Anxiety, Depression, Energy, Sleep, and More: Why Adaptogenic Herbs Continue Growing in Popularity in the West.
As herbal treatments, adaptogens date back hundreds and maybe thousands of years in use in non-western medicine.
And in saying adaptogens are making a “comeback”, we can realize this is an ethnocentric view.
What Are Adaptogens?
The western world is enthusiastically experiencing the widespread use of adaptogens as some of the most popular supplements for health optimizers today.
We credit Russian scientist Dr. Nikola Lazarov with creating the term adaptogen in 1947 while identifying safe and natural biological stress remedies.
One can think of an adaptogen as a herbal pharmaceutical improving “adaptation” to an array of both short- and long-term biological and physical stressors.
In ancient times humans embraced the role of plants for adaptogenic benefits, passing this knowledge to the younger generations.
And here we find ourselves today “discovering”, what more primitive people already knew and accepted with the adaptogenic healing properties of plants.
Adaptogens are a topic that will generate the “more studies are needed,” dismissive and negative response from some because research is in its early western world stages.
Ongoing studies and anecdotal adaptogen evidence remain promising and exciting.
Studies now show over 75 different plants could be classified as adaptogenic herbs.
Over ten adaptogens including American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Astragalus (Astragalus Membranaceus), Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Garlic, Ginger, Ginkgo Biloba, Rhaponticum (Rhaponticum carthamoides), Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea), Schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis), Shilajit (Asphaltum bitumen), Curcumin (Turmeric) now contain extensive research.
This article could easily be 10 times as long as it is, as it leaves out many plants.
Let’s look at some of the best adaptogens in use today and what users use them for.
Astragalus (Astragalus Membranaceus)
Astragalus is an essential Chinese anti-aging adaptogenic herb with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be used topically for wounds.
Possessing antiviral properties, astragalus is used as an immune-stimulant in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Recent studies are showing astragalus might be the top kidney and urinary system adaptogenic supplement.
Dosage and use: Proteinuria clinical effects in kidney disease studies are achieved using 15 grams of astragalus per day. Patients with kidney disorder, nephrotic syndrome, using 7.5 to 15 grams of daily astragalus after three to six months experience a 38% improvement in their condition.
Bacopa Monnieri (Brahmi)
Bacopa monnieri or Brahmi, or water hyssop, is a popular nootropic supplement from traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Multiple studies confirm Bacopa’s adaptogenic benefits through lowering cortisol levels during stress while improving cognitive performance for individuals dealing with chronic stress.
Naturally, bacopa is thought of as an adaptogenic supplement for anxiety and cognition.
While studies show bacopa anti-anxiety effects as mild, studies show its effects on memory improvement as notable.
Bacopa is believed but unproven for treating opioid dependence and withdrawal.
Dosage and use: Standardized extract of 300 to 450 mg per day is the average bacopa dosage range.
Black Seed Oil
Lung protective black seed oil is an effective adaptogenic supplement for allergies and nasal congestion.
With Islamic historical records showing black seed is, “a cure for every disease (except death)’, black seed oil or black cumin oil can protect against cellular damage.
Pressed from the seeds of Nigella sativa shrub, black seed oil is a plant loaded in thymoquinone, a phytochemical compound we believe to possess anti-cancer properties, along with an array of other benefits.
With antioxidant, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, antiallergic, antitussive, and bronchodilatory actions, black seed is also likely effective for other respiratory disorders, such as asthma.
In use for thousands of years for medicine, food, and even cosmetics, many use black seed oil in the same way as aspirin or ibuprofen.
We also see black seed oil in use for adaptogenic benefits within those in the opioid recovery community and as a popular supplement for daily kratom users.
Black seed oil is being researched as a COVID-19, coronavirus inhibitor, because of similar effects on previous respiratory viral infections.
Dosage and use: Standardized extract of 500 mg one to two times per day is the average black seed oil dosage.
Curcumin is arguably the top overall supplement for health optimizers, after the 5 core supplements.
As the “King of Adaptogens,”, curcumin acts as “Nature’s Anti-inflammatory.”
Inflammation and our immune system are critical wellness regulators as they both are involved with practically every known modern disease.
