What are Adaptogens and Which Adaptogens are Best?

  • Post author:

It is possible that you’ve read the term ‘Adaptogen’ on either our website or another. If you are here, then it is also likely that you want to know more about them. Be sure, you are in the right place.

Words like ‘Adaptogenic’ and ‘Nootropic’ are used as a shorthand across the well-being and optimisation community, and there are supplements and products that contain adaptogens all over the shop. So, hopefully, today you come away from our post and understand a little more about what adaptogens are, how they work and how they can fit into your daily routine. Plus some of the most commonly asked questions online.

Right then, let us get into it



What are Adaptogens?

The term ‘Adaptogen’ has only become popularised relatively recently. While peoples around the world have been using adaptogens for thousands of years, the term was coined in 1947 by Soviet toxicologist Nikolai Lazarev, and it was then did our understanding of the substances truely grow exponentially.

In short, the term Adaptogen was used to describe a ‘pharmacologically active compound or plant extracts which have the ability to enhance the body’s stability against physical loads without increasing oxygen consumption’ (Source). They maintain the body’s ability to adapt to internal stress while maintaining normal metabolic functions but also improve physical performance (which is why we are writing this post).

It is somewhat irrelevant, but there are two classes: phyto-adaptogens (first-class) derived from plants and synthetic adaptogens (called actoprotectors). Some examples of such compounds are Benzimidazole (Bemethyl- the first synthetic adaptogen and performance enhancer), Adamantane (bromantane – treatment for asthenia and generalised anxiety) and Bromantane (performance enhancer that was prohibited in 2018 by the WADA).

The phyto-adaptogenic substances are those that are found in nature and are generally extracted from plants. There are many examples of naturally occurring Adaptogens: the Gingseng family (Panax ginseng is the most common in the UK), Maral Root (Rhaponticum carthamoides), Rhodiola rosea and five-flavour berries (Schisandra chinensis). Ashwagandha, Tongkat Ali, Maca Root, Holy basil, Chaga Mushroom, cordycept mushroom, Lions Mane, Bacopa and even turmeric.

Each has its own plethora of benefits, but they each fall into the category of being an ‘Adaptogen’.

So, what is it about these substances that help our body to build mental and physical resistance?

How Do Adaptogens Work?

The adaptogens themselves contain high concentrations of complex biologically active compounds which affect our bodies in ways that aren’t yet fully understood. For instance, the Rhodiola Rosea root is known to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary gland in the brain (specifically the adrenal axis) [source] and therefore lower levels of stress. Strangely it also has an impact on the levels of glucose in the blood, lactate, nitric oxide and cortisol levels, as well as affecting plasma lipids and hepatic enzymes.

The human body is mind-blowing and complicated, and sometimes the outcome is known, the cause is hidden among hundreds of potential driving factors.

We know that many of the active compounds within adaptogens have a plethora of biological effects, and some adaptogens contain many of these compounds. Some of the most referenced are triterpenoids saponins (in sensing), phytosterols (affect blood cholesterol), ecdysone (a prohormone which may be linked to testosterone support/ hormone regulation), alkaloids; flavonoids, and also essential vitamins.

There is some suggestion that CBD is also an adaptogen, but the suggestion is that CBD is a molecule while ‘Adaptogens’ are whole plant extracts. So the jury is still out on whether or not hemp is also an adaptogenic plant.


Are Adaptogens Right for You?

There are multiple claims about adaptogens, but ultimately the deciding factor is the body that is using the adaptogens. While we’re all human, each of us are completely unique, and there is so many variables here that can slide adaptogens from being great for your lifestyle or utterly pointless.

So, before you jump in and start to take a routine of adaptogen supplements, here are a few things that you should consider.


Are You On Medican? Adaptogens can interact with them.

If you’ve heard of the ‘grapefruit test’ then we apply a similar idea here. There are some adaptogens that may not be suitable for you, if you are a regular taker of medication. Adaptogens can affect your brain function, blood sugar and lipid levels, and the active compounds are also absorbed into the liver.

The first consideration is that if you’re taking medication to regulate mood, or for diabetes, then the effects of the adaptogenic compounds may swing your needle too far causing a further imbalance which will leave you feeling horrific at best, and may hospitalise you at worst. Secondly, the active compounds in your liver may affect the way in which the medications are absorbed; therefore, making the medication super bioavailable or not bioavailable at all. It could result in having too much, or too little, medication in your system.

If you have a pre-existing condition or you’re on regular medication is extremely important that you speak to a trusted medical professional before taking a supplement which contains an adaptogen. In most cases, everything will be fine, but it is better to be safe rather than sorry.


Which Adaptogens to Choose?

This question will undoubtedly require lots of research; which adaptogen you choose is entirely dependent on it’s purpose in your routine. Whether you intend to improve your physical performance, improve your focus, or relax, different adaptogens will be required. It is important to research the adaptogen before taking it in the form of a supplement.