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12 Best Adaptogen Supplements You Probably Never Heard Of

Are you feeling stressed out and anxious? Are you suffering from low energy levels? Are you sick of being sick all the time? You might just need some adaptogens in your life. Adaptogen supplements aren’t snake oil or miracle workers. However, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, adaptogenic herbs can improve your stress response, support your immune system, and help your central nervous system heal. In other words, the best adaptogen supplements can help your mind and body manage the physical and mental stresses that life throws at you.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbs that, well, help your mind and body "adapt" to external stress. Yes, pressure from your boss or bills piling up is indeed stress—but that type of stress is obvious. Many people don't realize that "stress" is everywhere. A walk to work may feel less stressful than sitting in traffic, but you're still inhaling pollution (a type of stress) and staying alert to avoid getting hit by a car (more stress). Even planning a vacation requires some stress. Stress can be healthy too—exercise is also a type of stress. You can't remove stress from your life completely, but you can take the best adaptogen supplements to help your body manage it.

From Ayurvedic to Functional Medicine

Adaptogens work on the immune system and central nervous system in several ways to improve mental clarity, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even improve physical energy. Each herb is filled with unique phytonutrients, enzymes, and probably other substances modern science hasn't effectively identified yet. However, the antioxidants in adaptogens appear to be what give the herbs their incredible healing power. Of course, taking an herbal supplement when you feel a panic attack coming on probably won't bring your symptoms to a screeching halt. When you take adaptogens over a long period of time, however, your body can strengthen the mechanisms it needs to support healthy brain function and build resiliency to stress.

Adaptogens Aren't a New Concept

Ayurvedic medicine practitioners have administered adaptogens for generations throughout India. Traditional Chinese medicine also incorporates many common adaptogenic herbs from the list below. More recently, the Soviet Union pioneered modern scientific adaptogen research 60 years ago. (1) Soviet researchers were particularly fond of ginseng, schisandra, and rhodiola rosea. Toxicologist NV Lazarev coined the term "adaptogen" to describe an herbal supplement that increased “the state of non-specific resistance.” In other words, his research found that certain herbs improved physical stamina, helped soldiers adapt to cold environments, and mental stress relief. Building on this research and Ayurveda practice, functional medicine incorporates adaptogens into treatment programs. Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine doctors don't treat symptoms. Instead, they identify the root causes of symptoms and find a solution.
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The 12 Best Adaptogen Supplements

Adaptogens are not a miracle cure. You can't keep eating fast food, avoiding exercise, and arguing with toxic people and then expect an adaptogenic herb to work its magic. Instead, adaptogens fill in the gaps you can't control. When everything falls into place though, adaptogens can do some pretty amazing things! Here are the best adaptogen supplements for boosting energy levels and improving your stress response.

1. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha may be one of the most popular adaptogens today, but many people still don't know it exists. Ashwagandha is one of the best herbal supplements for mental stress relief. Studies show that ashwagandha can significantly reduce levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. (2) If you're feeling on-edge, anxious, or suffering from low energy levels, taking ashwagandha on a regular basis can help boost your energy, keep you feeling calm and mentally balanced, and reduce adrenal fatigue from cortisol overload.

2. Rhodiola Rosea

For physical stamina and strength, reach for a rhodiola tincture. Extensive Soviet research found that rhodiola rosea was one of the best herbal supplements for improving physical energy levels. Not only that, but research also found that rhodiola protects the brain, liver, and heart. The herb also functions as an antioxidant, reducing free radical damage and oxidative stress. Finally, rhodiola improves immune function while acting as an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety.

3. Cordyceps

Like rhodiola, cordyceps is a substance of choice among athletes. Cordyceps is packed with special compounds called polysaccharides which can help fight fatigue. Not only that, but cordyceps can also stimulate ATP production—a molecule that helps muscles generate energy. Unlike rhodiola and many of the best adaptogen supplements, medicinal mushrooms like cordyceps don't just boost the immune system or other functions: they balance them. In other words, you're less likely to experience any uncomfortable side effects with mushrooms and fungi.

