Meet Adaptogens: The New Stress-Fighting Herbs

There is a family in our natural medicine chest that increasingly has relevance to our busy, stressed modern lifestyles. They’re not really new at all, they’ve been around forever in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and their track record speaks for itself. They’re called the adaptogen family.

When we are stressed, whether it be from a once-off trauma such as a robbery or losing a loved one, or chronic stress such as work stress, a fast paced lifestyle or personal struggles, our bodies can lose their equilibrium as they try to compensate by boosting hormones such as cortisol to help you cope.

While these hormones are necessary in moderation, extreme stress can result in a domino disruption of your balance that is hard to rectify, and high levels of these same hormones, or a burning out so you can no longer produce them, can lead to premature aging and sickness. It is now believed that up to 80% of all diseases are mainly due to stress.

It’s tempting to resort to quick fixes like sugar, caffeine and alcohol to feel that temporary lift and relief, but what if there were something that would help you get that feel good lift AND progressively help your body become stronger, healthier and more balanced instead of crashing you into another low? Hello adaptogens! It’s about time.


The name gives it away – it’s about adapting. Adapting means being able to cope. Adaptogens are herbs that help our bodies cope by restoring balance. Mother Nature’s green living beings are intelligent and this amazing family has the ability to gently restore balance and normalize our physiology.

To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must be completely safe and non-toxic, it must have broad uses for health, and it must specifically reduce stress, both physical and emotional, caused by physical, chemical or biological stressors, by creating a general, beneficial resistance in your body.


The beauty of adaptogens is that they react to your unique situation, they sense where you are over or under stimulated, and can boost energy while calming you down at the same time. Not only that, but they help improve your body function by supporting cell detoxification and more efficient use of oxygen.

Adaptogens became a whole field of biomedical research in Russia in the 1960’s, with Germany and Japan soon following suite, with the result of clinical studies of over 1500 adaptogens


• Increase physical and mental stamina and performance
• Reduce stress and anxiety
• Boost the immune system
• Protect against radiation
• Reduce the side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs
• Reduce rates of infection
• Increase resistance to chemical carcinogens

Whether you do a sport such as surfing in cold water, or are run down from long illness or stress, adaptogens can act as a supportive tonic. They have been specifically useful for those suffering from adrenal fatigue, helping the body to produce the correct amount of cortisol.


1. Ashwagandha:

Relieves insomnia, eases fatigue and helps the body heal from the effects of stress. If cortisol is too high, it acts to lower it, and if too low, it acts to raise it. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for ages past and has been used to treat weakness of all kinds. It specifically acts on the adrenals to rebuild tissue and help them function. It’s a tonic for vitality that can also act as a mild aphrodisiac and can alleviate inflammation.

2. Ginseng:

This energy-boosting herb improves stamina and mental clarity. It’s a traditional remedy used to treat mental and physical exhaustion and promote recovery from illness. In Chinese medicine it’s used as a tonic for longevity and vitality. It can also increase insulin sensitivity which can be a problem as adrenal fatigue affects your body’s response to, and use of, sugar.

3. Maca Root:

Promotes healthy functioning of the thyroid, pituitary and hypothalamus glands. It’s high in vitamin C and supports immune system function. Research shows that Maca can benefit cortisol regulation and blood sugar and increases the effectiveness of your hormones. If your cortisol levels are too low it can help you make the most of what you are producing.

4. Rhodiola Rosea:

Rhodiola improves thyroid and immune system function; is good for heart health and helps to combat fatigue. It balances cortisol production, whether it be too low or too high. It also improves mental and physical performance and helps relieve stress, balancing and calming your mood.

5. Tulsi (Holy Basil):

Relaxes the nervous system, promotes restful sleep and boosts immunity. It’s one of the best adaptogens you can use because it isn’t as stimulating as some of the other adaptogens and its anti-stress properties help to lower cortisol. It can help if you are at the stage where you are struggling with insomnia. It also boosts your immune system and lowers bad cholosterol.

6. Liquorice Root:

Has been used to increase stamina, act as an antidepressant and increase hormone production. It helps the cortisol you do produce to circulate longer. For this reason it may not always be the best option if you are still at the stage when you are producing very high levels of cortisol and it’s best not to take it just before bedtime. It can also increase your blood pressure so isn’t a good idea for those with hypertension.

7. Sutherlandia:

Sutherlandia boosts the immune system and cleanses the blood and has been used as a supporting anti-cancer treatment. It has a profound effect on boosting physical, mental and emotional wellness. It has been said to combine the immune stimulating benefits of Echinacea, the adapatogenic effects of Panax Ginseng and the energy of Ashwagandha and contains high levels of GABA which combat stress and anxiety.

8. Chaga:

Chaga is extremely nutrient dense and is one of the world’s densest sources of pantothenic acid, which is essential for your adrenal glands. It’s also high in compounds that protect all tissues, especially against cancer cells, and quench free radicals. Russians found it was one of the most potent adaptogens known to man and it was the secret to their champion athletes’ success. It protects against premature aging.

  • Mirca
    Posted at 11:20h, 24 February Reply

    I am interested adrenal fatigue, and anti cancer was operated on to remove melanoma which was malignant

  • Zeibunesha Motlekar
    Posted at 10:37h, 02 June Reply

    I bought the Ashwagandha, and happy on it. Just a quick question, is this fine for long term as a also use high blood pressure tablets, however a very small dose.

    At the moment I take one Ashwagandha at night. Is this fine?

    • Dr Kerry Haarhoff
      Posted at 08:31h, 06 July Reply

      It’s best to check in with your healthcare provider regarding whether you can take adaptogens alongside your blood pressure medication. It is supposed to be used with caution when a person has high blood pressure, but it is completely dependant on the individuals case. Ashwagandha shouldn’t have any severe interaction, but as mentioned, always best to check with your healthcare provider who will have a better understanding of your case.

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