We're overstimulated…yet bored. We’re exhausted…but we can’t sleep. We’re anxious, moody, rundown…boy do we need help. A 2021 survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association revealed that 74% of U.S. adults have experienced various negative impacts of stress, including (1):
  • Headaches: 34%
  • Feeling overwhelmed: 34%
  • Fatigue: 32%
  • Changes in sleeping habits: 32%
The survey also suggests that only 16% of U.S. adults have a high resilience score on the Brief Resilience Scale, and those with low resilience scores (26% of adults) were around three times as likely to have experienced negative impacts of stress. On the upside, those with low resilience scores were more likely to be taking actions to manage their stress.

What is an adaptogen?

“Traditionally referred to as tonics or rejuvenators, adaptogens have been used extensively in ancient healing practices,” says Sugarek MacDonald. “Dr. Nikolai Lazarev first coined the term in 1947 to describe a plant that helps one adapt to stressful circumstances. Later, the widely accepted definition of an adaptogen came to be a plant that meets the following three criteria:
  1. Produces a nonspecific response; for instance, an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors (e.g., physical, chemical, or biological)
  2. Has a normalizing influence irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. In other words, it increases when necessary and decreases when necessary to maintain homeostasis.
  3. Is innocuous and does not influence normal body functions more than required.”
No wonder adaptogens have hit the mainstream. SPINS reported in December 2021 that adaptogens are seeing growth, led by ashwagandha, which SPINS Product Intelligence trends data shows is the fastest growing supplement ingredient online, and is also a growth driver in-store (2).

Another factor in the boom: The pandemic has raised awareness about the importance of nutrition. “Historically (such as during the 2008/2009 recession), supplements have been a bright spot in economic downturn times, with growth increasing to its highest levels,” points out Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of R&D, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation. “With lost jobs comes a loss of health insurance, and consumers looked to optimize their health via nutrition to avoid going to their health practitioner. Layer in a global health pandemic, and it is the perfect storm for the supplement category growth.”

As we head into 2022, the adaptogen category has massive potential. “Stress is nothing new to humans; herbs to help the body adapt to stress and balance its processes have been used since times immemorial, and today we call them adaptogens,” says Dr. Muhammed Majeed, Founder and Chairman, Sami-Sabinsa Group. “But the impact of quotidian stress has only increased in modern times, and uncertainty like that caused by the present COVID-19 pandemic further worsens anxiety. Unmitigated stress is a mental equivalent of chronic pharmacological low-grade inflammation. When chronic inflammation lingers unabated, it can lead to various diseases. Similarly, unrelenting stress leads to chronic depression and other complicating mental conditions. It is easier to control the effects of anxiety and stress by supporting your body with adaptogens, than to treat the long-term effects of that chronic strain. The supplements industry has multiple options to contribute to the health of the nation in the form of several pharmacologically meaningful and proven herbs in this category.”

Consumers are getting that message. “Awareness and use of adaptogens were already significant prior to the pandemic, but the last two years have seen rapid growth,” says David Winston, RH(AHG), President, Herbalist & Alchemist. “Initially we saw immune support adaptogens in high demand, but soon people were seeking formulas for stress as well.”

One reason for the popularity: People know they are benefiting. “When you consider the herbs that are out there on the market today, the adaptogens—that very, very small group of botanicals that enhances endurance and stamina, boosts energy, helps you to sleep and reduces stress, and is good for your heart and immune function and on and on—these are among the most broadly beneficial botanicals in the world, and you can feel them,” Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham shared on a recent episode of The Natural View (3). “Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which people have been terribly stressed out, mentally foggy, losing sleep, and all of the awful lifestyle factors that have come with this pandemic, the adaptogens have gained even greater prominence because they help people to have a better and more comfortable experience.”

People know very soon after they start taking a new product if it is helping them or not, according to Winston, so offering well-designed formulas created by trained and experienced herbalists is key.

