What Are Adaptogens?

Rhiannon Lytle | Minute Read
Nutrition

If you’ve been in any health food store recently – heck, even a specialty grocery store – you’ve likely seen some products labelled “adaptogens”. But what are adaptogens? And should you be using them regularly?

Let’s find out exactly what are adaptogens:

Where adaptogens came from:

The term “adaptogen” was first coined back in 1940 to describe Shisandra, along with a few other herbs. These herbs were all said to non-specifically enhance the human body (1). Through the years, the term has shifted ever so slightly, as different herbs and plans (like mushrooms) were brought into the fold. 

Generally, all adaptogens are said to help the body achieve balance, or homeostasis, by helping the body to combat toxins, stress, or other adverse reactions. Their main purpose is basically in the name: adaptogens help us to “adapt”. 

What can adaptogens help me with?

Honestly, quite a bit! Many adaptogens are said to have similar functions, but for the most part, many relate back the body’s ability to adapt to stress.  

Let’s look at a few of my favourites for some examples: 

What are adaptogens

Lion’s Mane mushroom is typically used to help boost cognitive and immune function. It is a shaggy looking mushroom, hence the name Lion’s Mane, that tends to be sold in powdered, tincture or capsule form. Many people will add Lion’s Mane to their morning coffee or tea for some additional energy-boosting effects. 

Reishi mushroom has been deemed by many as “king” of the medicinal mushroom kingdom. This is because Reishi has been shown to help boost immune function by altering our white blood cells. While more research is still to be done, select studies have shown that that, in conjunction with modern treatment, reishi may be beneficial (2, 3, 4). 

Ginseng has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and can be found in two varieties: American and Asian ginseng. These two varieties differ effects on the body, so be sure to know which kind you are purchasing! Ginseng has been shown to potentially reduce inflammation, benefit brain function, boost the immune system, and aid in libido (5).

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years to help relieve stress, increase energy and aid in concentration. Best known for its ability to reduce stress,  ashwagandha may help to reduce your cortisol levels (6). Alongside this, studies have shown that those living with depression and anxiety may benefit from regular use of ashwagandha (7). 

Maca is one of my favourite adaptogens to suggest to clients as it can be used so widely. Primarily, it can be used for energy and libido, as well as helping to balance hormone levels. However, it is best to take maca earlier in the day to ensure you get a good night’s rest! 

Which adaptogen is right for me?

That will depend on what you are looking for! And it is always a good idea to speak with your doctor before supplementing with any new adaptogen (herb or mushroom) to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your current medication. 

It is always important to start small with any adaptogen and work your way up. 

One thing I usually suggest is taking a blend of adaptogens, like a 5 Mushroom Blend (we have this in our dispensary), to get health benefits of a variety of adaptogens all at once. 

Can I take adaptogens forever? 

It’s best to cycle adaptogens! Typically, it is suggested to use adaptogens for a few months, then cycle it out for another. For example: add ashwagandha to your smoothie for 3 months, then change to Lion’s Mane. 

What do adaptogens taste like?

I’ll be very honest here: they don’t usually taste that great. It depends on which one you have, but they can be:

  • Bitter (like Ashwagandha)
  • Sweet and pugent (like Shisandra)
  • Earthy (most of the mushrooms)

One’s that are usually paleatable alone include: 

  • Maca root powder
  • Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) 
  • Turmeric

Add your powdered adaptogens to smoothies, oatmeal, or strong beverages like coffee if you hope to hide some of the flavour. Alternatively many are available in capsule form, should you find that easier to take! 

About the Author:


Rhiannon Lytle

Rhiannon is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist at Integrative. With all the new information coming out today about nutrition; Rhiannon's goal is to help cut through the noise and find what works best for each individual.

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