Of all the latest wellness crazes, adaptogens are probably the trendiest. With a recent surge in popularity, these superfoods have certainly become stars of the wellness world, and for good reason. Adaptogens' benefits run the gamut, making them an ideal solution for, well, everyone.
"Adaptogens are powerful plant-based substances that work to modulate the stress response of the body," explains Carly Stein, founder of Beekeeper's Naturals. "They don’t focus on just one area — they help restore your body where you need the most support. If you ask me, adaptogens are like Mother Nature’s most high-tech smart herbs!" Adding to their versatility is the fact that adaptogens can be applied topically, as well as eaten. Another appealing angle? There seems to be an adaptogen (or combination thereof) for everyone and every issue.
That said, the world of adaptogens can be tricky to navigate if you're just stumbling onto the scene — but not for long. Ahead, health gurus weigh in on how to understand and utilize the medicinal herbs, roots, and fungi. From defining what they are to sharing tips for boosting their effectiveness, consider this your crash-course in the current health obsession.
Dr. NavNirat Nibber ND., a medical advisor and brand education manager for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, breaks down the basics. "An adaptogen is a centuries-old concept but a relatively new term that refers to substances (usually botanical plants and herbs) that support your adrenal function," she explains. "They are able to modulate your response to stress, meaning they can boost it up when sluggish, and they can calm you down when you are on hyper-alert."
These adaptive qualities, of course, are what the super plants are named for. "Adaptogens work to enhance homeostasis, the ability of the body to appropriately respond to changes in the environment in a way that maintains an ideal internal environment and balance," continues Dr. Nibber. "Not only do they work with stress, but because the adrenal glands communicate with other endocrine glands (thyroid, pituitary, and gonads), you get a systemic impact."
From there, the balance-boosters create a ripple effect throughout your body. "Chronic stress often rewires our endocrine function so our immune system, our sex hormones, our sleep patterns, our metabolism, and much more are thrown into chaos," says Dr. Nibber. "Adaptogens help realign and balance."
And in case you're wondering what these power players actually are, commonly used adaptogens include turmeric, ginseng, ginger, maca, tulsi (holy basil), rhodiola, chaga, reishi, and ashwagandha ... just to name a few.
Addressing Health Issues (And Doing It Effectively)
"It’s so important to be aware of how to take adaptogens," Stein points out. "For example, some compounds are fat soluble, which means you want to take them with a fat source to reap the full effects. Do your research and know how to improve the bioavailability of your supplements so you’re getting the most bang for your buck. But also remember that you don’t need to overdo it—adaptogens are powerful. A little goes a very long way."
While they all have the ability to adapt, some are especially good at supporting things like sex drive, brain clarity, cortisol levels, and immunity. REBBL, a company that formulates plant-based elixirs, shares the benefits of their go-to adaptogenic ingredients:
- Reishi: healthy immune system
- Maca: stamina and endurance
- Tumeric: joint health, digestive wellness
- L-Theanine (from matcha): calm focus, meditative energy
- Ashwaganda: strength and vitality
- Schizandra: heart and liver function
While their benefits are quite impressive, Stein makes sure to mention that these substances are not an instant miracle-cure. "I think adaptogens are highly effective, but I’ve noticed that people often give up on them too soon," she says. "Most adaptogens take time to build up in the body— [people] have the most powerful, noticeable response with continued use. In fact, you probably won’t notice much at all after just one use." She notes that in her experience, it takes six to 12 weeks for noticeable results, while Dr. Nibber says to give the supplements at least two. "As powerful as adaptogens are, they are very slow-acting," Stein concludes.
Adding Them Into Your Diet
Even health nuts admit that the roots, powders, and fungi don't always have the best taste, so to make them more palatable, many people mix them into smoothies or their morning coffee. "I find that the easiest way to add adaptogens into your diet is through drinks," suggests Stein. "I love to put them in my smoothies and tonics. I’ve been known to add dozens of different adaptogens at a time into my signature wellness tonics.I know some people are hesitant to use them since they tend to [taste] so strong and earthy, but you can barely taste them when they’re blended in with fruit and other yummy ingredients."
If you're a roots-and-herbs rookie, your best bet for a well-rounded (and palatable) experience may be to leave the mixology to the pros. Try easing into the craze with REBBL's adaptogen-infused drinks (pictured above), or try Beekeeper's Naturals B.LXR Brain Fuel, shots that are a "blend of brain herbs to support focus and combat brain fog, poor memory, and fatigue," according to Stein. (Hint: these are a great substitution if you're trying to kick caffeine.)
Of course, you can always opt for capsules if sipping supplements isn't your thing. Dr. Nibber recommends AOR Ortho-Adapt to help reduce stress and support the adrenal system, or AOR Mushroom Synergy to relieve stress while boosting the immune system.
Incorporating Them Into Your Beauty Routine
Unsurprisingly, these potent ingredients are touted for their beautifying benefits when applied topically, as well. Rooshy Roy and Nina Davaluri co-founded aavrani, a skincare line based on the adaptogen-infused beauty routines from their childhoods. "Growing up in a South Indian household, adaptogens are something that were a part of my daily life," recalls Davaluri. "Of course, I didn’t know they were 'adaptogens' back then, but simply just thought of them as common kitchen ingredients. South Asian women have always been known for their beautiful skin, and the fact that they’ve been leveraging the power of these natural ingredients for hundreds of years proves just how effective they truly are — even scientifically-manufactured formulas can’t beat the results!"
Roy remembers her mother mixing two adaptogenic ingredients to make a face mask. "In my prior life as a finance professional, the stress and anxiety often caused me to break out in ways I’d never previously experienced. Every time I’d visit home, my mother would carefully assess my face and come up with a solution using ingredients from the kitchen (officially known as 'adaptogens'). I remember turmeric and neem masks being the most effective; sometimes, she’d make the formula, dab it directly on my breakout points, and after just a few days, my acne would be calmed, the redness would vanish, and my scars would fade."
Thanks to adaptogens' newfound glory, you don't have to make your own skin products to reap these balancing benefits, yourself. (After all, "turmeric leaves a yellow stain on the skin, nails, and really just about everything it touches," says Roy). Try aavrani's highly rated Glow Activating Exfoliator Mask that mixes powerhouses turmeric and neem, as well honey.
You can also check out multitasking powders from brands like Four Sigmatic, Moon Juice, and cocokind. Whether you add these to your latte or mix them into a mask, you'll reap the benefits of these edible skincare products.