Anti-stress: The best adaptogens
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Adaptogens against stress
Adaptogens have proven to be a non-toxic and consistent solution to a variety of health problems, not only for people who are exposed to a large amount of stress. In this article, we will go into more detail about how adaptogens have been used in many applications ranging from a weight training applications, to a supportive treatment for various ailments, to prolonging life. The word adaptogen was coined in 1947 by Russian scientist N.V. Lazarev, who discovered that certain plants increase the body's resistance to stress. Later, scientists discovered that these plant extracts affected multiple systems in non-specific ways and could bring overactive or underactive systems back to their normal state. They concluded that adaptogens are relatively harmless and cause minimal irregularities in the body. Adaptogenic plants have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years and in Ayurvedic Indian medicine for thousands of years. However, adaptogens are not only used in the field of traditional medicine, but are also becoming increasingly popular in the Western world. Nevertheless, until some time ago, references to their effects were purely anecdotal. Modern science is just beginning to decipher the actual mechanisms of action underlying adaptogens.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are specific plants or medicinal herbs that help balance the body's hormone levels, which helps improve the body's response to stress. In doing so, they interact with the body's needs in unique ways. For example, consider the adrenal function of the human body. In the adrenal glands, located in the adrenal cortex, adaptogens improve the body's ability to begin producing and releasing stress hormones more quickly, as well as to stop that production more quickly, resulting in less time spent by the body in stress response.
Some of the most widely used and effective adaptogens include:
- Bacopa Monnieri
- Holy Basil (Indian basil)
- Licorice Root (licorice root)
- Mucuna Pruriens
- Rhodiola Rosea
Each of these adaptogens works in its own unique way and not all adaptogens should be used for an extended period of time. One should keep in mind that it is important to know individual dosage, potential side effects, and known concerns before beginning to use adaptogen supplements. The following list looks at different areas of health and provides an overview of the corresponding adaptogens that have been shown to be effective in these areas. This list can give you a good overview of how to use adaptogens in your life.
1. adaptogens for training and weight loss.
If you want to build lean muscle mass, you can do more than simply increase your protein intake. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial looked at young men with little experience in the weight room. Researchers administered 300 mg of an ashwagandha root extract twice daily to one group. In this group, a significant increase in muscle mass in the arms and legs, a reduction in muscle damage, and increased testosterone levels were measured at the end of the study. This study also reported that a greater reduction in body fat percentage was observed in the Ashwagandha group (1).
- Ashwagandha dosage to support exercise: 600 milligrams per day divided into two individual doses.
In humans, ginseng can help with this (2):
- Increase the total oxygen capacity (VO2 max)
- To increase the training capacity
- To increase the strength - especially in the leg muscle.
These results have been observed in several human studies, and a variety of studies conducted with animals also show the same positive effects. In a study conducted in the 1990s, it was also observed that ginseng can support weight loss in subjects recently diagnosed with diabetes (3).
- Ginseng dosage for training and weight loss: 200-300 milligrams of a standardized ginseng extract per day.
Anyone who trains with weights will probably be familiar with ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is an organic compound that stores energy in every cell of the body. When one of the cells needs energy to perform a task, it breaks down ATP to get that energy.
If you can increase ATP production or maintain it longer, you can significantly increase your training capacity, which is why many sports scientists focus on increasing ATP production, which can increase training energy and have a positive effect on physical performance.
In animal studies, Rhodiola Rosea helped animals produce ATP faster, which increased their ability to work harder (4). These results were replicated the following year in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with human subjects (5).
- Rhodiola Rosea dosage for training: 200 milligrams daily (3% rosavin + 1% salidrosides).
2. adaptogens for the thyroid gland
Millions of people suffer from thyroid problems. 3 to 8% of the world's population suffer from thyroid dysfunction without experiencing obvious symptoms. An underactive thyroid can result in exhaustion, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin and unexplained weight gain.
In 2018, researchers concluded that ashwagandha may be helpful for normalizing thyroid hormone levels in people with hypothyroidism (6).
- Ashwagandha dosage for thyroid: 600 milligrams per day.