Combining specific adaptogens and/or adding other nutrients can create powerful and targeted formulas, adds Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma, Inc. Speaking to EuroPharma’s offerings, she notes, “The ongoing science that we see regarding our HRG80 Red Ginseng, Andrographis EP80, and Ashwagandha EP35 is already expanding the definitions of what adaptogens can do. And that’s not unusual, since in many cases, the same botanicals that can boost energy or concentration can also bolster our immune defenses or improve exercise recovery. Between broadening the public’s understanding of adaptogens and providing a larger suite of adaptogen supplements that address those needs, I believe that there are many opportunities for manufacturers, retailers, and their customers.”

Those opportunities will continue post-COVID. “The beauty of the adaptogen category is that its very nomenclature—adaptogen—means to adapt, and adapting correlates to sound well-being,” says Annie Eng, CEO, HP Ingredients. “Strong immunity, vitality and overall well-being has shot into the spotlight. Early signs are showing that those individuals who do adopt adaptogens and other healthy lifestyle supplements and habits are enjoying the feeling, and will continue this natural approach after the threat of the pandemic is over.”

Indeed, says Dr. Majeed, “As there is no reason to think life is going to become less stressful, retailers should invest in stocking the most effective formulas and guide their customers to products that will truly help them.”

And there’s room to grow your customer base, adds Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, NutriScience Innovations. “Natural product consumers have familiarized themselves with adaptogens as plant-based ingredients that increase the body’s resistance to stress. Adaptogens are also being formulated into mainstream products, but I’m not sure that the mainstream consumer understands ‘adaptogens=lower stress.’ This is where the opportunity is.”


5 Challenges & How Retailers can Navigate

1. Supply chain issues: “Increased demand has strained supply of some herbs, and global shipping delays have slowed delivery and increased cost,” shares Winston. “We have just been through an extraordinary year with record demand for herbal products. For growers, projecting volume is a challenge causing some supply chain concern. Advance planning is more difficult for ingredients that are grown rather than manufactured because the growth cycle for botanicals can be just a few months or in the case of botanicals like ginseng, many years. Spikes in growth make it harder for farmers to make planting decisions. Botanical brands with herbalists on staff are able to reformulate when herbs are unavailable without losing safety and efficacy.”

Gaia Herbs team members Susan Hirsch, Formulation Manager, Lily Holmberg, Director of Learning, and Alicia Richman, Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation, second that assessment, pointing to adaptogens like rhodiola and ginseng: “These are slow growing plants and because the root contains the active constituents used in herbal products, multiple growing seasons are often required to grow these plants.”

Also noting supply chain challenges, Dr. Majeed says, “An ingredient supplier must have a direct link with original source, such as the herb-growing farmers, to ensure smoother and more timely supplies.”

For retailers, Myers points out that lockdowns and precautions, labor shortages, and shipping issues, can change the schedule of product launches and restocks. “As far as supply chain issues, retailers can understandably feel like they don’t have a lot of control. One tactic that I would suggest is to promote and feature whatever adaptogen that they can get in stock. So, rather than being set to only talk about rhodiola or ashwagandha, promote the andrographis that is available instead. I’m sure many retailers have had to improvise out of necessity over the past couple of years when it comes to product focuses, and adaptogen availability may be part of that, too.”

2. Adulteration. “This is a perennial problem that vexes retailers and responsible manufacturers alike,” says Myers. “Retailers can assure themselves and their customer by only working with manufacturers who can verify that their products are what they say they are on the label.”

Dr. Majeed agrees, and offers his advice: “For retailers, the most important criterion is making sure they are stocking quality products with proven ingredients made by reputable suppliers. Look for original science developed by the supplier on the ingredient.”

3. Contamination, fairy-dusting, & more quality concerns. “Pesticides and heavy metal contamination are always to be guarded against and tested for in herbal products,” cautions Dr. Majeed. “No less important is the elimination of microbial contamination in herbal ingredients. Thus it is important that suppliers give dependable and verifiable Certificates of Analysis showing what they tested for, how they tested it, and what the results were. The brands should duplicate those tests in their manufacturing process as well.”

