Adaptogens: What Are They, How Can They Help?

Everyone seems to be talking about adaptogens these days, and there’s a good reason for that – they seem to be a magic pill that helps our bodies and minds perform better with little to no consequences. One to three daily doses to help us sleep better, lower our anxiety and depression, moderate fatigue, provide adrenal support, and boost immunity. But what’s happening on a molecular level, and could an herbal remedy really provide the type of miracle cure that their adherents claim?

Though adaptogens have been used by Chinese Traditional and Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years, our understanding of how they work has only recently begun. The term adaptogen was coined by Dr. Nicolai V. Lazarev, a Soviet scientist in 1948. Dr. Lazerev was attempting to solve the problem of fatigue and improve stress management in Soviet workers by using traditional Siberian medicine. His team’s research concluded that “medicines that have similar functions as adaptogens can help the body maintain ideal homeostasis under adverse or stressful conditions.” Within decades, his studies were used to further the capabilities of Soviet Olympic athletes and cosmonauts, specifically through the help of Siberian ginseng extract.

More recently, a preliminary study was published by the National Library of Medicine on the effects of adaptogens in treating issues like arthritis, sleep disorders, and tumors, as well as using the power of adaptogens to help the body release stress in the adrenal and neuroendocrine systems. The study was also able to pinpoint the exact mechanism that allows adaptogens to achieve these results, among many other benefits – “…adaptogens can increase cellular energy levels and prevent oxidative damage, leading to the maintenance of normal adrenal function.”

So how are adaptogens typically used, and how can you incorporate them into your self-care routine? It generally depends on which adaptogen you’re working with and what your specific needs are, but typically, adaptogens are taken one to three times a day. Usually, the effects are delayed, and most people claim that they don’t notice a difference until the third or fourth week of treatment. Once you start noticing the effects, however, you may be astonished by how beneficial adaptogens can be. In my personal experience with Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic adaptogen, I was able to find the energy to finally start exercising every day, I was able to sleep easier, and my hair started growing back after a devastating round of noticeable hair loss. I also noticed that I felt generally less anxious, I was able to be more present, and my compulsion for drinking every night slowed down to the point where I was able to enjoy a glass of wine here and there without feeling the need to drink the whole bottle. I was able to enjoy the little moments a little more, and let go of the baggage that my mind and body were holding onto.

This isn’t to say that taking an adaptogen is without risk or side effects. As always when taking any new medicine, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting an adaptogenic routine especially if you’re currently on any other medications. Make sure that you note any side effects you may be experiencing and stop your treatment if you feel sick or unwell. If you’d like to see a list of adaptogens, their uses, and their effects, see this list.

-Gene Glarosh

Photo by Tara Winstead (

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