(Best adaptogens and how they work)

Consciously or unconsciously, most probably your body is already familiar with adaptogens, whether it was in your grandma’s homemade soup or in a food supplement from a wellness store. What are they, why everyone is talking about them and when you might need them? Let’s make the air clear.

Adaptogens are reserve troops that help strengthen your body's external defences: they include biologically active substances of artificial or natural origin (most often plants and mushrooms), which have a tonic effect on the body and increase its ability to tolerate stress. To put it simply, adaptogens increase the adaptive capabilities of your organism. When you complain about constant colds and fatigue, and your friends advise you to get some supplements, they are talking about adaptogens, perhaps without even knowing it.

The main goal of adaptogens is to return your body to a state of balance. Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating the pituitary and adrenal glands – body parts involved in the stress response. When facing stress in a broad sense (from heavy lifting to fear or extreme cold), our organism goes through three phases - anxiety, resistance and depletion. In the resistance phase, the production of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, activates muscles and improves concentration. In the depletion phase, there is a drop-down in the flight or fight response. Many adaptogens prolong the resistance phase through neuroprotective, antidepressant or anti-fatigue effects.

We have compiled a list of 5 famous adaptogens to showcase their unique bioactive capabilities.


Once a gibberish word, ashwagandha is now a well-known remedy for maladies of the 21st century: stress, anxiety, and insomnia. A staple not just in nutritionists' wellness cabinets but now also a classic among corporate sharks. Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha is a small shrub abundant in Asia. It may look like Mandrake root (Harry Potter geek alert!) but instead of screaming, it helps your body tolerate unnecessary stress mediators, such as heat shock proteins, protein kinases e.g. JNK-1 and the notorious cortisol.


A Queen of Medicinal Mushrooms, the Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) also known as Ling Zhi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, has many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, hypoglycaemic and anti-cancerous activities. Apart from its ability to strengthen the defence systems of the organism, Reishi also can decrease levels of 5-reductase - an enzyme, which converts testosterone into the more potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Thus, bioactive compounds of Reishi might benefit people with hormonal disbalances, polycystic ovarian syndrome or acne, where elevated levels 5-reductase and androgens are one of the root causes of the disease.


The "King of Mushrooms'' was recognised as a medical treatment in Russia and Scandinavia for centuries before it became popularised in Europe, US and Canada in modern days. Scientific studies demonstrated that bioactive compounds found in Chaga, such as polysaccharides, melanin complexes, and triterpenoids, provide protective antioxidant, anti-diabetic and antimicrobial effects. Chaga is also shown to increase the level of anti-inflammatory biomarkers, which reduce inflammation in the body.


Aside from its culinary purposes in Peruvian cuisine, the  root of the Maca plant has some great health benefits. Studies showed that 1.5-3 grams of grounded Maca root per day can increase libido in men compared to a placebo. In case you have a spectacular sexual life as it is (share your tips in the comments below btw!) Maca root is also rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and calcium – all necessary to shield from external stressors. Additionally, some studies showed that maca root can help balance hormones, in particular among menopausal women.


Licorice tea is known to be a potent remedy for an upset stomach and some studies show that a high number of flavonoids in licorice ensure its valuable antiviral and antibacterial properties, thus acting as a stress shield. Licorice also affects the endocrine system as it contains isoflavones - plant-derived compounds that mimic the activity of estrogen. In such a way, licorice may improve hormone balance in menopausal women. Another small clinical trial showed that licorice root can significantly decrease testosterone levels in women, thus balancing the hormones in those suffering from PCOS.

Studies of past decades and data showing the wide use of adaptogens in B.C. gives us an idea of the natural power behind adaptogens. New research is looking at how adaptogens may help treat chronic diseases, such as diabetes, PCOS or Alzheimer’s.

P.S. Please remember that although adaptogens might sound like a ‘magic pill’, these are still supplement agents. They work well in combination with a  general healthy regimen: proper nutrition, sleep and physical activity. Like with any food supplements, always consult with your GP, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or under medical supervision.



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