In addition to issues with heavy metal contamination, the experts at Gaia Herbs call out fairy dusting. Dr. Lelah also sees that as a top concern. “I believe the biggest challenge facing adaptogens is the use of sub-clinical doses. You are not likely to see a beneficial effect at a lower dose. The consumer is ‘cheated’ with a sub-efficacious dose and the claims made are not substantiated. This problem is quite pervasive in our industry.”

4. Tall claims. Speaking of claims, Dr. Majeed stresses, “Any health claim should be supported in a scientifically convincing manner by the supplier. Tall claims not supported by legitimate research expose the ignoble intentions of a fly-by-night operator trying to capitalize quickly on a trendy market situation rather than a genuine supplier solidly supporting the product.”

5. Knowledge gaps. Continued education is key, says Adam M. Goodman, VP Sales, Korea Ginseng Corporation (KGC), as well as President of the NPA East Board of Directors. “People need to understand and get a clear indication of what adaptogens are available to them. Working with KGC, we now know that Ginseng is a very potent adaptogen and very beneficial in the market. Continued differentiation and education to the general public is needed. But more than that there’s a limited awareness. A tremendous segment of the population doesn’t know about the variety of adaptogens…that’s where the opportunity is: education on adaptogens in general and differentiating between the adaptogens in the market.”

The experts at Gaia Herbs second that: “As adaptogens become more mainstream, the opportunity for natural brands and retailers is to educate consumers about some of the less well known adaptogens. Once they have more interest in the products, there is an opportunity to educate on quality.”


Correcting Misconceptions

As popular as adaptogens are, there still tends to be confusion, including about what 'adaptogen' actually means and what the botanicals can do. “Adaptogens are not stimulators; they adapt or support the immune system to adjust to the stresses your body faces,” Dr. Majeed confirms. “They are not temporary mood elevators but do assuage anxiety levels. They are not soporific but improve quality of sleep. They help users to regain their ability to face stress without being saddled by it eternally.”

Eng adds that, as with many new trendy terms, definitions blur. “We encourage retailers to focus on the root word of adaptogen: ‘adapt.’ An adaptogen is a substance, primarily a botanical, that helps promote and maintain homeostasis (itself a word that retailers can also emphasize).”

Science continues to broaden our understanding of these plants. Winston explains: “The initial definition of adaptogen—an herb that creates a state of nonspecific resistance to stress, is non-toxic in normal therapeutic doses, and has systemic amphoteric effects—proposed in 1969 is still valid, but in addition we now know that in order for an herb to be classified as an adaptogen it must work via the HPA axis or SAS (which means it helps re-regulate endocrine, nervous system, immune, reproductive and gut brain activity), up-regulates molecular chaperones which act a little bit like a ‘stress vaccine’, and inhibit stress-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and elevation of cortisol levels. Adaptogens are usually used in formulation with other herbs that support or enhance their activity such as nervines, nootropics and restorative tonics.”

At Gaia Herbs, the formulators like using adaptogens in blends with nourishing nervine herbs that support healthy nervous system function. The reason: the stress response greatly impacts the nervous system. “Common nervine herbs are milky oats, skullcap, lemon balm, chamomile, St. John’s wort, vervain, and lavender,” they share. “Some adaptogens are also considered nervines, such as holy basil and schisandra.”