3. adaptogens against anxiety disorders
One of the benefits of ashwagandha is its effectiveness as a natural remedy for anxiety disorders. It has been shown that ashwagandha can compete with pharmaceutical agents such as imipramine and lorazepam in this regard, but without their side effects (7).
It has been observed in studies that 250 mg of ashwagandha root extract per day can alleviate these symptoms in people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (8, 9).
- Ashwagandha dosage for anxiety disorders: 500 milligrams per day divided into two single doses.
Holy Basil (Indian Basil)
Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Indian basil or Holy Basil, is a plant that grows in the tropical areas of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This plant substantially reduces general anxiety disorders and correlated stress and depression, according to a 2008 human study (10).
Warning: Indian basil should not be used by women trying to become pregnant, as it has strong sterilizing effects on male sperm (11).
- Holy Basil dosage for anxiety disorders: 1000 milligrams per day divided into two single doses.
4. adaptogens against stress
Since the term "adaptogen" is synonymous with stress reliever, all adaptogens technically represent medicinal herbs for relieving stress. Here we will look at the most effective adaptogens for stress.
This queen of adaptogens is one of the best studied and most readily available adaptogens. When taken in capsule or powder form, this adaptogen reliably improves individual resistance to stress and perceived quality of life (12). Ashwagandha is full of groups of naturally occurring steroids called withanolides. This active ingredient is more effective in higher dosages. Supplements should have a withanolide content of 5 to 10%.
When used to relieve stress, one should start with 300 mg per day and slowly increase the dosage to the full dosage of 1000 to 1500 per day. It is always wise to work with a physician to find out the proper individual dosage. Ashwagandha in powder form has a rather strong and unpleasant odor. For this reason, it is recommended to mix Ashwagandha powder with food or drinks to make it more "edible".
- Ashwagandha dosage for stress: 300 milligrams as a starting dose, which can be increased as needed up to 1500 mg per day divided into two single doses.
This adaptogen for the treatment of adrenal fatigue takes some time to fully develop its effect, which means that you will not usually see quick results. However, scientific research showed that Bacopa Monnieri has a strong adaptogenic effect when taken over several weeks.
- Bacopa dosage for stress: 300 milligrams per day.
Licorice Root (licorice root)
This is not the same as licorice candy - real licorice is a powerful adaptogen known for its ability to relieve stress.
If the body is unable to consistently produce the stress hormone cortisol and activate the fight-or-flight response in response to stress, then one may consider using real licorice / licorice root. In both human studies and studies conducted with animals, licorice root enabled the body to produce more cortisol in response to stress, allowing stressful situations to be resolved more quickly (14, 15).
- Licorice root dosage for stress: Up to 3.5 grams per day (7.9% glycyrrhetinic acid).
- Licorice root should not be used for more than 12 weeks at a time.
Rhodiola Rosea may also prove helpful for stress. Rhodiola Rosea shows very strong abilities to reduce exhaustion associated with stress. In multiple clinical studies, Rhodiola Rosea helped stressed people to be more alert and to perform demanding mental tasks better (16, 17, 18).
- Rhodiola dosage for stress: 288-680 milligrams per day (more than 680 milligrams will probably be less effective, as the effect begins to diminish at too high dosages).
5. adaptogens for energy
Chronic exhaustion resulting from too much stress prevents many people from developing the mental performance they desire. Rhodiola Rosea increases the ability to concentrate and reduces feelings of burnout (19).
- Rhodiola dosage for energy: 50-680 milligrams per day (more than 680 mg per day will probably not be effective).
6. adaptogens for depression
Important note: Although some adaptogens have been shown to be helpful in depression, people suffering from depression should discuss the use of these products with their treating physician and in no case change an existing medication independently without consultation!
We have already mentioned that ashwagandha can be helpful for anxiety disorders and chronic stress, but in addition to this, it can also be used to treat people struggling with depression without having the side effects associated with pharmaceutical antidepressants.
The adaptogen ashwagandha may improve response to stress and, in turn, improve perceived quality of life (29).
- Ashwagandha dosage for depression: 300 milligrams per day.
