What are adaptogens, and what do they do?

What are adaptogens, and what do they do?
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The Medicinal Plants and Adaptogens You Should Be Eating

Follow any health and wellness account on social media, and chances are you’ll skim a caption or two raving about the medicinal powers of what are called adaptogens. Sound familiar? The word is almost as trendy as the herbs it refers to—and equally as confusing. To clear the smoke, we’re breaking down what exactly these magical plants are, and if you should be taking them, too.

According to The Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, adaptogens are botanicals and herbs that originated in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine practice. In this Eastern traditional system, it is believed that health is rooted in the mind, body, and soul.

“It involves what you eat, as well as when, how, and why you eat, and uses diet, yoga, herbs, and spices to restore balance with the body,” Palmer says, adding that adaptogens are said to balance hormones and combat stress and fatigue.

However, most of the claims about adaptogens being natural healers are made based on personal experience. Scientifically, there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence to support them. “Small studies have shown that some adaptogens can lower cortisol, the hormone released during stress,” Palmer explains, “but this issue is very complex. Our hormones are very complex, and the idea of “balancing them” by taking a supplement is not well founded in science.”

Though more research needs to be done on the subject, research experts have collected exemplify adaptogens’ abilities to improve the body’s natural response to stress, as well as help maintain balance in the body, and provide protection against stress responses like fatigue, depression, inflammation, and even disease long-term, adds Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition, DrAxe.com, and author of the best-selling book Keto Diet.

“When your body undergoes any type of physical or mental stress, it triggers the stress response, which sets off many different changes in the body. In particular, stress can affect hormone levels, brain function, immunity, and mood,” Axe explains. “Adaptogens work in many different ways to protect against the changes in the body that are brought on by stress.”

What kinds of adaptogenic products are currently on the market?

Adaptogens can be found in whole food form, but because supplements are oftentimes more affordable—not to mention more convenient to sneak into someone’s daily routine—adaptogens are typically found in products such as capsules, liquid extracts, powders, and more, Axe explains. In fact, one of the most popular adaptogenic brands on social media is REBBL, a line of “super” herb-powered, coconut-based drinks made with organic, sustainably-grown ingredients like reishi mushrooms and maca root, that are each formulated for flavor and functionality.

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“REBBL actually stands for roots, extracts, berries, bark, and leaves,” says Sheryl O’Loughlin, (Chief Love Officer) of REBBL. “Palo Hawken, REBBL’s Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder, curates beautiful, incredibly healthy coconut-based beverages using only the most meaningful super herbs in efficacious amounts. It’s not easy to create delicious beverages made with the best of the Plant Queendom (including these carefully curated herbs) and have such a pure, clean label. Every ingredient is functional and clean and, on top of that, they are delicious.”

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Before splurging on any adaptogenic elixir, tea, powder, etc., however, O’Loughlin says it’s vital to do your own research. “It’s important to learn about the company’s extraction process,” O’Loughlin explains. How much of the herb is in the product? Are the ingredients organic? Is the label clean? These are all important details O’Loughlin suggests looking into before trying any adaptogenic supplement.

“When Palo, our co-founder, formulates a new REBBL beverage, he makes sure each one contains efficacious levels of functional super herbs and ethically-sourced ingredients from around the world,” O’Loughlin says. “Our products are formulated for functionality. We only use adaptogens at levels that correspond to traditional therapeutic use or quality clinical data.”

What are some of the most popular adaptogens people take on a regular basis?

At this moment in time, Axe says it’s unclear how many adaptogens exist in the plant kingdom, but research has documented 50 plants as having adaptogenic properties. That said, you’ll likely only hear about a handful in the wellness space in Western culture, because only so many are easy to produce, have been made more widely available, and/or affordable. So what are some of the most popular adaptogens you’ll find on the market?


Also known as Indian ginseng, Axe says ashwagandha is an herb known to “reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone” as well as “help fight against other side effects of stress by decreasing inflammation and protecting against depression and anxiety.” What’s more, O’Loughlin adds that ashwagandha is one of the most important and universally consumed herbs in Ayurveda. “It’s considered a powerhouse,” she says.

Take the brand’s Banana Nut Protein beverage, for example. O’Loughlin highlights that the drink features ashwagandha and turmeric. Together, these key ingredients are said to support strength, vitality, joint health, and digestive wellness. The blend boasts 16 grams of 100 percent plant protein from organic peas and sunflowers, and organic Brazil nuts, and it also yields a whopping 140 percent of your recommended daily dose of selenium, which is important for your metabolism and thyroid functionality, O’Loughlin says.

Cordycep mushrooms

Cordyceps are a type of functional mushroom that are “packed with disease-fighting antioxidants,” Axe says. They also help reduce exercise-induced fatigue (making them an excellent post-workout smoothie additive), counteract oxidative stress, and decrease inflammation in the body, he adds. While REBBL does not use cordyceps in their drinks, Dr. Axe’s brand, Ancient Nutrition, features cordycep capsules, and functional mushroom brand, Four Sigmatic offers a Cordycep Elixir you can add to coffee, tea, or add hot water directly to the mix and sip.

Panax ginseng

Also known as Asian ginseng, panax ginseng stems from a plant with fleshy roots whose concentration of active compounds yields powerful effects all over the body. It has been shown to “improve memory performance and promote feelings of calmness in young adults,” Axe explains, and it’s one example of an adaptogen that can be eaten in whole food form.


Maca is “the premier Andean super herb,” O’Loughlin explains, noting that it is traditionally used to support stamina and endurance, making it a favorite among athletes. What’s more, Maca has also been linked to improved sexual function, decreased levels of anxiety, and feelings of depression, Axe adds, and is also thought to “slow cognitive decline,” and “protect against skin damage.”

How can you add adaptogenic herbs into your daily routine?

As previously mentioned, adaptogens come in many forms—capsule supplements, powders, whole foods, drinks, and more—but which form of adaptogen you should implement into your daily routine will ultimately depend on your lifestyle. Generally speaking, whole food adaptogens are a bit on the pricier side, but there are many brands whose powder supplements aren’t exactly cheap, either. Therefore, in addition to budget, your pick will probably reflect your palatal preference, and what you can realistically work into your schedule.

The best part about pre-made adaptogenic beverages is that you can experiment and use them as key ingredients in recipes such as overnight oats or chia pudding. Think you’re ready to try them out now?

Look, feel and live great while getting on the path to better health with the new Eat This, Not That! Magazine.

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