SPINS data shows that nervines are seeing growth along with adaptogens, and that the trending herbals are being used to accompany other stress support ingredients, such as GABA, magnesium, and vitamin D (2).​

As for what botanicals qualify as adaptogens, Winston offers his breakdown: “There are only eight or nine herbs that are proven adaptogens, with adequate research to confirm it: Ashwagandha, Asian and American Ginseng, Schisandra, Rhodiola, Cordyceps, Shilijit, Rhaponticum, and Eleuthero. Other herbs that have some, but less conclusive research, I categorize as ‘probable adaptogens.’ Those include Holy Basil, Shatavari, Rou Cong Rong/Cistanche, Suo Yang/Cynomorium, and Morinda/Ba Ji Tian. There are another dozen or so ‘possible adaptogens’ with relatively little evidence that they actually are adaptogens. Further research will determine if the Chinese herb Dang Shen (Codonopsis), Manchurian Aralia, Prince Seng, Reishi, Maca, Jiaogulan, Horny Goat Weed, and Guduchi are adaptogens or what I call restorative tonics. Other herbs often mistakenly labeled as adaptogens such as Amla, Goji Berry, Astragalus, and Processed Rehmannia are actually restorative tonics. While this last group of herbs are highly effective and useful, they do not meet the definition of an adaptogen.”

Tackling misconceptions about specific adaptogens, Myers and Goodman both point to ginseng. “People are less aware that ginseng is an adaptogen,” Goodman contends. “There is a greater necessity for education. Another factor is that the science of ginseng has evolved over the years. Traditionally there has been a belief that if you have certain conditions you might avoid ginseng, because of the concept of hot versus cold and red versus white that people have heard for many years. But the science has evolved. Ginseng is a powerful adaptogen. Science suggests that not only will it not be harmful, but it could have benefits for a variety of concerns.”

Don’t overlook it for women, either, Myers adds. “One question I am often asked is about red ginseng (Panax ginseng) being a ‘masculine’ supplement. There are a great number of studies using this herb in women, and it provides remarkable benefits. Just because an adaptogen helps support healthy testosterone or male sexual function does not mean it has any kind of masculinizing effect on women.”

Winston seconds that. “Multiple human clinical trials clearly show that Red Ginseng is not just a ‘men’s herb.’ It improves libido in post-menopausal women and reduces menopausal symptoms and supports heart health as well.”

Another major concern raised by the team at Gaia Herbs: the magic bullet myth. “Adaptogens are commonly used as a quick fix to bypass nutritional and lifestyle needs that are essential for true balance. Sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and relaxation practices are fundamental to wellness. Herbs are not replacements for healthy lifestyle practices and will support the body best when used in combination with these nourishing habits. If these essential needs are not addressed, adaptogens can often mask the needs for a while, but eventually the body will signal its needs for more support.”

What’s more, they say, “All adaptogens are also not appropriate for every body. Some are more stimulating, some are more relaxing, and they often have specific benefits or uses that should be matched with a person. An herbalist or holistic practitioner will be able to help find the most appropriate adaptogen for each person.” Customers should know: Adaptogens are typically taken for longer time periods, but breaks should be taken every three to six months to reassess the body's needs.


Opportunities for Growth

The experts we consulted for this feature agree: You can expect more from this market. “I think that the understanding of natural products in general has moved very quickly,” says Myers. “Sometimes, that’s simply the case of a particular ingredient trending, peaking early, and then going back off the radar. But more often, people that I speak with are strong self-learners when it comes to nutrients and their benefits. So, I can certainly see adaptogens becoming more mainstream pretty quickly, especially in today’s social media environment.”

To capitalize on that awareness, retailers can put adaptogens and their benefits in the spotlight. “Consumers turn to herbs for health concerns, but don’t necessarily realize that they can be phenomenally effective for mental and emotional conditions, which is an opportunity for retailers,” says Winston. “Just as stores have a section for joint health or immune support, they can have a section for mental and emotional support.”

Consider trends beyond the ingredients when choosing your product mix. Dr. Majeed advises: “While classical delivery presentations such as tablets and capsules still are important, newer forms such as gummies are fast picking up, since they can be consumed anytime, anywhere.”

And as always, back it up with education, and stay on top of emerging research. An excellent resource for information specifically on ashwagandha: Go to www.WholeFoodsMagazine.com and check out Ashwagandha Experience, brought to you by KSM-66 Ashwagandha and WholeFoods Magazine. This educational offering includes videos, deep dives, infographics, blogs, and interviews with Medicine Hunter Chris Kilhman, who works closely with KSM-66 Ashwagandha. The goal: to keep you in-the-know on the latest science, formulation guidance, supply chain updates, and market trends.

