With so many buzzworthy wellness products on the market, it's easy to feel inundated — or tempted just to get them all. But just because something is available over-the-counter doesn't mean it's harmless. In fact, just as some alternative medicines have their benefits, there are likely also a few that are either not suited to your needs — or worse yet — may even cause harm. And that's why it's important to do your research (which includes speaking to a doctor in some cases). For example, when asking yourself what's the best adaptogen for you, getting the scoop from those in the know can prove to be invaluable.
First things first: What exactly are adaptogens? "Adaptogens are natural plant-based remedies that help the body resist stress," states Dr. William W. Li, internationally renowned physician, scientist and author of bestselling book Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. "The wellness and traditional medicine practitioners to help maintain or restore health mostly use them, and some are used to treat diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer." Other purported benefits for some adaptogens include better sleep and more energy.
Secondly, are they safe to take? While Dr. Li says that for most people they are, he's also quick to point out that there's still a lot to be learned about the topic. "There is growing medical research on adaptogens, but compared to pharmaceuticals or even dietary supplements, there is relatively [little] human data on how effective they are in preventing or addressing disease," he says. "Most adaptogen research has been performed in the laboratory in cells and animals, and caution is required when interpreting the data from these studies to humans." His go-to philosophy on the topic? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That said, what can they do for you? Well, according to some other health experts, a variety of things. Ahead, find a list of some of the most popular adaptogens, as well as what they could be potentially used for. And if you're still not sure, it never hurts to consult your physician before you buy.
"Known as one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, ashwagandha has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, including supporting occasional stress and addressing symptoms of fatigue," shares Tero Isokauppila, founder of wellness brand Four Sigmatic. "I use ashwagandha to restore my body at the end of the day." That said, if you think the herb is something you could benefit from at the beginning of your day, you might consider trying this coffee blend, which includes the adaptogen.
Anxiety Buster: Holy Basil
While Jamie Bacharach, a practitioner of Chinese medicine and acupuncture/acupressure at Acupuncture Jerusalem, suggests that holy basil has traditionally been used to treat a variety of illnesses including bronchitis, malaria, eye infections, and upset stomach, its most common use today is for relief of stress and anxiety. "Holy basil's leaves [can be] brewed in a sort of tea and ingested in order to treat stress and anxiety, as well as sexual performance problems," she says. You can also find it readily available in capsule form.
Glowing Skin: Chaga
Want to feel radiant from the inside out? This so-called king of mushrooms might be one to try. "Loaded with antioxidant properties, my ancestors in Scandinavia have been using chaga for many, many years as an adaptogenic tonic," says Isokauppila. "It supports your immune system and helps your skin to glow."
"The root of rhodiola is a popular adaptogen used for a variety of purposes, but it is most commonly taken to combat fatigue, stress, and depression," shares Bacharach. "A more generalized adaptogen, [it] can be used as a sort of multi-purpose substance or 'pick me up' due to its varied and widely applicable benefits." You can find rhodiola as the star ingredient of natural energy boosters like this one by Well Told.
Hormonal Balance, Immunity & Cognitive Benefits: Ginseng
The first thing to know about ginseng is that there are a few different kinds, including Asian, Siberian, and American. And as Bacharach explains, each offers different health benefits. "Asian ginseng has been known to combat hormonal imbalance, Siberian ginseng helps boost immunity, and American ginseng is turned to in order to boost cognitive functioning," she explains. And Isokauppila adds that to get maximum benefits of Siberian ginseng, otherwise known as eleuthero, he likes to pair the adaptogen with chaga.
Better Sleep: Reishi
"If you’re new to adaptogens, I recommend starting with the queen of mushrooms, reishi," offers Isokauppila. "Used for centuries in traditional Chinese Medicine, reishi helps your body adapt to occasional stress and supports sleep. I often recommend reishi right before bed instead of a nightcap." His brand makes this easy and enjoyable by offering perfect bedtime product, a low sugar hot cocoa mix that's perfect to wind down with.
Libido Booster: Maca
In need of a boost in your libido or fertility? Bacharach suggests turning to this Peruvian root. "Generally speaking, if your trouble is in the bedroom, maca is your go-to adaptogen," she explains.