Depression is very common among older people. Elderly people suffering from depression have a much higher tendency to commit suicide than younger depressed people. The adaptogen Bacopa monnieri was shown to be able to alleviate depression in elderly people suffering from dementia. The authors of the study also noted that during the 12-week treatment, anxiety disorders were alleviated and improvements in working memory and attention were observed (30).
- Bacopa dosage for depression: 300 milligrams per day.
Rhodiola Rosea showed potential to combat depression, insomnia, and emotional instability in studies (31).
- Rhodiola dosage for depression: 340 milligrams per day for mild depression and 680 milligrams per day for moderate depression.
7. adaptogens for endurance
Sometimes a substitute for coffee can be helpful, especially later in the day or for people who are sensitive to caffeine. In subjects suffering from fatigue, Panax ginseng was able to improve brain performance and focus (32).
- Panax ginseng dosage for endurance: 200 milligrams per day.
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study from 2015 examined the effects of ashwagandha on oxidative stress and endurance in healthy adult athletes. During a high-intensity twenty-minute workout, the subjects' total oxygen consumption was measured.
Here, the researchers observed that the endurance of the ashwagandha group greatly exceeded after both 8 and 12 weeks of treatment (33).
- Ashwagandha dosage for endurance: 600 milligrams per day (5% withanolide) divided into two single doses.
A promising study demonstrated that cordyceps could improve physical performance and wellness in healthy elderly subjects (34).
- Cordyceps dosage for endurance: 1000 milligrams per day divided into three individual doses.
Repeated administration of a Rhodiola Rosea extract elicits an anti-fatigue response. Rhodiola Rosea increased mental performance -especially the ability to concentrate- and reduced the levels of stress hormones in patients suffering from exhaustion (35). In one study, physicians taking Rhodiola to relieve fatigue showed a 20% increase in performance during the night shift (36).
- Rhodiola dosage for endurance: 500-700 milligrams per day divided into two single doses.
8. adaptogens for cognitive dysfunction.
Adaptogens could be the key to new treatments for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Cordyceps, for example, was able to reduce memory loss by supporting nerve growth in a 2013 study. This promoted the growth of neuron pathways essential for neuroplasticity, memory processing, and regeneration (37).
- Cordyceps dosage for cognitive dysfunction: 1000-3000 milligrams per day, divided into 2 to 3 individual doses.
As another adaptogen used to treat serious brain problems, bacopa can help store new information in the brain (38). Even a low dosage of 150 milligrams twice daily improved cognitive function and allowed for increased information processing and increased storage of that information in memory (39, 40).
Some people may experience unpleasant, albeit harmless, digestive side effects with Bacopa Monnieri, such as increased stool, stomach cramps, or nausea.
- Bacopa dosage for cognitive dysfunction: 150-300 milligrams per day.
When it comes to improving memory, Mucuna Pruriens might be helpful. The L-dopa contained in Mucuna can help us concentrate better on something and even learn better. It supports long-term memory when it comes to remembering new words (41, 42, 43).
- Mucuna dosage for cognitive dysfunction: 200-500 milligrams per day, divided into one to 5 individual doses.
Do you suffer from concentration problems due to fatigue and exhaustion? Rhodiola Rosea can combat this type of exhaustion and reduce burnout (35). This adaptogenic plant grows in cold mountainous regions. It is effective in dosages as low as 50 mg per day in reducing general fatigue, although dosages should not exceed 680 mg for a quick onset of action.
- Rhodiola dosage for cognitive dysfunction: 50-680 milligrams per day.
9. adaptogens for inflammation
Inflammation occurs when a part of the body becomes red, swollen, warm, and often painful, which often happens in response to injury or infection when immune function is compromised. Inflammation can result from trauma, disease, and even as a chronic consequence of lifestyle.
Ashwagandha, also known as the queen of adaptogens, can reduce inflammation by over 36% at a dosage of just 125 mg per day (44).
- Ashwagandha dosage for inflammation: 125 milligrams per day.
Inflammation can also result from intense exercise. Rhodiola shows anti-inflammatory effects and protects muscle tissue during exercise (45). This study was performed with healthy subjects before and after exhaustive training.
- Rhodiola dosage for inflammation: Effective dosages probably range from 50 to 680 milligrams per day.
