Adaptogens: What are they, how to use them, and if you need them (spoiler alert: yes)

You may have heard this buzzword being tossed around in the wellness world recently. You may also have seen friends on Instagram adding adaptogen powders to their smoothies, and excitedly proclaiming their amazing health benefits. You’re probably even asking yourself “do I REALLY need another powder to add to my morning smoothie?!” As an acupuncturist and herbalist, and founder of adaptogen line Maikana Herbs, I am so excited to share my love of adaptogens with you!

In short, adpatogens are a special class of herbs that help us adapt to stress and build a reserve to help the body become better prepared to deal with future stress.

Let’s face it, we are ALL stressed out. There is the psycho-emotional stress that we typically think of when we hear the word, but we are also constantly being exposed to biological, chemical, environmental, nutritional and physical stress. And yes, our bodies are designed to withstand a certain amount of stress, but not THIS much. The levels of stress that American adults are experiencing is higher than ever and is leading to a crisis of chronic illness and disease. Our bodies just can’t take it.

Some examples of these stressors in our daily lives:
- Biological: Bacteria and viruses, super bugs, Lyme’s Disease
- Chemical: Toxins, perfumes, pesticides, xenoestrogens
- Environmental allergens, noise pollution, electromagnetic waves
- Nutritional: Mineral depleted soil, refined and processed foods
- Physical: Injuries, strenuous activities, hypertension, drug and alcohol use, sleep deprivation
- Psycho-emotional: Work & responsibility pressure, social media, grief, fear

Did that list stress you out? Don’t worry, adaptogens can help ;)

So what are they?

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help us adapt to stress. The term “adaptogen” was coined in the 1940s by Russian scientist Nicolai Lazerev who was tasked with studying compounds to increase performance of Russian athletes and military personnel. He began studying traditionally used herbs such as ginseng, and found that their effects had profound impact on the human body without causing unwanted side effects that chemicals had.

To be considered an adaptogen, an herb must meet the following three requirements:
1. Completely non-toxic 
2. Produce a non-specific response that increases resistance to a broad spectrum of stressors (basically, it doesn’t matter what the cause of stress is) 
3. Have a normalizing effect on the body, regardless of the direction of change caused by the stressor (meaning they act like a thermostat, increasing temperature when it’s cold and decreasing it when it’s hot — or in this case, will help support an underactive immune system or one stuck in overdirve, common in auto-immune conditions)

You can think of these herbs as having the ability to tone and strengthen our body, helping us become more resilient. But they are not a magic bullet, and adaptogens should never be used to replace other important de-stressing tools like yoga, exercise and meditation.

There are about 15 herbs that are generally agreed to be adaptogens by most herbalists, but many more that are being researched. Some of the more popular adaptogens include: ashwaghanda, astragalus, reishi mushroom, schisandra berry, Panax ginseng, American gingseng, rhodiola and moringa. 
All adaptogens work to regulate stress, but some have a more calming effect than others. Ashwaghanda is great for soothing anxiety, while rhodiola can help settle anxiety while also improving mental focus. Reishi is amazing for the immune system but can also help calm the mind and promote restful sleep. I encourage mixing and matching, which is why I created Maikana Herbs adaptogen blends with my partner Jamieson Van Loan. As a board certified Chinese Herbalist, I follow the principals of Chinese herbal formulation in which we rarely use one herb alone. Instead, we create formulas that are balanced with herbs that compliment and support each other. 

How should I use them? 

Adaptogens work best when taken over an extended period of time. Consider starting with a few of your favorite adaptogens, or a well balanced blend or blends (like ours at Maikana Herbs) and take daily for at least 6 weeks. Most people do start to notice the effects after a few doses.

Be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medications, as some adaptogens can enhance or diminish the effect of pharmaceuticals.

Make sure your adaptogens (or any herbal products) are safely sourced. 

Stop taking if you have any adverse effects.

Here’s one of my favorite recipes. I LOVE the way I feel during workouts when I have an energizing adaptogen and protein smoothie beforehand.


Blend, enjoy, and revel in your improved stamina and speed! ;)