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Adaptogens: What Are They and Should You Be Taking Them?

Life can feel like a pressure cooker, especially when you’re juggling work deadlines, school assignments or just everyday challenges that come your way. When stress starts to pile up, it’s only natural to seek out ways to cope. 

Some people turn to exercise, the peacefulness of yoga or meditation to mellow out, while others turn to herbs or plants—namely, adaptogens. 

These natural remedies, deeply rooted in ancient practices from cultures around the world, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States for managing stress and promoting well-being. While research is limited, there is evidence that adaptogens offer promising benefits. 

We spoke with Tiffone Powers-Parker, a dietitian and nutritionist with Banner Health, to learn more about adaptogens and whether they could help take the edge off stress, anxiety and more.

What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a group of herbs, roots and other plant substances (like mushrooms) believed to help the body adapt to stress. They have been used in traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, for centuries.

“Adaptogens are known for their ability to bring the body back to steady balance by managing physical, mental and emotional stressors,” Powers-Parker said. “These powerhouse substances contain phenolic compounds that our bodies naturally produce to help us cope with stress in a healthier way.”

Adaptogens can be taken as supplement capsules, powders, teas or liquid extracts (tinctures). 

How do adaptogens work?

The magic of adaptogens lies in their ability to regulate the body’s stress response. When you encounter stress, whether it’s work, relationships or other sources, your body releases hormones like cortisol to help you cope. While cortisol is essential for short-term stress management, it can lead to an imbalance in these hormones, causing fatigue, anxiety and other health issues. 

“When you take adaptogens, you train your body to balance stress hormones,” Powers-Parker said. “They do this by regulating the body’s stress response systems, such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system.”

Adaptogens work by:

  • Keeping stress hormones in check: They ensure that stress hormones like cortisol stay at normal levels so we don’t become overwhelmed.
  • Boosting energy: Adaptogens help our cells create energy more efficiently, so we feel less tired and more alert.
  • Strengthening our defenses: Some adaptogens help our immune system work better, making us less likely to get sick.
  • Lifting our mood: They can also help improve our mood and make us feel calmer when we’re stressed out.

Popular adaptogens and their benefits

There are many adaptogens, each with its unique set of benefits. 

“Some benefits may overlap, some excel in specific areas and some adaptogens can even complement each other, causing synergistic effects,” Powers-Parker said. “When taken together, adaptogens are more powerful than when taken alone.”

The following are some of the most popular ones and what they’re commonly used for:

  • Panax ginseng: Also called Asian ginseng or Korean ginseng, is one of the most well-known adaptogens. It may help boost energy, support immune function and enhance brain function and sexual health.
  • Rhodiola rosea: Also known as golden root or Arctic root, it’s thought to have been used by Vikings to improve physical strength and endurance. Some studies suggest it may increase energy and stamina and improve mood and cognitive function.
  • Ashwagandha: Also known as Indian winter cherry or Indian ginseng, this evergreen bush is used to calm the body, boost thyroid health, support sexual health, reduce anxiety and help improve sleep. It may also potentially reduce the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Holy basil: Also known as tulsi, holy basil has been known as an uplifting herb for those with mental fog and is often used to help with fatigue. In addition, research shows it may improve sleep quality and help manage blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Cordyceps: A type of medicinal mushroom, cordyceps has immune-boosting properties, which may help improve renal function, respiratory health and quality of life during chemotherapy treatment. 

Should you be taking adaptogens?

Now, the million-dollar question: Should you hop on the adaptogen bandwagon? As with many things in the realm of wellness, the answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no. 

Before you start taking them, there are a few things to think about:

  • Talk to your health care provider first: It’s important to check with your provider before trying any new supplements, especially if you have health issues or take other medicines. “Some adaptogens may interact with medications, such as those for hypertension, depression, diabetes and thyroid disorders,” Powers-Parker said.
  • Consider quality: Not all supplements are made the same and are not regulated like prescription drugs. “Know what you are getting into before taking adaptogens or any supplement,” Powers-Parker said. Look for high-quality products from reputable brands and look for third-party certifications like Good Manufacturing Practices, NSF International and US Pharmacopeia (USP). 
  • Understand side effects: Even though adaptogens are usually safe, they might cause problems for some people, like allergic reactions, upset stomach, constipation, headaches, nausea and vomiting. “It’s important to know how these substances might affect you,” Powers-Parker said. “For example, some adaptogens increase energy and if taken at the wrong time, it could be challenging to sleep.”
  • Follow instructions: Follow the recommended dosage guidelines provided on the product packaging. Start with a lower dosage and gradually increase it as needed, paying attention to how your body responds.
  • Balance is key: While adaptogens may be helpful, they’re not a substitute for healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food and exercising regularly. They should supplement and not replace care, especially if you have ongoing symptoms. Talk to your health care provider to better understand the cause of your symptoms.


Stress has become an unavoidable part of life. In addition to other lifestyle changes, adaptogens may be a helpful addition to your wellness routine to promote overall health and well-being. Whether you’re looking to boost your energy levels, improve your mood or lower stress, they may offer a natural and effective solution. 

Remember to talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist before taking a new supplement, especially if you have health problems or take certain medications. 

Learn more about healthy eating and staying well, as well as healthy recipes at bannerhealth.com.

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