|May 14, 2024

What Are Adaptogens? 11 Natural Herbs to Keep You Balanced

By Stephen Sheehan
Reviewed by Theresa Greenwell for Scientific Accuracy on 04/05/2024

What Are Adaptogens? 11 Natural Herbs to Keep You Balanced

  • Adaptogens are plant substances that can help strengthen your body’s ability to handle non-specific stressors and maintain homeostasis.
  • Adaptogenic herbs have been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and have become more readily available through supplements.
  • Learn more about the different types of adaptogens, why we need them and how Bulletproof can support your efforts to reduce your stress levels and stay balanced.

Even if you’re dialed in with your diet and workout routine, the external stressors of work, family and everything in between can take a major toll on your health and well-being. Enter: Mother Nature, who brings a slew of natural ways to strengthen our internal systems that deal with periodic stress responses.

Adaptogens like turmeric, ashwagandha and Panax ginseng have been used around the world for hundreds of years for their physical and mental health benefits. But what exactly are adaptogens? And what makes them so important for our brains and bodies? We’ll tackle both of those topics, plus give you a breakdown of the best ones to incorporate into your diet to support mind-body balance.

What are adaptogens?

Ashwagandha plant, leaves and powder.

Adaptogens are beneficial plants that have been utilized for centuries, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic healing methods. Currently, they are trending in the wellness community, and for good reason.

Why have so many cultures turned to these herbs for support? Common adaptogens like ashwagandha and turmeric have research-backed benefits that involve both the mind and the body. Ultimately, these herbs and roots have properties that support our ability to manage stress, which undoubtedly has a major impact on our physical and mental health.

Like herbals as a whole, adaptogens have become more popular and accessible over the years. So, even though many are grown and harvested in Asia, they’re able to be consumed all over the world in a variety of ways, including in supplement capsules, powders, teas and tinctures (liquid herbal extracts).

Why do we need adaptogens?

Woman stressed at work.

Our bodies are fascinating machines that undergo so many internal processes. During stressful situations, our adrenal glands release stress hormones in response to the sympathetic nervous system–otherwise known as the “fight or flight” system.

Of course, when you’re stressed, that typically means your cortisol levels will be high. That’s where adaptogens step up.

The chemical properties of these powerful plants affect the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which governs our body’s response to stress.[1] So, you can put yourself in a better position to handle the minor stressors of everyday life via natural substances that have been utilized by different cultures across the globe for countless generations.

Related: Stress and Sleeplessness: A Life Coach Unpacks the Issue—And How to Fix It

11 adaptogens to support mind-body balance

Tea made with adaptogenic mushroom.

Adaptogens work in different ways, but they ultimately help support better mind-body balance. However, if you’re new to the world of herbal supplements, you may be wondering where to start.

Below, we’ve broken down the research-backed benefits of 11 common adaptogens, along with giving you our recommendation for how to consume each one.

1. Ashwagandha

Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is a small shrub that’s native to India, northern Africa and the Middle East. Consuming this long-used adaptogenic herb can help the HPA glands communicate effectively—a key component of a normal, healthy stress response.[2]

Ashwagandha has been researched extensively for its potential sleep and stress benefits. One study revealed participants experienced improved overall quality of sleep when supplementing with ashwagandha extract for six weeks.[3] Moreover, a study conducted on 64 participants showed that Ashwagandha root extract supported their ability to withstand everyday stress.[4]

Overall, research supports the idea of this herb’s use for mind-body balance.

How to consume: Take three capsules of Bulletproof Zen Mode at the same time every day or around stressful projects, big presentations or social events. Alternatively, take two of the Bulletproof Stress Gummies to help support reduced stress and and a positive mood during stressful moments.

2. Rhodiola rosea

Grown in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, rhodiola is a root that contains more than 140 active compounds. Like ashwagandha, it has been utilized for centuries for its potential mental performance benefits. In fact, a clinical trial conducted on participants experiencing stress-related burnout showed clear improvement with rhodiola rosea supplementation, suggesting this adaptogen may enhance your body’s resistance to stress.[5]

In addition, it can help with achieving mind-body balance by potentially curbing fatigue.[6]

How to consume: You can obtain rhodiola through capsules or tablets, which typically contain between 100-200mg of rhodiola extract. Some studies suggest a dose of 200-600mg per day can be effective. [7]

3. Panax ginseng

Not to be confused with its American counterpart Panax quinquefolius, Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng, contains powerful active components called ginsenosides.[8] Studies have shown that this common adaptogen can provide several health benefits, including daily inflammation support and cognitive function support.

Plus, Panax ginseng can also help curb physical and mental fatigue and offer everyday stress support by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and its related hormones.[9]

How to consume: Add two scoops of Energy Collagen Protein to your morning smoothies for caffeine-free fuel and adaptogenic support. You can even use this to make a visually stunning keto marble cake.†

Related: Inside Bulletproof: Trey Sanders, Dad of 3 and Product Developer, Talks ‘Energy You Can Feel’

4. Licorice

A spoonful of licorice powder next to licorice roots.

