Adaptogens are one of nature's best solutions for improving energy levels, reducing stress, and supporting immune function.
Choosing the right adaptogens for energy, stress relief, and focus -- now that's another story.
Instead of stimulating or depressing your central nervous system like caffeine and other substances, adaptogenic herbs help you adapt to physical and mental environmental stress.
There's a catch though: each adaptogen affects people differently.
What works to boost your friend's energy levels might not work for you.
How Do Adaptogenic Herbs Work?
9 of the Best Adaptogens for Energy and Stress Relief
Modern scientific research on adaptogens dates back to the 1960s in the USSR.
Dr. Israel Brekham traveled the world searching out and researching medicinal plants -- what a cool job, huh? (1)
He's known as the father of modern adaptogen studies and his research still holds up today. Dr. Brekham found that adaptogens work by improving the body's stress response.
He also noted that adaptogens have an amphoteric effect in different organ systems. In other words, they help create balance.
If your immune system is hyperactive or underactive, adaptogens may help balance it so it works at an optimal level, for example.
Dr. Brekham worked closely with immunotherapy researchers in Cuba to develop twenty-odd successful therapies which he won awards for at home but sadly, the therapies never saw the light of day in the West due to Cold War tensions.
In the 90s, doctors building on Dr. Brekham's research found that adaptogens work through two major bodily control systems:
- HPA axis: Endocrine, immune, nervous, digestive, reproductive, cardiovascular systems as well as blood sugar processing (2)
- Sympathoadrenal system: Manages your fight-or-flight response and how you manage stress (3)
So that's how adaptogens work to balance things like blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cortisol levels, energy levels, the immune system, and adrenal glands.
The Soviets and Cubans aren't the only ones onto the potential health benefits of adaptogens.
For centuries, Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese herbal medicine practitioners have used adaptogens for treating chronic fatigue, reproductive distress, physical illnesses, and the dangers of environmental stress.
Here are some of the best adaptogens to increase energy and balance the hormone cortisol for calm focus all day!
1. Ashwagandha Root
Ashwagandha, which you can find in supplements and tincture forms, shows potential for normalizing inflammatory and immune responses which studies suggest could help improve allergy symptoms. (4)
Double-blind placebo-controlled studies show that it can also reduce cortisol levels in people with a history of chronic stress and anxiety. (5)
2. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is known for its potential to boost energy levels and reduce fatigue without jitters.
3. Siberian Ginseng
Siberian ginseng -- not to be confused with Panax ginseng or American ginseng -- is an adaptogen also known as eleuthero.
Studies show that the antioxidants in Siberian ginseng may stimulate cellular energy production and reduce chronic fatigue.
4. Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Yes, this type of basil, holy basil aka tulsi, is a powerful superfood.
5. Maca Root
Maca root is a popular adaptogenic herb in the Andes region.
Athletes are particularly fond of maca for its potential to stimulate endurance and energy production. (16)
Maca is also helpful for increasing energy in women going through menopause. (17)
Plus, it tastes great in smoothies!
Another fitness fave and staple in traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps, may boost ATP production which is your body's main source of energy. (18)
It's so powerful for improving oxygen uptake and athletic performance that Olympic officials accused the Chinese women's track team of doping when they took cordyceps! (19)
Turmeric is well-known (and well-studied) as an anti-inflammatory, but it’s also one of the best adaptogens for energy. (20)
Studies show that turmeric has plenty of nootropic potential thanks to its ability to boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) production: a brain chemical responsible for memory and other important processes. (21, 22)
Reishi is a favorite herb in traditional Chinese medicine for overall well-being.
Studies suggest that reishi can improve sleep quality, which is responsible for regulating stress hormone levels like cortisol and impacting energy. (23)
9. Schisandra Berry
Schisandra berry has potent anti-inflammatory properties which studies suggest may protect your brain and improve memory.
Russian research on schisandra as an adaptogen suggests that it can also help balance cortisol levels and improve the body's stress response. (24)
How to Take Adaptogens for Energy and Stress Relief
Adaptogens for energy isn't a miracle cure so you shouldn't rely on them as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
Make sure you're
- Getting enough sleep
- Drinking enough water (in case no one's reminded you today)
- Exercising every day
- Eating a healthy diet filled with protein, complex carbs, and antioxidants
- Taking a multivitamin to fill any nutritional gaps
After you get all the basics covered, you can experiment with an adaptogenic herb to fill the gaps in improving your stress response and immune function.
Start with one adaptogen that sounds like a good fit and take it as directed for at least two weeks.
Adaptogens take a few weeks to build up in your system before you notice results. They're not like coffee or other substances that you notice the effects right away.
After about two weeks, see how you feel. At this point, you can start stacking your adaptogens or other supplements to build a comprehensive support system.
The Bottom Line
Adaptogens are pretty safe for most people to take with minimal side effects.
As always, talk to your physician or herbalist before taking any new supplement, especially if you're pregnant.
With a healthy lifestyle, adaptogens can help improve physical and mental performance without jitters from caffeine.