10. adaptogens for sexual health
In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is used as a natural aphrodisiac to help reduce sexual dysfunction. It is also used to increase testosterone levels and enhance male fertility. Modern science has been able to confirm what has been known in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. In men, a 167% increase in sperm count, a 53% increase in semen volume, and a 57% increase in sperm motility have been observed (46).
However, corresponding effects have also been observed in women. In one study, 50 women took 300 milligrams of an ashwagandha root extract twice daily over a period of 8 weeks. The researchers observed significantly greater improvements in arousal, lubrication, and orgasm in the group that took ashwagandha (47).
- Ashwagandha dosage for sexual health: 300-675 milligrams divided into 2 to 3 individual doses.
Ocimum tenuiflorum is more than a niche in the sexual health spectrum. Indian basil can increase libido. It is an aphrodisiac and a supplement that increases testosterone levels.
However, the only drawback is that it has a potent ability to reduce male fertility. Some studies speculate that the high usolic acid content may be responsible for this. This means that Indian basil is not suitable for people who desire to have children (48, 49).
- Holy Basil dosage for sexual health: dosage varies from 1100 to 9100 milligrams divided into several single doses.
Men suffering from erectile dysfunction experience improved quality of their erections and overall increased sexual desire when using Panax ginseng. The recommended dosage is 1000 mg twice daily (50, 51, 52).
Women can take Korean red ginseng to increase their sexual arousal. This is especially helpful during the postmenopausal phase of life (53).
- Panax ginseng dosage for sexual health: 2000 milligrams per day divided into two single doses for men or 1000 milligrams per day for women.
Stress and infertility often go hand in hand. Stress from work or even from trying to get pregnant can often possess devastating effects on the effort to get pregnant.
It has been shown that Mucuna can not only improve sperm quality in infertile men, but also increase libido and reduce stress. Subjects took 5 grams of a Mucuna semen powder daily for a period of three months (54).
- Mucuna dosage for sexual health: 5 grams per day.
Everyone can benefit from this adaptogen, which is derived from a Peruvian root that grows in the Andes. Maca can support a healthy sex drive and increase fertility, which is prone to decline during periods of stress (55, 56). After menopause, many women turn to antidepressants, the side effects of which often include loss of sexual desire and reduced orgasms. One study concluded that maca root may reduce serotonin reuptake inhibitor-induced sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women (57, 58).
Many men and women have difficulties when it comes to having children. Here Maca can help both sexes. In men, it increases sperm count and motility, and in women, this adaptogen helps achieve a hormonal balance that regulates the menstrual cycle (59, 60).
For sexual problems ranging from antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction to mild erectile problems, maca may provide a natural way to increase libido and sexual desire (61).
- Maca dosage for sexual health: 1500-3000 milligrams per day divided into 2 to 3 individual doses.
11. adaptogens for a longer life
A study conducted with a patented and trademarked astragalus extract may prove to be groundbreaking. As a much more potent form than normal supplement extracts, a statistical and clinical possibility of telomere lengthening was shown when this extract was used.
What are telomeres? Well, our genes are made up of a string of DNA molecules called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are DNA branches called telomeres, whose job is to protect our genetic data.
Telomeres make it possible for cells to divide and determine how we age. There are even DNA tests that claim to be able to measure telomeres (62). Astragalus is the only natural substance that contains cycloastragenol - a molecule that can lengthen telomeres by a factor of 2 to 3 by activating production (63). By lengthening telomeres, one could basically delay cell death and slow down aging at the genetic level.
200 milligrams of cycloastragenol is equivalent to 50 kilos of astragalus, which means it is extremely expensive.
- Astragalus dosage for a longer life: Varies from product to product.
12. adaptogens for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a disorder that can affect thinking ability, sensation and behavior. There is no cure to date and this disorder can last a lifetime. In a study published in 2018, schizophrenia patients who had recently experienced worsening symptoms were administered ashwagandha. According to this, significant improvements in symptoms and a reduction in stressors were observed with minimal side effects. Ashwagandha was administered in combination with a standard schizophrenia treatment drug and improved the efficacy of that drug (64).
- Ashwagandha dosage for schizophrenia: 1000 milligrams per day divided into two single doses, as adjunctive treatment in combination with prescription antipsychotics.