Studies show curcumin can promote healthy cells while improving our immune system’s response in detecting and interfering with the replication of pathogens and cancer cells.
As 4,000 years use as a member of the ginger family, turmeric, (Curcuma longa), is a sacred plant in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and now has growing support for its use in western medicine.
Amongst the three curcuminoids and most potent free radical scavengers in turmeric, the plant offers us only 2–5% curcumin, which is why quality turmeric supplements are in curcumin extract form.
From antioxidants to anti-inflammatory actions to cardiovascular and cognitive support, and beyond the polyphenol, curcumin is a top supplement for all health optimizers.
Curcumin acts as a popular anti-inflammatory with extensive supporting research offering noteworthy body and brain benefits.
While turmeric kills cancer cells in Petri dishes, the biggest challenge with its medicinal use is its low bioavailability in the body.
Therefore, the best types of curcumin products use enhancers and special patented enhanced absorption curcumin extract formulations.
Piperine being included in a curcumin product is typically a sign of an inferior product.
- Nitric Oxide
- Alzheimer’s (*Believed)
- Depression (Unipolar)
- Fatty Liver Disease
- Heart Disease
- Nitric Oxide
Dosage and use: Up to 2,000 mg per day in standardized extract form depending on the indication. Quality and type are critically important in getting curcumin to work as an adaptogenic herb.
As the most commonly used adaptogenic supplements for brain health, ginkgo Biloba also offers impressive cardiovascular and nervous system benefits.
Ginkgo is the world’s oldest cognitive-enhancing plant.
Because ginkgo trees are the oldest living trees, at over 250 million years, the use of ginkgo as a cognitive enhancer likely precedes these 10,000 years of recorded history.
Much like curcumin, ginkgo has a wide array of confirmed health benefits.
Many like the fact ginkgo is one of the most well-researched supplements one can use.
- Blood Pressure
- Blood Flow (Brain, Eyes, Cutaneous, and Peripheral)
- Diabetes and Diabetic Symptoms
- LDL Oxidation
- Eye Health
- Peripheral Nerves
- Skin Appearance
Dosage and use: Standardized extract of 120 mg used twice a day. EGb 761 is the most common ginkgo extract we find in research studies.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and the more commonly used Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) are the two main types of ginseng.
Only Panax and American ginseng are actually ginseng, as all other ginsengs come from different plant families.”
Asian ginseng also called “Red Ginseng” is recognized as the only “true ginseng.”
In Chinese medicine, Panax ginseng stimulates “yang” energy, which is stimulating and heating, while American, or “White Ginseng”, is thought to promote “cooling” energy.
- Alzheimer’s (Unconfirmed)
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Cognitive Function
- Colon Cancer
- Fertility (Male)
- Ovarian Cancer
- Overall Cancer Risk (Men Only)
- Pancreatic Cancer
Other Ginseng Types
The following adaptogenic plants are other types of ginseng, which we should not confuse with American and Asian ginseng.
These ginseng types are more akin to cousins of the American and Asian ginsengs, as some say they are not true ginseng.
Ashwagandha: Indian Ginseng (Sensoril vs KSM-66)
Both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used Ashwagandha as a popular adaptogenic plant, and now its popularity is growing in the western world.
The most popular use for ashwagandha as an adaptogenic plant is for anxiety and cortisol.
Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, delivers clinically proven anti-anxiety effects comparable to lorazepam.
This ancient Ayurvedic medicinal root continues developing an almost cult-like following because of its adaptogenic mechanism of action, which we believe to block the body’s stress-based cortisol response.
Sensoril (10%) and KSM-66 (5%) are the two Ashwagandha types we see in adaptogenic supplements.
Many users report KSM-66 is the more stimulating type and better suited for daytime use Ashwagandha, whereas Sensoril is the more calming nighttime Ashwagandha, and others report opposite invariable effects or no varying effects amongst the two.
- Heart Palpitations (Due to Anxiety)
- Stress and Irritability
- Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)
Dosage and Use: Studies use a standardized Ashwagandha extract of 300 mg, two times per day, with daily doses up to 1 gram seen as safe. Users should be aware a small subset of males seem to report sexual and long-term negative serotonin-type side effects referred to by a new term, Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction, (PSSD). It is both fat- and water-soluble and effective with or without food.