“As with everything, retailers need to make sure from an educational standpoint that they are up to date,” says KGC’s Goodman. “What I would like to see: more research on the possible benefits of combining some of these adaptogens, because they are different approaches. Ashwagandha is more of an Ayurvedic approach. Ginseng is more of an Asian-based approach. I am interested in what the benefits would be of combining these, in terms of efficacies and possible consumer benefits.”

The team at Gaia Herbs says more clinical studies are being conducted to validate the effects and mechanisms of adaptogens. “This provides an opportunity for more mainstream acceptance by medical professionals and more chances for plants to help people achieve balance. With the growing popularity of some of these herbs, there are opportunities and needs to expand cultivation in more sustainable settings (such as Rhodiola grown in Alaska and Canada, Ginseng in forest farm stewardship settings) and to support Indigenous people who have historically cultivated and stewarded these plants, for example, Maca in Peru, and Schisandra in China."


Trends & Blends to Know

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has emerged as the adaptogen of choice for many. Offering a bit of history, Gaia Herbs shares, “Ashwagandha grows in India, east Asia, Africa, and has even been cultivated in North America. Traditionally the root is consumed, often boiled in water and combined with ghee (clarified butter) or coconut milk. The leaves were used topically and in special situations, and although modern extracts have been clinically studied for various uses, this departs from the traditional use of the root. In Ayurveda it is revered as a nourishing and restorative brain tonic, and considered to enhance the 'ojas,' or vital strength. Ashwagandha root is most recognized for its calming effects on the nervous system, used for supporting a healthy stress response and optimizing healthy sleep, but it also supports the immune system, mental and hormonal functions. Ashwagandha has undergone extensive clinical research to validate these uses, with positive studies in the areas of healthy stress response, thyroid health, sleep quality, reproductive health in men and women, and cognitive and athletic performance.”

One branded ingredient backed by science: KSM-66, an ashwagandha root extract supported by randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials, shown to help promote a healthy response to everyday stress, sleep, overwork, and fatigue, as well as to support mental clarity, concentration and alertness, sports performance, and levels of vigor.

Another researched option comes from Sabinsa. The company’s Shagandha is a roots-only extract supported by clinical trial results attenuating stress and anxiety. “Sabinsa also offers a ‘Panchang extract’ meaning a ‘whole-plant’ extract of Ashwagandha,” he adds. “Recent research on hitherto ignored components of leaf and stem portions of Ashwagandha has shed new light on several of the adaptogenic benefits of the whole plant.”

At NutriScience Innovations, Dr. Lelah says, Shoden Ashwagandha root and leaf extract is the top adaptogenic ingredient. “It is a clinically proven, high-potency extract from the leaves and roots of the Ashwagandha plant,” he says, adding that it offers 35% withanolide glycosides along with demonstrated bioavailability. “The withanolide glycosides are the known active components of ashwagandha, with clinical studies supporting stress reduction, improvements in sleep quality, quantity and restorative sleep, immune support, testosterone increases for men, and improvements in DHEA for beauty-from-within.”

Backing the benefits up with stats: “Ashwagandha has shown remarkable stress and cortisol reducing capabilities, decreasing anxiety (and its attendant insomnia) by 69%, reducing severe depression symptoms by 79%, and decreasing social dysfunction by 68%, and those are just some of its attributes!” Myers says. EuroPharma offers it alone (Ashwagandha EP35 Extra Strength), and in blends such as Adaptra (with Rhodiola).

Also offering ashwagandha in blends, RidgeCrest Herbals has Adrenal Fatigue Fighter with ashwagandha, ginseng, and eleuthero to help with stress and energy; and Anxiety Free with ashwagandha as well as Holy Basil (Tulsi) to help with stress and blood sugar and blood pressure already in the normal range.