4. Maca Root

You may see maca marketed as something called "Peruvian ginseng," but it's actually not related to ginseng at all. However, maca is still a powerful adaptogen and an excellent option for balancing reproductive hormone levels with age and menopause. Studies and experts have found that maca can boost libido levels (in men and women) and can shrink large prostates in men. (2, 3)

5. Reishi Mushroom

Dubbed the "mushroom of immortality," reishi is packed with polysaccharides, triterpenes, and other antioxidants to help your body defend itself against aging. Reishi is good for much more than a skincare additive. Studies show that consuming reishi can reduce blood sugar levels and improve kidney function. To top it off, plenty of research shows that reishi has intense anti-cancer potential, can support a healthy immune system, and functions as an anti-inflammatory. (4)

6. Ginseng

You've probably heard that ginseng is a good herbal supplement for energy but you may not have known it's also one of the best adaptogen supplements. If you want true ginseng (which contains ginsenosides), you can choose from American ginseng and panax ginseng also known as Asian ginseng. Asian ginseng (panax ginseng) is an ideal replacement for caffeine because it can boost mental performance and energy levels without leaving you jittery. Meanwhile, high-quality American ginseng is a great choice for calm mental clarity and overall well-being.

7. Chaga Mushroom

Medicinal mushrooms provide plenty of adaptogen choices! Like most mushrooms, chaga contain beta-glucans. . Chaga mushroom's phytonutrients and special enzymes also make it an excellent anti-inflammatory and ideal choice for balancing (rather than stimulating or suppressing) your immune system. Anyone with autoimmune conditions should talk to their healthcare practitioner about medicinal mushrooms since they have such a unique effect on the immune system.

8. Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)

Eleuthero also goes by Siberian ginseng. However, it does not contain ginsenosides which provide the highest concentration of anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory power. However, eleuthero still has some nice adaptogenic properties. Studies show that eleuthero can protect nerve cells against damage, regulate blood sugar, and improve physical performance. (5) Siberian ginseng may also have some antioxidant properties.

9. Astragalus

Astragalus is well known in some functional medicine circles in the US where the herb is studied for its effect on immune function. Astragalus is also an excellent adaptogen for protecting your heart, defending your central nervous system against stress, and combating mental fatigue.

10. Schisandra

Unlike many of the adaptogenic supplements on this list, schisandra (also spelled schizandra) is a berry rather than an herb. Schizandra is a popular supplement throughout traditional Chinese medicine and the USSR spent plenty of time researching it. Studies show that schizandra increases physical performance and helps the body tolerate extreme temperatures. (6) Research also shows that schisandra has a powerful effect on the immune system and cardiovascular system and may help lower blood sugar levels.

11. Tulsi (Holy Basil)

Basil isn't just tasty—it's also an adaptogenic superfood. You probably won't find holy basil in your Thai takeaway or supermarket. Instead, look for this Ayurvedic stress relief herb in the supplement section. If you’re wondering, yes, presidential candidate and Senator Tulsi Gabbard is named after the Ayurvedic name for holy basil.

12. Turmeric

You may have heard that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory but did you know that's because it's an adaptogenic supplement? Well, turmeric isn't technically an adaptogen. However, its active substance curcumin has adaptogenic potential. Aside from calming inflammation, studies show that turmeric supplements may lower blood pressure and blood sugar. One study found that turmeric reduced stress levels when people were exposed to unexpected stressful situations. Sounds like adaptogen status!
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The Bottom Line

Adaptogenic herbs won't work miracles. Physical activity, a healthy diet, and mental health practices like meditation are all the basis of a well-rounded lifestyle that helps your body defend itself from stress hormones. Adaptogens simply provide a powerful boost to fill in the gaps you can't control. From balancing the immune system to protecting the central nervous system, adaptogen supplements are filled with powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants to make you as much of a superhero as you'll ever be.
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