Adaptogens: Improve Resistance to Stress

Have you never heard of adaptogens? Then you need to read this. Adaptogens are an amazing class of herbs that increase your resistance to stress. Doesn't matter what kind of stress. Mental, emotional, or physical. 

This is how it works. Let's say your job generally causes a stress response of 6 on a scale of 10. With adaptogens, your body will respond as if it were a 3. As a result, you will have more energy, stamina, and vitality. Something we all could use, right?

Adaptogens work in different ways and are divided into different categories. Some are considered stimulating, others calming. Stimulating adaptogens generally work to stimulate cortisol receptors or increase how long cortisol is in your blood stream. Calming adaptogens may work to prevent the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Other adaptogens are somewhere in between. So it is important to understand the state of your adrenal glands in order to pick the right adaptogens. In the first stages of chronic stress, your adrenal glands work overtime leading to high cortisol. In this stage, you need a calming adaptogen that will modulate how your body responds to cortisol. If the chronic stress continues, the brain shuts down cortisol production. At this point, you need stimulating adaptogens to mimic cortisol to help you get through the day. Talk to your doctor to figure out the state of your adrenal glands and determine which adaptogens are appropriate for you. You may need to adrenal hormone testing to determine your adrenal function. 

Stimulating Adaptogens

Ginseng, Panax spp.

Ginseng is the most stimulating adaptogen. It is used for adrenal burnout when you feel mentally and physically exhausted. Ginseng enhances stamina and memory. It also enhances immune function and balances blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. 

If you suffer from insomnia or have a bleeding disorder, ginseng is not safe to use. Ginseng may also interfere with blood thinners such as warfarin and heparin, but the research is conflicting. 

Siberian Ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus

Siberian ginseng is not as stimulating as ginseng. It increases endurance, concentration. It is a great general tonic that enhances overall well-being. Siberian ginseng also enhances immune function and insulin sensitivity.

If you suffer from insomnia or hypertension, do not use this herb. 

Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus

Devil's club is part of the Ginseng family and is very similar to the other ginseng and Siberian ginseng. It increases energy and stamina and enhances immune function and insulin sensitivity. Unlike the other ginseng herbs, Devil's club is very grounding energetically.

Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra

Licorice is a very stimulating adaptogen and should only be used under medical supervision. It extends how long cortisol is active so it is only appropriate when the adrenal gland is burnt out. 

It should not be used long term and it should not be used if you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, or liver disease. 

Restorative Adaptogens

Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola improves both physical and mental energy and increases physical endurance. Studies have also shown it to improve short term and long term memory. It improves mood and sense of well-being. It is a great herb for students. 

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera

Ashwaganda is the most calming adaptogen. Like the other adaptogens, it also enhances immune function. It is soothing to the nervous system and great for anxiety and insomnia.

To get the best results, most adaptogens have to be consumed 3 times a day for 3-4 months. Talk to your doctor about appropriate dosing. Most stimulating adaptogens should be taken before 3 pm to not affect sleep. 


  • Tilgner, Sharol. Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth. 2009