Adaptogens 101

The word Adaptogen was coined by Russians probably in the mid-1900s when they were researching plants to increase efficiency in their athletes, soldiers, and scientists.

However, the plants themselves have been around and have been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years.


Any natural herbal substance (such as ginseng) that is supposed to help the body adapt to stress, and to exert a normalizing effect upon body functions (Wikipedia)

In ordinary language, Adaptogens are the Thermostat or rather Stress-o-stat for the human body.  They help lower stress when there are external or internal stressors available and help fight fatigue when we need that extra jolt of energy.

Whaaat, how?

Our bodies are designed to be in a dynamic equilibrium in which our body works normally and in balance at the cellular level.  This equilibrium or balance is called homeostasis.

When our body is under stress (due to injury, disease, over-work, breakups, lack of sleep or poor diet), hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is what tries to bring it back to an equilibrium or homeostasis. It does so by signaling Adrenal glands to secret Cortisol.  Cortisol helps fight stress, but when produced in excess ages your endocrine and immune systems and negatively affects the brain, sex drive, menstrual and reproductive health, and skin elasticity.  Which is also commonly known as Adrenal Fatigue.

Adaptogens regulate our stress by stimulating Hsp70 and Hsp72 protein formation. Hsp70 and Hsp72 help to mediate stress response by interacting with the stress-activated enzyme c-Jun N-Terminal protein kinase, or JNK for short. This interaction lowers cortisol and increases concentration, endurance, and performance, especially during times of exhaustion.

JNK plays a role in everything from gene expression, to cell death, to energy production. When left unchecked – like when we’re overly stressed, JNK signaling has been linked to neurodegeneration, chronic inflammation, and cancer. Additionally, JNK decreases the production of energy-providing molecules which causes proteins not to function correctly at the cellular level which makes us feel tired. (Feel free to geek out here )

Examples of Adaptogens


Ashwagandha has been used in eastern cultures for many centuries to fight fatigue and increase vitality.  However, western science recently discovered it and started studying its benefits. 

It helps modulate hormone balances, including thyroid hormone, estrogen, and progesterone, making it beneficial for women moving into menopause. The root also reduces cortisol levels, restores insulin sensitivity and helps to stabilize mood.  In men, Ashwagandha can help boost testosterone levels. While some adaptogens are stimulants in disguise, this is not the case with Ashwagandha. It can give your morning exercise routine a boost, and when taken prior to bed it can help you get a good night’s sleep as well. 

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties. (Source)


The perennial plant Rhodiola Rosea, sometimes called”golden root,” “roseroot” or “arctic root,” is another powerful adaptogen known to enhance vitality by helping your body maintain homeostasis and adapt to physical, chemical and environmental stress. This plant has a long history of use in traditional folk medicine in Russia and Scandinavian countries.

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian ginseng is not true ginseng and does not contain ginsenosides. Its active components are called eleutherosides, which are thought to stimulate your immune system. However, Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen that’s traditionally been used to increase energy, stimulate the immune system and increase longevity.

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