhodiola, Schisandra Berry

Adaptogens to Support Athletic Performance

Certain adaptogens support stamina, endurance, physical performance and normal recovery time after strenuous activity.

  • Rhodiola, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Schisandra Berry. Even better, a combination of all four.

Adaptogens for Your Brain and Mental Clarity

Adaptogens have a direct effect on nervous system health. They support healthy neurotransmitter levels in the brain, and also have the ability to increase the amount of mental exercise a person can carry out as well as the quality of that work.

  • American & Asian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Schisandra Berry

Adaptogens in Combination

Throughout the history of herbal medicine, the use of multiherb formulas rather than single herbs has been the more common practice. Although a single adaptogen can be useful, many health problems are interrelated, so it’s best to take combinations of adaptogenic herbs to support different body systems.

How to Take Adaptogens

  • The best way to use adaptogens is daily.

  • Find a creative way to incorporate adaptogens into your routine – breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.

  • If using capsules, follow product instructions. If using powder, start with a small amount – ¼ to ½ teaspoon and slowly increase to ½ Tablespoon over time.

Thanks for reading! I love hearing from you, so feel free to leave me a question or comment.


Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN


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