Eleuthero: Siberian Ginseng
The adaptogenic plant, eleuthero, grows in the coldest parts of the world such as Siberia and the interior regions in China and Asia.
As a flowering shrub, eleuthero’s bark, berries, leaves, and roots all contain bioactive compounds.
We need more studies on eleuthero to confirm its claimed benefits.
- AMPK and Diabetes
- Bipolar Depression (*Most Promising Benefit)
- Common Cold
- Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV2)
Dosage and use: Unclear.
Maca: Peruvian “Ginseng”
Coming in black, red, and yellow maca, this plant adaptogenic supplement is known as “Peruvian Ginseng.”
It is best used as a libido booster and sexual health in men and postmenopausal women with strong evidence supporting this use.
Black maca is believed to improve male fertility and erectile dysfunction.
While red maca is thought to be the best in general maca for women, yellow maca is considered the maca best suited for its effect on mood.
Many supplements are made in blends containing black, red, and yellow maca.
- Blood Pressure
- Blood Sugar
- Bone Density
- Elevation Sickness
- Fertility (Men)
- Libido (Strongest Benefit)
- Oxidative Stress
- Sexual Function (Men and Postmenopausal Women)
Dosage and use: 2 grams of a 5 to 1 extract up to 3 grams and 2 to 12 weeks. Red maca at 3 grams shows greater effects after 2 weeks over black maca at 1.5 grams.
Suma: Brazilian Ginseng
Suma’s adaptogenic benefits are seen best supported for skin appearance.
Many believe suma can be used for energy, sexual health, anticancer effects, and various other conditions, however all of these except skin appearance benefits remain unproven and mostly untested.
Dosage and use: Suma is seen in use at “possibly” 200 to 600 mg per day, but also unclear.
Tongkat Ali: Malaysian Ginseng
Much like maca, Tongkat Ali is known as an adaptogenic plant for sexual health.
We see Tongkat Ali in studies performing with fertility, sexual performance-enhancing, and testosterone actions.
Tongkat Ali or “long jack” offers the best evidence for male fertility, increasing the quality of sperm, along with sperm concentration levels, motility, and volume in infertile men.
Dosage and use: Studies use 200 to 400 mg of Tongkat Ali extracts.
Mucuna Pruriens: (L-DOPA for Parkinson’s)
Mucuna pruriens, velvet bean, is a cherished Ayurvedic adaptogenic plant that is recognized and used to increase dopamine.
The mucuna bean is on average 5.5% L-DOPA and is used to treat Parkinson’s patients as a prescription medication called levodopa.
We believe people with Parkinson’s have low dopamine in parts of the brain because of the inefficient conversion of L-DOPA from tyrosine.
One study shows the full-spectrum mucuna outperforming levodopa in Parkinson’s studies in superior speed and amount of absorption.
It is for this reason, researchers believe mucuna delivers other types of neuroprotection for the brain.
We also see ongoing mucuna studies involving ADHD, autism, infertility, prolactin, sleep, and stress.
- Parkinson’s Symptoms
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
- Infertility (Male)
(Dosage and use: Standardized extracts in divided doses of 1 to 2 grams of 15 to 30% L-DOPA. Parkinson’s studies use much larger doses of up to 30 grams.)
Rhodiola Rosea (Rosavins vs Salidrosides)
Rhodiola, or Arctic root, golden root, king’s root is a high altitude adaptogenic plant that grows in extremely cold climates, such as Tibet, Scandinavia, China, and Siberia.
It’s most proven adaptogenic benefit is fatigue, as it appears most promising as an adaptogen supplement for depression and cognition with its action as an MAO-A and MAO-B inhibitor.
Studies show Rhodiola decreasing the primary inflammatory cytokines, IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-alpha.
While not scientifically supported, people use Rhodiola for immune and sexual health.
Rhodiola contains three primary biological compounds, with salidrosides and rosavins being the two in Rhodiola extracts.
Some suggest salidrosides are more biologically active over rosavins.
