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A Guide to Adaptogens: Nature’s Weapons to Combat Stress and Boost Immunity

A Guide to Adaptogens: Nature’s Weapons to Combat Stress and Boost Immunity

Table of Contents

Adaptogens are our natural allies, an exceptional group of plants and fungi revered for their unique ability to balance, restore, and protect the body. Frequently rooted in ancient approaches to medicine, adaptogens are now getting the scientific attention they deserve and are increasingly becoming a part of people's daily routines.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation regarding what adaptogens actually are.  That’s why we’ve created this fundamental guide to adaptogenic herbs and fungi, including a simple definition, a bit of context into their effects, plus an extensive list of common adaptogens and their benefits. 

What are Adaptogens?


assortment of adaptogenic herbs and spices on a table

Adaptogens are unique compounds found in various plants and fungi that are believed to help your body adapt to and resist stress. These remarkable compounds modulate the body's stress response, helping you maintain balance in the face of physical, chemical, biological, or emotional stressors.

These natural ingredients frequently form the cornerstone of traditional medicine practices, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and many others. Yet, modern science only began studying adaptogens in the 1960s, when the term was first coined. 

More than half a century later, adaptogenic herbs and fungi are taking over. You may have seen them popping up in wellness drinks, heard about them from your doctor, or even scrolled past an influencer recommending them on social media.

While any health claims made on social platforms should always be taken with a grain of salt, there is actually scientific evidence of the benefits of adaptogens. In many cases, clinical studies support these effects.

Various scientific journals have proposed different ways of classifying adaptogens, but generally, the requirements are the same. According to herbalist and physician Aviva Romm, MD, adaptogens typically share three main qualities:
  • Balancing Effects: They help stabilize your normal bodily functions and promote homeostasis, which is the body's way of creating a balanced internal environment.
  • Non-Specific Action: Adaptogens act in a non-specific way, meaning they can resist a wide array of stressors and have a general, rather than a specific and hyper-targeted, effect.
  • Strong Safety Profiles: They generally don't mess around with your body's normal functions and only work as needed to help it adapt to stressful conditions. 

Common Types of Adaptogens and Their Uses

More plants and fungi than ever before are getting slapped with the adaptogenic label, but not all of these ingredients will meet the three fundamental criteria of a true adaptogen mentioned above. 

You'll find lists of adaptogens ranging anywhere from 25 to 109 different compounds. Here are just a few of the most common examples of true adaptogens: 

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) plant leaves

Sometimes called Indian ginseng, Ashwagandha is featured in our Kava Ashwagandha Chocolate Bar not only because it’s associated with calming, relaxing effects, but also because it’s one of the most studied adaptogenic herbs. It’s revered in Ayurvedic medicine as a rejuvenator and widely recommended in naturopathic medicine. There is robust scientific support for its stress-relieving effects, including double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies

Ginkgo (gingko biloba)

Ginkgo (gingko biloba) plant leaves

Derived from one of the oldest living tree species in the world, Ginkgo is an herbal supplement believed to possess various benefits. This is likely due to its high flavonoid content, which are antioxidant-rich compounds found in numerous plants, such as hemp. Ginkgo has been exhaustively studied for its potential to boost cognitive function and neuroprotective qualities. 

Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom

Lion's mane mushroom, a core ingredient in our Magical Muscaria Gummies, is a powerhouse of adaptogenic properties. Rich in antioxidants, minerals, amino acids, and polysaccharides, lion's mane is under investigation for its possible neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory qualities.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) plant

Rhodiola is a plant native to cold climates across Europe and Asia. It's an established herbal medicine in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, prescribed as an "adaptogen in situations of decreased performance such as fatigue and sensation of weakness."

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) powder

Turmeric is a bright orange root that is equally nutritious and therapeutically valuable. This famous Ayurvedic ingredient contains high levels of curcumin, a compound with known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics

Benefits of Adaptogens Explained

The fundamental characteristic of all adaptogens is that they help us cope with daily stress. In this case, stress isn't just the uneasiness you feel before public speaking or dealing with a terrible boss. stress is actually “a state of threatened homeostasis provoked by a psychological, environmental, or physiological stressor.”

So, how does this apply to the benefits of adaptogens for our physical, emotional, or cognitive states? No matter the adaptogen in question, its benefits revolve around helping to reduce the impact of stress on our bodies internally and externally.

Neuroprotective

Many adaptogenic herbs contain compounds that offer neurological protection from stress, many with robust scientific support, including Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and bitter weed (Andrographis paniculata).

Cortisol-Reducing 

A range of adaptogens provide natural support for improved mood and reduced daily stress, many of which seem to regulate cortisol levels or interact with our serotonin and dopamine uptake. A few of the adaptogenic compounds known for their cortisol-reducing properties include ocimum sides in holy basil and sitoindosides in ashwagandha.

Anti-Inflammatory

Increasingly, researchers are connecting chronic inflammation with chronic disease. Several adaptogens are known to help our bodies return to homeostasis (a state of balance), including turmeric root and lion's mane mushrooms.

Fatigue Reducing

Fatigue, both as a symptom and a chronic condition, is intrinsically linked to physiological states of stress. Several adaptogens are thought to have benefits for reducing fatigue, including ginseng, rhodiola, and five-flavor berry (Schisandra chinensis).

Are Adaptogens Safe?

While a non-toxic safety profile is a fundamental characteristic of adaptogens, as with any new element in your daily routine, consulting with a healthcare professional is always recommended before you start, as they can tailor a plan specific to your unique health needs. The right adaptogen, dose, and daily routine will vary depending on whether you address issues like fatigue or inflammation. Plus, you'll want to ensure there are no risks of interactions between the adaptogens and any other medications you're taking.

Finally, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's particularly crucial to talk with your doctor before starting any adaptogen regimen. 

How to Use Adaptogens

Stress-free woman smiling with adaptogenic herbal tea

There is a staggering number of adaptogens, each unique in its dose, delivery, and format, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how to use them. How you'll incorporate a daily dose of lion's mane will look a lot different than working with holy basil, as an example.

Again, it's always best to work with a healthcare professional to settle on a plan specific to your needs especially if taking prescription medication. 

When to Take Adaptogens

The timing for taking adaptogens varies depending on the type. Some are best taken in the morning to kickstart your day, like Asian ginseng. Others might be more suited for evening use, helping you unwind and relax, like a nibble of our Ashwagandha Kava bar.

What forms do Adaptogens Come in?

Adaptogens come in a neverending number of forms these days, including powders, capsules, herbal tea blends, and even gummies.

From mild-mannered powders to powerful extracts, you'll want to read the label to find out how the adaptogen was incorporated and the strength of each serving size. 

Where to buy adaptogens

Dietary and herbal supplements, including adaptogens, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as pharmaceuticals. This means it's incredibly important to source adaptogens from reputable companies with a strong commitment to quality and safety standards. Do a little research before you click Add to Cart, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Ready to Add Adaptogens to Your Daily Routine?

Each adaptogen, of which there could be more than a hundred, carries a unique strength to help our minds and bodies cope with stress. Whether it's the gentle relief of ashwagandha or the cognitive boost from lion's mane mushrooms, these natural wonders work to restore our internal homeostasis.

Hometown Hero's collection of adaptogenic-infused products are all crafted from premium ingredients and specifically designed to bring a daily dose of balance into your life. 

With your mind in mind, let's find one that works for you. 

FDA Disclaimer:The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

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