What are Adaptogens?

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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Adaptogens: ancient remedies for the modern world! It is no secret that the fast-paced and often stressful nature of modern life can take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. From the morning commute, work-related stress and making sure to eat healthily and exercise regularly, it can all be a little too much! To combat the effects this stress might have, many of us take vitamins and supplements or in some cases, even medication, but could there be another way?

Many people in the wellness-world are now exploring the benefits of using adaptogenic herbs as a possible solution to these stressors. These ancient remedies are finding new life in the emerging wellbeing market. If you want to stay up-to-date on the current fitness and wellbeing trends, including adaptogens, make sure to check out our latest articles or sign up to 8fit Pro.

What are adaptogens?

At this point you may be asking yourself what adaptogens are, and the answer is fairly simple: adaptogens are essentially herbal foods marketed as a natural way to prevent or combat stress and promote vitality. These roots and herbs make up adaptogens and have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurveda medicine as well as becoming increasingly popular in America and Europe these days.

The name adaptogen stems from their ability to assist the body in a non-specific way. This might sound a little strange, but these herbal remedies change the way they work by adapting their healing effect to whatever your body needs. It's all about re-aligning the body's balance and normalizing physiological function. When you become stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol as a response. Although this is very normal, extended periods of high cortisol levels in the body can negatively affect both the thyroid and adrenal glands. The use of these herbs can be both reactive and preventative, making them an attractive aid for general wellbeing.

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Adaptogenic herbs: a basic guide

There are plenty of adaptogenic herbs on the market, but how do you know which one is suitable for you, and how do you take them? Well, we have created a list of the most popular adaptogens with a description of what they are, what they're used for as well as what form they come in. Although these remedies are natural, always consult your doctor before using supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medicine or are pregnant..

Panax Ginseng

You may already be familiar with one of the most popular herbs on this list: ginseng. The common variety originates from Korea and South China and is widely considered to be the most precious medicinal herb in these regions. This marvelous root stems from plants in the panax genus and has been used across East Asia for thousands of years as an aid to general health. The word panax is the Greek for "all-healing," which indicates its regard as a wondrous herb. You can find Ginseng extract in many forms, including tablets, capsule, and oil. It's also delicious eaten raw, or made into a tea – perfect for relaxation. The benefits of using panax ginseng include:

  • Improves memory and mood: Ginseng may improve mental wellbeing, while this adaptogenic herb is also lauded for enhancing general mood as it is packed full of antioxidants.

  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Ginseng ha also been used to treat disorders brought on by stress -- it was also found to help block stress responses in the adrenal gland.

Holy Basil

Source: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

This type of basil is native to South East Asia and is incredibly different from the common herb we often use in cooking. Also known as ‘Tulsi’, holy basil has a strong history of use in the Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda. Celebrated in Hindu religious tradition, every part of this plant is considered to hold adaptogenic properties – from the leaf to the seed. Holy basil can be bought in pill or capsule form and used as a supplement. If you prefer to use fresh basil, you can crush the leaves and pour in hot water to turn these adaptogenic herbs into tea. Although more research is needed, initial analysis shows that holy basil might contain properties that:

  • Reduce stress levels: Holy basil contains phytochemical compounds which have notable anti-stress functions

  • Improves and protect memory: Shown to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, which in turn suppresses acetylcholine – supporting learning and committing information to memory.

  • Promote vitality: Contains a high level of antioxidants, which can protect the structure of cells against free radicals that play a role in heart disease and cancer.


This incredible herb is found across India, Africa, and the Middle-East and originates from the root of the Withania Somnifera plant. This adaptogenic herb is celebrated in Ayurvedic medicine and has achieved the status of ‘Rasayana’, which means a substance that is believed to improve both physical and mental health. In the United States, you can buy ashwagandha as a dietary supplement in either powdered root form or leaf/root extract. This popular herbal remedy is known to:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety: A study found a significant drop in cortisol levels with the use of ashwagandha compared with a placebo group. The conclusion suggests an improvement in the resistance of stress in individuals.

  • Decrease inflammation: has been shown to decrease the markers of inflammation including the C-reactive protein. These markers can potentially increase the risk of heart disease.

  • Combat Symptoms of Depression: has the ability to help stabilize moods, making it a potentially very effective natural anti-depressant.

Adaptogenic mushrooms: functional fungi

This specific field of adaptogenic products might be one of the most exciting developments in the world of health-focused foods. There has been extensive research into the benefits of mushrooms as a superfood, and it turns out those fantastic fungi are considerably good for your health as well as being incredibly delicious! There are many different kinds of adaptogenic mushrooms, with multiple uses for holistic medicine.

Chaga mushrooms:

You can find this mushroom in the colder climates of Northern Europe, Russia, and Canada, usually growing on the bark of a birch tree. These dark and not especially attractive fungi may not be immediately appealing, but research suggests that these incredible adaptogenic mushrooms have some truly beneficial health properties. For a start, they are loaded with antioxidants, protecting the body from free radicals that can cause disease.

Chaga mushrooms have also been credited with boosting the immune system. They do this by increasing the synthesis of specific immune cells, that can improve your body's ability to fight off viruses and assist in the regulation of the immune system. If you fancy giving yourself a little lift, many health shops sell Chaga tea and coffee – a healthy alternative to keep you going in the morning!


Make this mushroom the star of your pre-workout regime. Cordyceps increase the level at which your cells absorb oxygen, making them fantastic for anyone looking for some edge in their fitness training. This magical 'shroom does this by supporting your adrenal gland, in turn assisting in the production of a consistent level of energy. Held in the esteemed company of both cacao and maca, they are also used to fight fatigue and muscle weakness.

There is evidence to suggest that cordyceps can also improve the immune function of the body. They contain many anti-inflammatory compounds such as polysaccharides, which can help to optimize the effectiveness of respiratory, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems.

It's all about balance

The high-speed nature of modern life can sometimes feel chaotic, and the ability to balance your work-life schedule around eating healthily as well as staying fit is a daunting task. It's no wonder then that we are all searching for ways to help manage these aspects of our lives -- Including adaptogenic products into our diet may be one way. From their ability to fight chronic stress to their naturally high antioxidant levels, these superfoods could be the century-old key to unlocking balance. Each change you make, no matter how small can have lasting positive effects on your mental and physical wellbeing. You can learn to build a lifestyle regime around healthy habits by signing up to the 8fit app today. 

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