13. adaptogens for oral health
Health organizations believe that oral health is a reflection of the health of the body. Many people do not realize the influence that oral health has on the rest of the body.
In a 2018 study, Indian basil was found to be effective in inhibiting Streptococcus bacteria. It was also active against Prevotella intermedia, which is often found in abscesses of the gums. Surprisingly, Indian basil even shows promise in combating Peptostreptococcus, a slow-growing bacterium with increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs.
The good news here is that unlike many drugs used to kill oral bacteria, Indian basil does not attack the healthy oral bacteria that are necessary for the health of the oral microbiome (66).
- Holy Basil Dosage for Oral Health: Dosages used vary.
14. adaptogens for the treatment of cancer?
Note of caution: even though recent studies tell us that we are getting closer to treating cancer naturally, these studies should not be taken as a recommendation to refuse or stop conventional treatments.
Many of the studies cited below show the potential of using adaptogens to support traditional drug treatments for cancer.
However, under no circumstances should independent changes be made to an existing cancer treatment without consulting the treating physician. For this reason, we refrain from making dosage recommendations in the following section.
Anti-tumor research shows that ashwagandha can help reduce tumors and prevent the growth of cancer cells. Ashwagandha can help inhibit the growth of breast cancer, stomach cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer.
Ashwagandha is believed to help prevent the growth of cancer cells primarily due to its immune function stimulating and antioxidant properties (20). A 2017 study found that this adaptogen can even help treat ovarian cancer. This effect is due to ashwagandha targeting a specific protein that causes ovarian cancer cells to grow faster (21).
Chaga has been shown to help increase immune function and suppress cancer growth by regulating the use of energy by degenerate cells, thereby lowering the temperature in tumors. This resulted in an amazing 60% shrinkage of tumors in a study conducted with animals (22). Several studies conducted with mice show that Chaga suppresses tumor growth in liver, lung, and breast cancer (23, 24, 25).
Breast cancer is more common in people with diabetes. Chaga - which is also known as Inonotus obliquus - appears to be a promising approach for the treatment of diabetes-related diseases such as breast cancer (26).
A 2005 study concluded that results suggest that an aqueous extract of Chaga has high potential as an adjuvant to boost the immune system during chemotherapy (27).
Studies in selected cancers show that reishi has the potential to reduce tumors and prevent cancer. Prostate cancer cells were sensitive to reishi, which resulted in a 45-55% reduction in cancer cells (28).
Precautions for the use of adaptogens
Although all adaptogens can cause minimal disturbances in physiological functions, some can also interact with medications. For this reason, use should always be discussed with your physician if you are taking medication. In addition, some adaptogens are not recommended for certain conditions. Use of licorice root in its natural form is only considered safe for a period of 6 to 12 weeks. In DGL licorice (degglycyrrhizinated licorice), the compound that can be harmful if taken for a prolonged period of time is removed, which means that this particular form can be taken on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, this type of processing also takes away licorice's stress-relieving properties.
Licorice root also acts as an androgen. Women who already produce excessive amounts of sex hormones should therefore opt for another adaptogen. Indian basil (Holy Basil) has strong sterilizing effects in humans. This should be taken into account when taking it, especially if you want to have children.
In this article, we have taken a look at the best adaptogens for daily life and for treating diseases.
Here is an overview of the best adaptogens for different applications:
- Training and weight loss: ashwagandha, ginseng and rhodiola rosea
- Thyroid: Ashwagandha
- Anxiety disorders: Ashwagandha and Holy Basil
- Stress relief: ashwagandha, bacopa monnieri, licorice root and rhodiola
- Energy: Rhodiola
- Cancer: Ashwagandha, Chaga and Reishi
- Depression: Ashwagandha, Bacopa and Rhodiola
- Endurance: Panax Ginseng, Cordyceps and Rhodiola
- Concentration problems: Cordyceps, Bacopa, Mucuna Pruriens and Rhodiola
- Inflammation: Ashwagandha and Rhodiola
- Sexual health: Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Panax Ginseng, Mucuna, and Maca Root.
- Longevity: Astragalus