Holy basil is used in Ayurvedic medicine to counter life’s stresses, says Sugarek MacDonald. “Ursolic acid, the active constituent of holy basil, is a hepatoprotective compound protecting the liver against toxins by maintaining glutathione levels, a potent antioxidant that protects against free radicals, balancing inflammatory compounds, and has antimicrobial properties.”

Another calming blend: Calm Adapt from Herbalist & Alchemist contains Ashwagandha root, Reishi mushroom, and Schisandra berry, as well as nervines, Linden flower and Oat milky seed. Winston says it is appropriate for high-strung, type-A people who can’t relax. “It is also useful for what in Chinese medicine is known as disturbed shen; this includes conditions such as difficulty sleeping, anxiety, stress, minor headaches or muscle tension, and irritability.”

Eleuthero is another adaptogen featured in several of Winston’s formulas, including Daily Adapt to promote energy and help relieve stress. “It is a balanced adaptogenic formula that is energizing without being overstimulating for most people,” Winston says. “Well-researched adaptogens Eleuthero, Schisandra, Rhodiola, and American Ginseng are combined with the nervine fresh Oat and nootropic Gotu Kola. This is appropriate for daily use to combat our stressful lives. Since adaptogens enhance HPA axis and SAS function they also address elevated cortisol levels.” And for the active set, Fit Adapt is for athletes and people who have physically demanding jobs to increase energy, enhance focus and concentration, and to help in recovery. “It incorporates adaptogens known for promoting physical endurance and performance: Reishi, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Ashwagandha and Cordyceps,” Winston says. “To these, we add the cardiac trophorestorative and nervine herb Hawthorn, the alternative and anti-inflammatory herbs Sarsaparilla to enhance elimination of metabolic wastes, and Turmeric for musculoskeletal and liver support.”

An adaptogen that is (re)gaining awareness: Ginseng: Typically, people think about energy and stamina benefits of ginseng, says Goodman, who adds that around the world, people use ginseng either as an adaptogen, or as an immune support nutrient or a daily tonic, almost the way that we would use a multivitamin in the U.S. “Because ginseng is a potent adaptogen, anything you are utilizing that has ginseng in it in sufficient strength and quality has potential for various needs,” he adds. “At KGC, we use six-year-old mature ginseng, and we’re not offering some wild new innovation. We are focused on ginseng, and the continued evolution of the category of ginseng. We don’t put a product out that says ‘adaptogen’ on the label; the products just all have those properties. Our KoreSelect sku combines ginseng with other synergistic ingredients for formulas that are more tailored to the needs of the individual. KoreSelect Immune combines ginseng with European black elderberry.”

Myers calls red ginseng “one of the world’s oldest and most powerful adaptogens for bolstering daily physical and mental energy, a healthy libido, and resilience in the face of stress.” Research shows that red ginseng helps preserve mental and physical energy and supports healthy HPA axis activity, and serotonin, cortisol, and GABA levels,” she says. “That translates into making it easier for people to get through their days, especially if they experience post-lunch slumps in the afternoon—as I think many of us can identify with.” Europharma offers HRG80 Red Ginseng, which is hydroponically grown and has been shown in a clinical study to significantly improve focus and concentration.

Herbalist & Alchemist includes it in Women’s Adapt. “Energizing adaptogens Shatavari and Red Ginseng rejuvenate and support female libido as well as endocrine, immune and nervous system function. Processed Rehmannia is a restorative yin and blood tonic used along with Ginseng and Shatavari to alleviate vaginal dryness. Fragrant Rose petal has nervine activity and helps heal the emotional heart. The uplifting nervine Damiana has a long history of use for promoting both female and male libido, as well as improving mood and mental function.” And for men: Men’s Adapt combines well researched adaptogens Ashwagandha and Red Ginseng to normalize the endocrine, nervous and immune functions. Chinese kidney yang tonics Cynomorium/Suo Yang and Epimedium/Horny Goat Weed are added to help stimulate libido and increase sexual function. Maca is a restorative tonic that supports healthy male sexual function.

