Are Adaptogens Real, and Do they Actually Work?

Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and we’d be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of this quote than adaptogens.

Adaptogens, you may have guessed from their name, help the body adapt--mostly to stress, but also to fatigue. They are a unique class of healing plants and herbs with revitalizing, restorative, and even healing properties. We’ll get to answering the question, “Are adaptogens real?” a little later, but for now let’s establish what they actually are.

The term was first coined by a Russian scientist named Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in 1947, and then a couple decades later in 1968 a solid definition was created by Isreal Brekham, PhD and Dr. I. V. Darymovhe. Here is how the term “adaptogen” is officially defined:

In order for a food to be an adaptogen, it must...

  • Be nontoxic to the patient

  • Produce a nonspecific response in the body--an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.

  • Have a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

If that definition is a little unclear, one blogger paraphrases it like this:

Adaptogens must...

  • Be safe

  • Reduce the body’s stress response

  • Support overall health by helping the body achieve balance known as homeostasis

Are Adaptogens Real?

Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and their proponents claim that they do wonders for the body in reducing and adapting to stress. Sounds pretty great!

But now we have to answer the question: Can this be backed up by scientific evidence?

Do adaptogens really live up to the hype?

According to one 2009 study, the answer is, amazingly, yes! Adaptogens have benefits to offer whether you suffer from chronic fatigue or ongoing stress.

In clinical studies, adaptogens were found to be effective in increasing tolerance to mental exhaustion as well as enhancing attention and mental endurance in situations of decreased performance.

Not only that, but adaptogens were also found to be helpful in regulating the parts of the brain that deal with stress--namely, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. According to this same study, adaptogen-induced regulation of stress triggers can result in greater mental and physical performance and possibly increased longevity.

Why are Adaptogens Important for your Diet?

Now that we’ve established that this isn’t just a bunch of hippie mumbo-jumbo, we can talk about all the ways adaptogens can be beneficial when added to our diet!

Adaptogens help the body resist stressors of all kinds--physical, chemical or biological. That comes in super handy nowadays, since we as a society are under ongoing stress like never before. Here in the U.S., 77% of us are experiencing physical symptoms as a result of chronic stress, and 73% of us are experiencing psychological symptoms because of it. No wonder adaptogens are gaining in popularity--we clearly need some help!

When we get stressed out, our fight-or-flight response gets activated and cortisol is released into our bodies. This is useful in some cases--if you ever have to run from an attacker, for example--but when it comes to our everyday life stressors, it tends to do more harm than good. When we find ourselves under constant stress and our fight-or-flight response keeps pumping out cortisol, it can do a lot of damage to our bodies. Here are some examples of the toll it can take on us, according to WebMD:

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Headaches

  • Heart disease

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Problems with digestion

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Weight gain

If a few of those resonate with you, don’t worry--adaptogens have lots of healing to offer!

Who will Get the Most Benefits from Adaptogens?

Everyone can derive some great benefits from adaptogens, but for people who experience chronic fatigue--either mental or physical--as a result of some kind of stress, adaptogen can truly be a game-changer. The same goes for anyone with thyroid and/or adrenal problems. Take a look at the list of best adaptogens below to see which ones will help with these specific health conditions!

Stress can be internal or external, and adaptogens help to regulate both. They can even adapt to the type of stress we are facing, as well as to the needs of the individual person experiencing the stress.

Adaptogens do have a few specific health benefits to offer beyond decreased stress levels. Here are some significant ones:

  • Boost our immune systems

  • Help out with weight management

  • Increase physical endurance and mental focus

  • Improve overall health

  • Contribute to a more balanced mood

What are the Best Adaptogens?

All adaptogens are helpful for something, but different ones are more effective for different conditions. You’ll find some delicious recipes for adaptogens underneath each so you can start getting them into your system ASAP!


Often referred to as the “king” of adaptogens, Eleuthero is the focus of over 3,000 scientific studies. This one is a great choice if you find yourself chronically fatigued because of its energy-boosting qualities. For all the students out there suffering through finals week, it helps fight off stress-related illness (score!). Some studies have found that Eleuthero can be greatly helpful in blood pressure and blood sugar normalization (yep, whether it’s too high OR too low!). It is also beneficial for anyone experiencing adrenal hypertrophy, a common result of prolonged stress.

Eleuthero tea recipe

According to one website, the process for making eleuthero tea is very straightforward:

“Start with fresh (or dried), organic Siberian ginseng root. Use a peeler or knife to shave the root into thin slices. Place about a tablespoon of these slices into a metal tea steeping ball.

Heat purified water in a medium sauce pan. When the water reaches boiling, turn off the heat. Pour a cupful of water and place the tea ball in it. Allow to steep for about five minutes until desired strength is obtained.”

For even more added flavor, nutrients, and anti-inflammatory superfoods, throw in a serving of SUTRA Gold!

Maca Powder

This superfood is amazing for hormonal health and hypothyroidism reversal, as well as improved libido. It has been found to contribute to increased sperm count, making it an awesome choice for couples trying to conceive. If adrenal fatigue is a struggle of yours, maca powder can do wonders for you there, too. For a quick fix of maca powder, look no further than our delicious SUTRA Gold!

Maca powder recipes

Holy Basil/Tulsi

According to one study, holy basil has been found to be effective in protecting organs and tissues against chemical stress from different pollutants and heavy metals. It also helps combat physical stress from prolonged physical exertion and exposure to cold and noise. Tulsi is also used as a home remedy for anxiety, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, unbalanced blood sugar and even acne! It has also been found to be helpful in fighting off brain fog.

Tulsi recipes


A succulent that grows in cold Northern climates, Rhodiola is traditionally used to increase mental stamina and physical endurance, boost the immune system during winter, and support fertility in both men and women. According to Dr. Axe it’s a “stress buster” and may be helpful in fighting off insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Rhodiola recipes:

  • Rhodiola “brain potion”

  • Add Rhodiola extract to chamomile tea for late night Winter immune support!

  • Use Rhodiola itself as a tea! Pack a tea bag with pieces of the root, and steep it in warm (not hot or boiling) water for up to four hours.

Red Reishi Musthroom

This is the ultimate anti-aging adaptogen! They are prized for their eliminating effect on free radicals, as well as infections and inflammation. These mushrooms naturally boost energy as well as minimize symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, and even liver damage. They fight off oxidative stress and stimulate mutations and infections.

Red Reishi recipes

Want to try the magic blends that we've been raving about? Get energy boosting benefits without the negative effects of caffeine. Try our healthy SUTRA's below!


I’m a college lifestyle blogger on a mission to inspire other college kids to seek out adventure and live healthy, positive lives. Ever since about tenth grade I’ve been obsessed with all things health and fitness, and I love teaching what I’ve learned. In my free time you’ll probably find me writing, lifting, or doting on my handsome cat. Click here if you want to know more!

Follow me on Pinterest and Instagram.