The 4 Best Adaptogens to Reduce Stress and Improve Mood

Adaptogens are a growing subclass of nootropics that work primarily by supporting healthy cortisol rhythms and adrenal function. These substances are called adaptogens as they quite literally help your body “adapt” to stress.

Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid in humans, and a major stress hormone. Biochemically, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol for regulating metabolism, development, immune function, and cognition/alertness. Even though cortisol is an essential hormone necessary to sustain life,  too much (or too little) of it can lead to health ramifications, particularly feelings of fatigue and anxiety.

Furthermore, cortisol typically spikes right after waking up, and decreases throughout the day (assuming external stressors don’t arise). Chronically elevated cortisol levels, or disruption of natural cortisol rhythms, can make you feel restless, lethargic, anxious, and weaken immunity.

Moreover, excessive cortisol secretion poses metabolic risks such as impaired insulin response (i.e. insulin resistance), cardiovascular risks such as elevated blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, mental health risks such as depression and anxiety, and bone health risks such as osteoporosis.[1],[2],[3]

Naturally, many people wonder what supplements can be taken to make sure the adrenal glands are healthy and don’t produce abnormal amounts of cortisol. If you find yourself stressed out all the time and in a poor mood, then adaptogens are your best bet. Read on to learn which adaptogens are most effective for reducing stress and improving your mood.

1) Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is an adaptogenic plant with many beneficial properties in humans.

Research consistently demonstrates that ashwagandha root extract is a potent supplement for reducing stress, risk of illness, and fatigue.[4] Clinical research findings are compelling enough to suggest that ashwagandha can treat neurodegenerative disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome.[5]

On a molecular level, ashwagandha plants contain myriad therapeutic substances, including, choline, alkaloids, saponins, withanolides, and withaferins.

Of particular note is the substance Withaferin-A, first discovered in ashwagandha root; this steroidal lactone has been shown fight inflammation, reduce risk of cancer, protect against excess oxidative stress, and enhance feelings of well-being.[6] Start by looking for a 2:1 or 5:1 ashwagandha root extract supplement, and take 250-500 mg once per day (preferably on an empty stomach).

2) L-Theanine

L-Theanine is structurally similar to the dietary amino acids L-glutamate and L-glutamine; it is found naturally in green tea leaves and has a multitude of therapeutic effects throughout the body.[7]

Cognitively speaking, L-theanine induces feelings of “alert relaxation” by making users feel focused but not “wired” like stimulants often do. This makes L-theanine a great option for reducing stress and promoting cognition. Taking L-theanine prior to bed can also enhance sleep quality and duration.

Moreover, the adaptogenic properties of L-theanine make it ideal for pairing with stimulant-based nootropics, like caffeine. In fact, research shows that ingesting L-theanine with caffeine creates a synergy that is not seen when taking either nootropic alone.[8]

We recommend starting with 100 mg of L-theanine taken once daily (increase to 150 mg if necessary).

3) Relora® (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense)

Relora is a trademarked supplement containing plant-based ingredients that support overall well-being and mood by balancing stress hormone production from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.[9],[10],[11] The HPA axis is the connection between your brain and adrenal glands that ultimately regulates cortisol rhythms.

As such, dysfunction of the HPA axis can lead to conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome. Supplementing with Relora® can help ensure your HPA axis functions properly in response to stress, and should be taken three times daily – 200 mg per dose –  for maximum effect.

4) Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea)

Rhodiola is a perennial flowering plant containing a potent active ingredient called salidroside (particularly in the roots). Research suggests that salidroside has a suppressive effect on stress-induced cortisol secretion.[12] Rhodiola also appears to have “alert relaxation” properties similar to L-theanine, making it a worthy option when using stimulants.[13]

Look for Rhodiola root extract supplements with at least 3% salidroside, and take 250 mg once or twice per day.

Benefits of Adaptogens Summary

Given the many physiological benefits of healthy cortisol rhythms, supplementing with the suggested adaptogens can support overall well-being and longevity in a variety of ways.* These research-backed benefits include:

  • Support healthy cardiovascular, adrenal, and immune function*
  • Improve blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity*
  • Promote healthy blood lipid levels*
  • Help maintain healthy sleep patterns*
  • Support healthy appetite regulation*
  • Support healthy inflammatory response*
  • Protect cell membranes and ­­encourage optimal cell­ signaling*
  • Support brain health & cognitive function*

Best of all, adaptogens can be purchased readily over-the-counter at many retail/supplement stores and are generally very cost-friendly. Give one (or all four) of the adaptogens discussed herein a shot and let us know your experience! Odds are you’ll feel less tense and in a brighter mood throughout the day.

References

[1]  Biller, B. M., Saxe, V., Herzog, D. B., Rosenthal, D. I., Holzman, S., & Klibanski, A. (1989). Mechanisms of osteoporosis in adult and adolescent women with anorexia nervosa. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 68(3), 548-554.

[2] Fraser, R., Ingram, M. C., Anderson, N. H., Morrison, C., Davies, E., & Connell, J. M. (1999). Cortisol effects on body mass, blood pressure, and cholesterol in the general population. Hypertension, 33(6), 1364-1368.

[3] Brown, E. S., Varghese, F. P., & McEwen, B. S. (2004). Association of depression with medical illness: does cortisol play a role?. Biological psychiatry, 55(1), 1-9.

[4] Kulkarni, S. K., & Dhir, A. (2008). Withania somnifera: an Indian ginseng. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology and biological psychiatry, 32(5), 1093-1105.

[5] Ven Murthy, M. R., K Ranjekar, P., Ramassamy, C., & Deshpande, M. (2010). Scientific Basis for the Use of Indian Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants in the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders: 1. Ashwagandha. Central Nervous System Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Central Nervous System Agents), 10(3), 238-246.

[6] Chen, L. X., He, H., & Qiu, F. (2011). Natural withanolides: an overview. Natural Product Reports, 28(4), 705-740.

[7] Juneja, L. R., Chu, D. C., Okubo, T., Nagato, Y., & Yokogoshi, H. (1999). L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends in Food Science & Technology10(6), 199-204.

[8] Haskell, C. F., Kennedy, D. O., Milne, A. L., Wesnes, K. A., & Scholey, A. B. (2008). The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biological psychology77(2), 113-122.

[9] Unno, K., Tanida, N., Ishii, N., Yamamoto, H., Iguchi, K., Hoshino, M., … & Yamada, H. (2013). Anti-stress effect of theanine on students during pharmacy practice: positive correlation among salivary α-amylase activity, trait anxiety and subjective stress. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 111, 128-135.

[10] Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., & Pugh, M. (2013). Effect of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Relora®) on cortisol and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 37.

[11] Mishra, L. C., Singh, B. B., & Dagenais, S. (2000). Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative medicine review, 5(4), 334-346.

[12] Panossian, A., Hambardzumyan, M., Hovhanissyan, A., & Wikman, G. (2007). The adaptogens Rhodiola and Schizandra modify the response to immobilization stress in rabbits by suppressing the increase of phosphorylated stress-activated protein kinase, nitric oxide and cortisol. Drug target insights, 2, 39.

[13] Yang, S. J., Yu, H. Y., Kang, D. Y., Ma, Z. Q., Qu, R., Fu, Q., & Ma, S. P. (2014). Antidepressant-like effects of salidroside on olfactory bulbectomy-induced pro-inflammatory cytokine production and hyperactivity of HPA axis in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 124, 451-457.

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