Stress is well understood as a significant contributor to chronic disease, including cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, cancer, mental health, and neurodegenerative illness like dementia. In a world where stress is a constant companion, finding effective and natural solutions to combat its impact is crucial.

In an ideal world, we would sidestep stress entirely. However, since a life of uninterrupted relaxation isn’t the reality for most of us, stress is often inevitable making effective stress management strategies essential. These strategies include a variety of practices like meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, therapy, and both somatic and mind-body approaches, among others.

Allow me to introduce you to another solution that lies in the power of a class of herbs referred to as adaptogens. But what are they exactly and how can we maximize their potential to help us achieve stress resilience?


What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs or plants that are known to enhance the body’s ability to resist stress. They work by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the immune-neuro-endocrine system, which are the body’s primary stress response systems.

According to the FDA, the term adaptogen is considered a functional term used to describe a kind of metabolic regulator that can help our system adapt to environmental changes – these adaptations allow us to “go with the flow” and prevent burn out or illness that often comes with chronic stress.

The primary criteria for a plant to be considered an adaptogen are:

  1. It must be plant-derived, non-toxic at normal doses, and must not cause side effects such as insomnia, muscle wasting, or other metabolic irregularities
  2. Natural bioregulators that increase the ability to adapt environmental factors and thereby reducing the harm caused by prolonged stressed states – including fatigue, infection, and depression
  3. It should help the body return to a state of homeostasis (balance) regardless of how the body has changed in response to stress.

For centuries, adaptogens have been a cornerstone in traditional medicine practices, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), indigenous herbal practices, and Ayurveda. Their popularity is on the rise in the realm of integrative medicine, bolstered by an expanding body of research that underscores their health benefits.


Stress Resilience and Adaptogens

Adaptogens play a pivotal role in fostering stress resilience. They help in harmonizing the body’s physiological systems to help the body cope with external stressors more effectively.

At a cellular level, adaptogens enhance the body’s ability to efficiently use resources like oxygen, glucose, fats, and proteins to supply enough energy to ensure the body maintains optimal function, especially under stress when resources are limited.

The extensive benefits of adaptogens are evident as they have been proven to support health both directly and indirectly to improve:

Some examples of adaptogenic herbs include Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) – not to be confused with  Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis), and the fan-favorite Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).


The Magic of Ashwagandha

Among the wide array of adaptogens, Ashwagandha is particularly noteworthy. The roots of this modest shrub, also known as winter cherry, have been revered in Ayurvedic medicine for their broad-spectrum properties for many generations. Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen known to:

  • Lower cortisol levels
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Support sleep quality
  • Improve metabolic health and blood sugar
  • Reduce inflammation

Studies have shown that Ashwagandha can significantly reduce cortisol serum levels in chronically stressed adults. This effect has been shown to have a cascade of benefits on hormone and metabolic health. Furthermore, it has been found to improve mental health – both depression and anxiety – as well as improve sleep quality. In one study, subjects reported over 70% improvement in sleep quality after taking Ashwagandha for six weeks.

Example of the versatility of adaptogens like ashwagandha on various health conditions

Example of the versatility of adaptogens like ashwagandha on various health conditions adapted from Am J Mens Health. 2019;13(2).   


The Power of Adaptogenic Mushrooms

One particularly interesting group of adaptogens is adaptogenic mushrooms. These fungi are known to support various bodily functions, including the immunity, the nervous system, hormonal balance, and cognitive function. Moreover, they have been recognized for their potential to improve mood, fight fatigue, and even exhibit anti-tumor properties.

Some well-known adaptogenic mushrooms are Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane. These can be consumed in various forms, whether individually or in blends, and are available as capsules, teas, or even incorporated into soups.


5 Adaptogens for Burnout & Stress Resilience (my top picks!)

  1. Ashwagandha: Jack of all trades – this adaptogen is well-known for reducing cortisol levels, anxiety, and inflammation, and supporting sleep. Whether you’re “wired” or “tired,” ashwagandha is a truly versatile choice for almost anyone looking for an adaptogen.
  2. Holy Basil (or Tulsi): Another multi-talented herb, is probably best known for improving stress response to both physiological, psychological, and environmental stressors while also improving brain function. Similar to ashwagandha, Holy basil can also improve blood sugar and cholesterol balance, reduce inflammation and pain, and possess antimicrobial properties. All together, these properties make it another great choice for
  3. Asian Ginseng: Used for centuries to combat fatigue and reduce the response to stress, Asian ginseng (not to be confused with Siberian ginseng) is a good choice for those experiencing fatigue or exhaustion.
  4. Rhodiola: Known for reducing fatigue, depression, and brain fog. It can also help improve exercise endurance and insulin resistance often associated with burnout.
  5. Cordyceps: Traditionally used to boost energy, support low libido, enhance kidney and lung function, and enhance the immune system – it’s also been shown to be beneficial for anxiety.


Find my Nutraceutical Picks Here


A quick note for those with an autoimmune disease: Although generally considered safe, those with autoimmune conditions should use adaptogens with caution. In some cases, adaptogens have been shown to stimulate or over-activate the immune system leading to symptoms emerging.


Key Takeaways

Adaptogens, long appreciated by traditional medicine for their unique mechanisms, are increasingly recognized in the literature for their role in stress management and for contributing to vitality. Although they should not replace a foundational healthy lifestyle or a stress management routine, adaptogens can be a powerful strategy in our longevity toolkit.

Achieving stress resilience is a gradual process, and adaptogens can serve as a valuable ally on this path. As with any supplement, it’s important to seek guidance from a healthcare provider before starting a new routine. If you’re in search of support and personalized guidance, consider a Medicine Cabinet Overhaul consultation.


Book a Medicine Cabinet Overhaul here



  1. Salleh MR. Life event, stress and illness. Malays J Med Sci. 2008;15(4):9-18.
  2. Liao LY, He YF, Li L, et al. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med. 2018;13:57. Published 2018 Nov 16. doi:10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9.
  3. Chugh RM, Mittal P, Mp N, et al. Fungal Mushrooms: A Natural Compound With Therapeutic Applications. Front Pharmacol. 2022;13:925387. Published 2022 Jul 13. doi:10.3389/fphar.2022.925387.
  4. Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, Langade D. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. 2019;11(12):e6466. Published 2019 Dec 25. doi:10.7759/cureus.6466.
  5. Mikulska P, Malinowska M, Ignacyk M, et al. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)-Current Research on the Health-Promoting Activities: A Narrative Review. Pharmaceutics. 2023;15(4):1057. Published 2023 Mar 24. doi:10.3390/pharmaceutics15041057.
  6. Todorova V, Ivanov K, Delattre C, Nalbantova V, Karcheva-Bahchevanska D, Ivanova S. Plant Adaptogens-History and Future Perspectives. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2861. Published 2021 Aug 20. doi:10.3390/nu13082861.
  7. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Smith SJ. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha ( Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males. Am J Mens Health. 2019;13(2):1557988319835985. doi:10.1177/1557988319835985.