Also from Herbalist & Alchemist comes Energy Adapt, providing support for people who feel a lack of energy or mental clarity. “Stimulating adaptogens Red Ginseng, Rhodiola and Holy Basil support the endocrine and nervous systems, as well as immune, cardiovascular and digestive function,” says Winston. “Nootropics Gotu Kola and Rosemary support cerebral circulation and promote memory, focus and concentration. Mimosa tree bark (Albizia julibrissin) is a profound mood elevator that creates a feeling of happiness and lifts spirits. Maca is a nutritive tonic and possible adaptogen, it enhances the effects of the other herbs and, when combined with the stimulating adaptogens Red Ginseng and Rhodiola, provides support for male and female sexual vitality.”

Speaking of Rhodiola rosea, the experts at Gaia Herbs add, “It has been utilized to support humans overcoming challenging mental and physical obstacles, such as low oxygen conditions in high altitude, frigid temperatures, extreme sports, mental challenges, or simply everyday stress. Modern clinical research is still limited but has shown that Rhodiola is useful for maintaining a healthy stress response, healthy immune response, and supporting normal physical and mental energy levels during occasional stress. Rhodiola is considered one of  the more stimulating adaptogens in sensitive people, however, as is typical with an herb that interacts with the nervous system, sometimes it can paradoxically be relaxing in certain people.” Gaia uses the herb in its Rhodiola single, Adrenal Health Daily Support, and Adrenal Health Jumpstart formulas.

Rhodiola contains a range of compounds, adds Sugarek MacDonald, including organic acids and flavonoids. “The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola rosea are attributed to rosavin, its active constituent. An adaptogen is a substance that can increase the body’s resistance to chemical, biological and physical stressors. In addition to its adaptogenic effects, rhodiola rosea has positive effects on mood.”

Myers notes that rhodiola has shown “remarkable results” for enhancing concentration and physical stamina. “One clinical study focused on fatigue associated with night duty for young physicians, showed an improvement for total mental performance,” she shares. “Other research of college students found that the rhodiola group saw improvements in mental fatigue, overall fitness and well-being, and even higher final exam grades. Rhodiola also appears to have a direct action on noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and cholinergic receptors. It also may boost the expression of neuropeptide-Y, which can act as an intermediary between stress, our ability to adapt, and depression.” EuroPharma offers it in Adaptra, which also includes ashwagandha. “As the name implies, this formula helps a person adapt to stressful conditions rather than feel drained by them,” Myers says. “I like Adaptra on the days that I have a full speaking, traveling, or educating schedule (sometimes all on the same day!) because it helps keep me energized and focused without feeling wired or jumpy.”

Mushrooms are also gaining popularity. The team at Gaia Herbs count Cordyceps and Reishi as well-known adaptogenic mushrooms. Cordyceps, long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, strengthens and improves functions of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune system, and reishi is known as the “mushroom of immortality.” It is well-known for its immune supportive qualities, they say, related to a high concentration of polysaccharides known as beta glucans. The two can be found in Gaia Adrenal Health Nightly Restore, along with ashwagandha and other mushrooms.

Another natural gem: Tongkat Ali root. Research on this herb is ongoing, and an in-depth overview can be found in the American Botanical Council’s HerbalGram, in which the experts noted that tongkat ali’s adaptogen-like phytoandrogenic properties make it a promising remedy to address a wide range of male sexual health-related ailments (4). HPI offers the herb as a branded ingredient, LJ100, which Eng says has been shown to positively influence the catabolic/anabolic ratio by reducing cortisol while maintaining normal high testosterone level. The results of this, studies show, are improvements in immune health, body composition (along with diet and exercise), mood, endurance, virility, and libido.

For more on the science behind these offerings (including a closer look at the immune benefits) and more on branded ingredients in the adaptogen category, see the expanded version of this article online. WF