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September 10, 2021


Erica Digap, BS, CN
What Are Adaptogens?

Fact Checked By Erica Digap, BS, CN
 September 10, 2021


Chronic stress and brain fog might feel like inevitable modern-day problems born from desk jobs and bumper-to-bumper traffic, but a possible solution could come from a surprising source: ancient medicinal practices.

Adaptogens and adaptogenic supplements are becoming increasingly popular for coping with all the external stress and stimuli that we face on a day-to-day basis.

These nutraceutical herbs have been used for thousands of years to help bodies heal from the damaging effects of stress.

Now, modern-day research and science are confirming what herbalists have known for a long time: certain adaptogenic herbs can have positive and protective effects on the body when ingested.

Even more excitingly, they’re proving to be especially valuable for their nootropic effects - or in other words, for their abilities to improve your memory, focus, and cognitive processing!

Here’s how these ancient herbs can help protect your body and give you a burst of brainpower in the process.


Adaptogens: What Are They, Anyway?

Adaptogens refer to a group of functional medicinal herbs that are thought to help your body cope with chronic stress and all of the various health issues that can stem from it.

The term “adaptogens” was first coined in the 1940s by N.V. Lazarev, a Russian toxicologist who studied these herbal pharmaceuticals (1).

But the use of adaptogens actually goes back much further, with uses in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

There are a variety of herbs and mushrooms that can fall into this category.

They may all work in different ways, but no matter which adaptogenic herb you choose, they all assist your body in managing stress.

So why is this so important?

Your body and your mind are probably both subject to stress, both physical and mental, on a regular basis.

Pressures like deadlines, finances, and obligations to your family and friends are all common culprits.

Even working out, as good as it is for your health and fitness, introduces a certain amount of stress to your system!

Unfortunately, chronic stress doesn’t always just stay in your head. It can become a major problem for your wellness if left unchecked.

All that pressure is hard on your body and has been linked to symptoms like digestive issues and body aches (2).

What’s more, it can also go on to affect your mental state and has been associated with low energy, mood disorders like depression, and difficulty concentrating.

So this is where adaptogens come into play. They work by helping your body adapt to the everyday stressors that can cause your body harm (3).

They help you maintain homeostasis, or balance, in the face of those stressful states, so that you can resist stress and its side effects for longer.

They’re also non-toxic, so are generally safe for most people to take.

Using Adaptogens As Nootropics

So how exactly do these stress-relieving herbs translate into nootropic “smart drugs” that improve your mental clarity and function?

The answer: it all comes down to your hormones.

When you experience high levels of stress (as is the case with many of us in this highly competitive world), your hormones start to become affected.

Specifically, you might start to see an increase in your levels of cortisol, otherwise known as your “stress hormone.”

Your adrenal glands, which are responsible for hormone release, will generally release more cortisol as a response to all that stressful stimuli.

Unsurprisingly, one of the systems in your body that is most affected by chronic stress is your brain.

When you are under constant stress and elevated cortisol levels, you might experience mental states like fatigue, depression, or anxiety (4).

Your memory and concentration could also feel the effects, contributing to that dreaded “brain fog” that stops you from being productive and focused during the day.

Introducing adaptogenic herbs is a proven way to combat those frustrating side effects.

They work directly on your adrenal gland to curb excess hormone production when you’re under intense or prolonged pressure (5).

This hormonal adjustment could then indirectly translate into better mental clarity, improved mood, and heightened energy!

Popular Adaptogenic Herbs And How To Use Them

Because they are natural herbs and mushrooms, there are several ways that you can start implementing adaptogenic herbs into your life to give your brain function a boost.

For example, you can brew some in a tea, or cook them and add them to your dinner plate.

You can even find some adaptogens in powders and supplement forms like this Organic Ashwagandha supplement from Clinical Effects (6).

Some popular adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms you might start adding to your diet and supplement routine include:

  • Ginseng: Ginseng is a popular therapeutic herb that has been proven to be effective for improving learning and memory. It’s even being used in research for protecting against neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease (7)!
  • Ashwagandha: This popular herb has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and for good reason. Research has shown that it can reduce cortisol levels, promote better cognition, and act as an anti-inflammatory (8).
  • Lion’s Mane: The Lion’s Mane mushroom has a ton of potential health benefits. It can reduce damaging inflammation, protect against oxidative stress, and has been used to treat cognitive impairment. It’s even thought to help prevent diseases like diabetes and cancer (9).
  • Cordyceps: The cordyceps fungus is a highly bioactive adaptogen with both therapeutic and nutraceutical effects. In addition to its nootropic benefits, cordyceps has also been used to promote heart health, fight off cancers, reduce osteoporosis and arthritis, and slow down the effects of aging - to name a few (10)!
  • Rhodiola rosea: This adaptogenic herb is especially popular among athletes because it can boost both cognitive and physical performance (11).
  • Holy basil: Sometimes referred to as the “king of herbs,” holy basil can reduce stress and protect your brain. One study found that participants who consumed Holy Basil in a trial showed faster reaction times and reduced error rate as compared to the placebo group (12).

    As you can see, the benefits of many adaptogenic herbs go far beyond their nootropic effects.

    So one of the best parts about adding adaptogens into your diet is that they can support your overall health as well as your brain function!

    If you’re looking for a solution to brain fog and chronic stress, or are simply looking for a way to protect your body from harm, these ancient herbs are definitely worth a try.