Cultivated throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, licorice is more than just a flavor used in candy and beverages. The use of the root dates back to ancient Egypt, and it remains a popular adaptogen, even today.

Why’s that the case? Licorice helps support the adrenal glands’ ability to respond to stress, especially in adrenal fatigue.[10]

How to consume: There’s currently no standard dosage recommendation, but you can supplement with licorice root extract via capsules, powders, tinctures, topical gels or teas. However, because licorice can exacerbate high blood pressure, do not take it if you have hypertension.

5. Holy basil

Whether you call it holy basil or tulsi, you’ll quickly realize this adaptogenic herb is a little different from the basil you find in Italian dishes. Actually, studies support the use of the entire plant (from its fresh flowers to leaves and seeds) for both physical and mental benefits.

Not only can holy basil support our ability to handle stress, but it may also have a positive effect on mood and cognitive function.† [11] Referred to as an “Elixir of Life” in the Ayurveda system, there’s a reason it’s been used for more than 3,000 years.

How to consume: Just like ashwagandha, you can obtain holy basil via Zen Mode to reap both brain and body rewards.†

6. Schisandra

Schisandra, or five-flavor berries, in a bowl.

Referred to as the five-flavor fruit, the schisandra berry contains lignans, powerful polyphenolic compounds that can have a positive impact on your overall health. Plus, quercetin and hesperetin, two flavonoids found in schisandra, help rid the body of free radicals and alleviate oxidative stress.[12][13]

In addition, clinical studies show schisandra can help with muscle strength and recovery.[14][15] So, if you’re trying to make gains in the gym, this adaptogen could be particularly useful.

How to consume: Typically available in powdered form, you can mix schisandra into water to obtain its benefits. The dried berries can also be consumed via teas and tinctures.

7. Eleuthero

Also known as Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus is slightly different than Asian ginseng and American ginseng. While it grows in the same region as Panax ginseng, eleuthero is an adaptogen that may support your metabolism and immune system.

An eight-week study on the effect of eleuthero supplementation on humans showed it enhanced endurance capacity, elevated cardiovascular function and altered the metabolism for sparing glycogen. [16] Also, when used in combination with andrographis (an Ayurvedic herb), eleuthero has been found to have an immune-bolstering effect in humans.[17][18]

How to consume: Take one serving of Bulletproof Immune Complex (three capsules) twice a day with food to obtain eleuthero root extract, along with high-potency vitamin C and other science-backed ingredients that can strengthen your natural defenses.†

Related: How to Strengthen Your Immune System Naturally

8. Turmeric

Hand holding two Bulletproof Turmeric Gummies

A relative of the ginger family, turmeric is used as both a spice and a supplement. Native to Southeast Asia and primarily grown in India, its active compound, curcumin, offers a wide range of health benefits.

Providing support for your joints and brain, turmeric is a powerhouse adaptogen that can easily be incorporated into your diet in a multitude of ways.

How to consume: You can obtain turmeric by taking two Bulletproof Curcumin Max softgels daily (with food). If you prefer gummy vitamins, consume two of our sugar-free, Peach Ginger-flavored Turmeric Gummies.†

Related: Adaptogenic Turmeric Latte

9. Reishi mushrooms

Grown in hot and humid areas of Asia, this fungus contains triterpenoids, polysaccharides and peptidoglycans, all of which can have a powerful impact on mind-body balance.

Test-tube studies (in-vitro) have shown that reishi impacts white blood cells and immune function. While more research is needed in this area, it may provide a boost to your immune system.[19] Preliminary studies revealed reishi mushrooms may also help reduce fatigue, too.[20]

How to consume: The most common way to consume reishi is via a powdered extract. Simply mix a scoop into your morning tea or coffee for adaptogenic support.

10. Astragalus

Astragalus roots in a basket

Although there are more than 2,000 species of astragalus, only two are primarily used in supplements. And thanks to its active plant compounds, this root can provide mind-body benefits on a number of levels.

Astragalus can provide immune system support by enhancing your body’s production of white blood cells.[21] What about a potential mental boost? A rodent study revealed the administration of Astragalus Membranaceus improved spatial learning and memory and eased minor stress-induced anxiety.[22]

The bottom line: Ayurvedic and herbal medicine followers have praised the positive effects of adaptogens for countless generations. Available in a variety of supplements and other forms, you can easily incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your overall wellness plan. After all, everyone could use some natural assistance when it comes to keeping everyday stress levels in check.

Need to give your brain and body a boost without caffeine? The science-backed ingredients in these natural energy supplements will help accomplish that feat.

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