Adaptogens Are Enjoying a Renaissance in Wellness Care

By Jeff Tomko

Adaptogens have been around for centuries but are currently having a root-based renaissance as health-conscious consumers look to the old for a new source of wellness.

This Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic healing technique from ancient times has roots in, well, roots and herbs. Adaptogens and other plant-based therapeutics have become popular as many people veer away from the pharmacy and head instead toward their nearest herbal farm in search of natural, organic solutions to combat everyday stress as well as improve cognitive function and even enhance performance.

man sitting at a desk looking at his computer exhaustedly

Adaptogens, which can be found in a variety of stores from your local coffeehouse to health-food stores, are gaining in popularity, part of an over $9 billion global industry in 2019, according to a report by Stratistics MRC. That number is expected to grow as consumers seek new health alternatives, even though some studies remain inconclusive as to the exact effectiveness adaptogens have on the body.

What is the trend all about? Here’s a quick synopsis.

What Are Adaptogens?
Just like the name implies, adaptogens are meant to “adapt” to the body’s stressors. Adaptogens themselves may date back to ancient Asian healing practices, but the name itself was coined around 1947 by a Soviet physician to describe an herbal medicine used to treat patients’ stress.

Today it’s nearly impossible to live a stress-free existence, as deadlines and physical and personal issues often lead to those knots in our stomach or restless nights. When stress occurs, cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) is released into the bloodstream, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate. This can even play a role in potentially more damaging conditions, from depression and anxiety to heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and cancer.

How do adaptogens play a role? Adaptogens contain certain phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) not often found in other types of whole foods. When consumed, these adaptogens are thought to help reduce inflammation and balance the body’s cortisol levels, helping to bring stress levels to a more manageable rate.

coffee on a table

Types of Adaptogens
Some adaptogens, like coffee, with its energy and mind-boosting benefits, have been a part of our daily lives forever. Nowadays, people are turning to plant-based adaptogens.

Ginger has been used as an aide for digestive health, and turmeric has become quite popular over the past few years for its anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits.

When it comes to fighting fatigue and restoring mindfulness, Rhodiola rosea has become a popular adaptogen for a natural mental and physical pick me up. It’s also been shown to boost exercise endurance and performance. Maca root and ginseng are another pair of adaptogens that share similar brain-boosting benefits.

Goji berries, which are rich in vitamin C and beta carotene, have been used to help lower cholesterol. These berries are also believed to help improve skin health, and because they contain the antioxidant zeaxanthin, they may also be beneficial in improving vision.

Cordyceps has increasingly become one of the most popular adaptogens on the market, mainly for its wide range of benefits. This mushroom has been thought to have anti-aging benefits, while also helping the body increase production of ATP, a key force for energy and performance.

Holy basil, a minty-tasting herb, has been widely touted for liver and kidney benefits.

Ashwagandha is widely used for its stress-reducing benefits and as an aide for insomnia.

How and When to Take Adaptogens
Today, adaptogens have expanded from pill form to tincture and powdered forms. They can also be found in coffee and other types of bottled beverages, each with specific benefits. When to take adaptogens is a personal preference — are you a morning person or night owl? — but it’s best to take them at the same time each day so they don’t mess with your sleeping patterns.