Others suggest salidroside gives Rhodiola stimulating effects, while rosavins influence Rhodiola’s more calming effects.
- Fatigue (Top Benefit)
- HPA Axis
- Immune Health
(Dosage and use: Common Rhodiola extracts are 1% salidrosides and 3% rosavins or 5% salidrosides. 400 mg per day of Rhodiola extract is the typical dose.)
Adaptogenic Mushroom Supplements
The following six adaptogenic mushroom supplements are the most popular adaptogenic mushroom supplements with the most research studies.
Chaga: The antioxidant mushroom supplement.
Cordyceps: The energy mushroom supplement. (Antiviral)
Lion’s Mane (BDNF): The cognitive mushroom supplement.
Reishi: The relaxation mushroom supplement.
Shiitake: The cardiovascular mushroom supplement.
Turkey Tail: The immune and cancer mushroom supplement.
Best Adaptogens: Most Notable Others
The following adaptogenic plants are some of the top overall supplements available for their listed indication.
- Bilberry: #1 adaptogenic supplement for eye health.
(100 to 500 mg standardized to 36% anthocyanins.)
- Boswellia #1 or 2 adaptogen supplement for inflammation/ arthritis.
(Best taken with bio-curcumin and a meal with fat in minimum 60% standardized extracts of 350 mg three times per day.)
- Black Elderberry: #1 adaptogenic supplement for cold, flu, bacterial, and viral.
(Best taken with zinc in lozenge, syrup or capsule form.)
- Aged Garlic Extract (AGE): #1 or 2 adaptogen supplement for cardiovascular, nitric oxide.
(One 600 mg capsule with a meal twice daily.)
- Berberine: #1 blood sugar and weight adaptogenic supplement.
(500 mg at the beginning of each meal.)
- Ginger: #1 nausea adaptogenic supplement.
(1,000 to 3,000 mg powder or 60 to 180 mg extract.)
- Licorice: Top cortisol increasing (hypotension) adaptogen supplement.
(DGL forms will not raise blood pressure. Up to 100 mg total glycyrrhizin daily.)
- Milk Thistle (Silymarin) #1 or 2 adaptogenic supplement liver health.
(420 mg standardized extracts of 70 to 80% silymarin taken daily in divided doses.)
- Lavender: #1 or 2 adaptogenic supplement for anxiety.
(80 to 160 mg of a lavender supplement brand, Silexan containing 25 to 46% linalool.)
- Oil of Oregano (OOO) #1 adaptogen supplement for bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
(Diluted in an oil base in water or in softgels. OOO should be cycled on and off with a minimum of 25% days off.)
Other Adaptogenic Supplements
Cat’s Claw, Aloe Vera, Holy Basil/ Tulsi, Schisandra, Magnolia, Shatavari, Lycium/ Wolfberry/ Goji Berry, Jiaogulan (Gynostemma), He Shou Wu, Guduchi, Dang Shen (Red Sage), Codonopsis, Moringa Oleifera, Gotu Kola, Shilajit, Rosemary, Amla / Amalaki / Indian Gooseberry, Guduchi, Shatavari, Purple Passionflower, Chamomile, Hops, Valerian, Sea Buckthorn, Tree of Life (Crassula).
Conclusions on Adaptogenic Benefits
By now you should be able to answer the question, “what are adaptogens” and why we should be using them as health optimizers.
With as many as we have out there, I’ll give you some of my favorite adaptogens.
As always, keep in mind, we are all different, with different genes, needs, and goals as health optimizers.
What is right for my chemistry might not be optimal for yours.
Best for Dopamine (Mood), Energy, Focus (Also Effective Appetite Suppressants)
Maca and Mucuna
Best for Sexual Health (Libido, as I’m not trying to make babies)
Nighttime Energy and Mild Mood Boost
Rhodiola Rosea (5% Salidrosides)
Favorite Overall (Body, Mood, Cognition Benefits)
Curcumin with Boswellia
Cardiovascular, Circulation, and Cognition
Aged Garlic Extract with Ginkgo Biloba
Oil of Oregano
What are your favorite adaptogenic supplements?
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