Adaptogens — one of the hottest buzzwords around — have been popping up in everything from nutrient-dense smoothies to skin care products. And while they’ve been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, only now are these miraculous plants starting to permeate modern medicinal practices.
Adaptogens are a specific class of herbs and mushrooms that help your body reach equilibrium, Stepfanie Romine, health coach and author of Cooking With Healing Mushrooms: 150 Delicious Adaptogen-Rich Recipes that Boost Immunity, Reduce Inflammation and Promote Whole Body Health, tells us. Adaptogens work by supporting the endocrine system: they alleviate stimuli to stress, ultimately striking a balance between stress and normalization, allowing the body to naturally achieve homeostasis.
When it comes to brain health, one class of adaptogens do the job best: Nootropics. These cognitive-boosting plants work on the hypothalamus, your brain’s control center, to eliminate stress and improve cognition and memory. Thinking about giving them a go? Before you incorporate anything new into your diet, be sure to consult your doctor to make sure it doesn’t contraindicate any medications you’re taking. Find out how your brain health could benefit from our seven adaptogens below.
Reishi is considered the mushroom of immortality, Pedram Shojai, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and author of The Urban Monk tells us. “It boosts the immune system, has anti-cancer properties, and helps offset depression. It’s a powerful energy booster and can be included in soups, teas, or taken in powder form. It helps you focus and stay calm—a great combo.” For an easy add-in to smoothies, parfaits, and energy bites, try Om’s organic reishi powder.
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Shojai describes ginseng as the “emperor” of adaptogenic herbs. “It is a strong antioxidant and has powerful benefits to the immune system. It helps the brain stay calm and energized simultaneously,” he says. “It’s great for studying and even helps erectile dysfunction. Traditional Chinese doctors have prescribed Ginseng for centuries to help boost energy and vitality.”
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This delicious herb helps you keep calm and focused, and is often used in tea, Romine tells us. According to a study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals as well as physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, exposure to cold, and excessive noise. The study also reports that the herb can counter psychological stress by exuding positive effects on memory and cognitive function through its anxiety-reducing and antidepressant properties.
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Shojai tells us that this ‘shroom is the go-to for athletic performance. “It has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties along with some possible benefits to heart health. Kung Fu practitioners have used it for years to help gain edge on in battle. Cordyceps are an important adjunct to modern lifestyles with all the added stressors we encounter.”
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Try adding Rhodiola Rosea to your daily routine and you may find your outlook becoming quite rose-colored. “Its anti-stress and fatigue eliminating properties make it so useful! Rhodiola Rosea boosts the body’s blood to build immunity and general wellbeing. It also assists with memory and learning,” Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM, herbalist, and acupuncturist, tells us. “Rhodiola is a Siberian herb, and studies show that it helps protect the body from damage on a cellular level, as well as assists with regulating the heartbeat. This is a happy adaptogen through and through.”
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“This is a powerful berry with anti-inflammatory properties that aid in enhancing physical performance, endurance, and productivity,” Dan says. “It also possesses antioxidant properties, which aid with energy, mental health, and liver support. It can significantly reduce stress hormone levels in the blood, which has made it a favorite amongst many. In ancient China, this adaptogen was used by royalty to fight against aging and also for reproductive purposes. This is an all-around beneficial adaptogen to protect and shield the body against viruses. However, if you do have any viral or bacterial illnesses, its best to discontinue its use until you’ve recovered.”
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Lion’s Mane specifically targets cognitive function because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, Romine says. “According to scientific research, Lion’s Mane has shown promise for treating dementia and early-onset Alzheimer’s. It also helps cognition by increasing blood circulation to the brain.” Amazing Grass’ Brain Elixir features Lion’s Mane, Ashwagandha, and fermented greens to support concentration and mental clarity while Om offers an organic Lion’s Mane powder you can add to teas.
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“As with many herbs and in line with traditional Chinese medicine, it’s important to note that using adaptogens alone, as a single herb, may not show the herb’s true potency,” Dan reminds us. “Herbs are meant to be used in formulations, as they are very synergistic. If you feel that you haven’t seen a difference when incorporating magical adaptogens into your diet, this may be the issue.” Romine also suggests using adaptogens consistently for one to two months to allow their full effects to kick in.