AllHerbal HighlightsNaturopathic Medicine

Adapting with Adaptogens

Adaptogens are herbs that buffer the body’s physical, mental and emotional response to stress. They work predominantly via the endocrine system and provide support to our adrenal glands. These glands sit above our kidneys and release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in response to stressors on  the body, in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Today, in our fast paced society we take on a lot of stress in our daily lives, so in order to compensate our adrenal glands are consistently pumping out cortisol. With chronic stimulation eventually our adrenal glands cannot function optimally and become fatigued, or overworked.

Adaptogens are specific herbs that work by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands and the improving the body’s ability to cope with stress. They adapt their function according to the body’s specific needs, which is a unique characteristic of these herbs. For example, if you’re fatigued adaptogens can help increase energy levels, and if you’re experiencing anxiety adaptogens can help calm you down. Some conditions that adaptogens may be beneficial for include:

  • Stress – physical, mental or emotional
  • Fatigue
  • Poor immune function
  • Anxiety
  • High cholesterol
  • Abnormal blood pressure (high or low)
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Digestive issues
  • Poor physical or mental performance

The symptoms an individual experiences can help determine the adaptogens that would be best suited for that person. Some adaptogens are stimulating, while others are more calming. Some are better for modulating the immune system and others are better tailored for buffering stress. Below are a few examples of adaptogens and what conditions they are best indicated for:

  • Panax ginseng (Korean Red Ginseng) – A very strong and stimulating adaptogen that is used to uplift and stimulate, improve mental function and stamina. Often used in slow, heavy, lethargic or depressed presentations. In some people this herb would increase focus and energy, but in others it may be too strong and leave them feeling agitated and interfere with their ability to sleep (somewhat like coffee).
  • Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola) – Uplifting, especially in chronic stress of the body and mind. Can improve physical and mental performance when used acutely. May be beneficial for stress, anxiety, fatigue or depression. Again, in some people it may be too stimulating.
  • Smilax officinalis (Sarsaparilla) – Used for libido and vitality, strength and courage. Can also be used as an alterative (a blood cleanser that facilitates the removal of waste products and toxins)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice) – Balancing for hypotension, dizziness or fainting. Can be somewhat stimulating for some people. Works well on the adrenal glands, affecting cortisol.
  • Panaz quinquefolius (North American Ginseng) – helps modulate the respiratory and immune system. Can be used for colds, flus and in immune compromised individuals.
  • Codonopsis pilosula (Codonopsis) – useful in facilitating digestion and absorption of food, boosting the immune system and in respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • Astragalus membranaceous (Astragalus) – beneficial for stress, boosting the immune system and may mildly benefit the cardiovascular system in conditions such as angina and hypertension.
  • Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) – uplifting, calming, balancing. A very popular adaptogen. Can be used for insomnia, anxiety or conditions where a sedative effect is beneficial.
  • Schizandra chinensis (Schizandra) – balancing, nourishing, uplifting especially for females. Can be used for stress, chronic fatigue, insomnia or anxiety.

There are many more adaptogens that all have their unique properties and benefits. If you are interested in the effects of adaptogens and if they may be beneficial for you, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor who will be able to create a formula that is specific for your needs.

** This information is for educational purposes only. Do not change anything about your daily routine before seeking advice from a licensed healthcare practitioner**



  • NDAssist
  • Pickrell, C. Advanced Botanical Prescribing, 2016.
  • Botanical Medicine 202 Course Notes
  • Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity.” Pharmaceuticals. Swedish Herbal Institute, Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

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