Adaptogens: This is how medicinal plants work against stress

Adaptogene: So wirken Heilpflanzen gegen Stress

In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to resort to natural medicine to cure diseases or improve general health. This centuries-old science uses the natural powers of plants and fungi to strengthen the body and mental health.

A particularly important area in naturopathy is the reduction of stress. Persistent stress is becoming a major problem for more and more people. On the other hand, you can use so-called adaptogens, herbal active ingredients that can be found in herbs, mushrooms, bark and much more. With some very great successes for well-being.

the essentials in brief

  • Adaptogens are compounds found in some medicinal plants that can help adapt to stress.
  • Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which influences many processes in the body over a long period of time. Adaptogens can help regulate to counteract the symptoms of stress over the long term
  • There are many different adaptogens that can also have other positive effects on the human body, for example on blood sugar levels or serotonin levels

Background: What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are natural active ingredients that can be found in various plant organisms. The name comes from Latin and means "to adapt".

These active ingredients make it easy for the plants that contain them to adapt to their environment. When taken by a person, the substances are intended to help them cope better with states of stress and emotionally difficult situations.

man on chair

Adaptogens from medicinal plants can help to deal with stress. (Image Source: Nik Shuliahin / Unsplash)

Adaptogens help plants adapt to their environment. In order to be called an adaptogen, the plant substances must fulfill a few properties:

  • They must not interfere with or impair the normal physiological and physical functions of the human body
  • The body's resistance to stress-promoting environmental influences must be increased
  • The normalization of disturbed body functions must be supported

A substance can only be called an adaptogen if all of these properties are present.

The substances were first defined by the Russian pharmacologist Nicolau Lazarev as substances that can increase non-specific stress resistance. However, adaptogens have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where they have been used to reduce stress due to their stimulant properties. (1)

What are the different adaptogens?

There are many different adaptogens. There are also no all-inclusive lists, as some plants are used only in certain cultures, and studying adaptogens is not always easy. Some well-known plants with adaptogens are these:

Surname plant type Effect
Ashwangandha root of a herb plant Anxiolytic, helps against stress.
chaga Mushroom helps against stress
ginseng root of a herb plant help against stress, positive effect on the heart and respiratory system

Although all of these substances are fundamentally involved in reducing stress, the various adaptogens work differently depending on their origin.

What does Ashwagandha do?

Aschwagandha, which means "smell of the horse" in Sanskrit, is a herb that has been used in Chinese natural medicine for many years to provide relaxation.

In addition to the stress-reducing effect, there is also evidence that this adaptogen stimulates brain functions and can have a lowering effect on blood sugar levels. In addition, ashwagandha can contribute to mental health in some cases and support healing from depression. (2,3,4)

  • helps against stress
  • can lower blood sugar levels
  • calming effect
  • can lead to fatigue
  • not well tolerated by some people
  • Ashwangandha is therefore a herbal substance with a wide-ranging effect on the human body.

    What is chaga?

    Chaga, a mushroom also known under the name Schillerporling, has a particularly high content of antioxidants. In its area of ​​origin, the Siberian forests, the Chaga adaptogens are mainly used for abdominal pain, stomach and intestinal problems.

    The study situation on Chaga is not clear until now. So far there are no human medical studies on the stress-reducing effect of Chaga, but some animal studies indicate a positive effect of the mushroom on well-being. In a mouse study, it was even possible to identify a weakening of tumor formation by Chaga. (5)

    • helps against stress
    • can possibly help against stomach and intestinal problems
  • there are still no meaningful studies that confirm the effect
  • More human research is likely to provide a greater degree of clarity in the future.

    How does ginseng work?

    Ginseng is one of the most well-known natural remedies and also a well-known adaptogen. The herb, which is mainly found in Korea, contains so-called ginsenosides, which can have a positive effect on mood and performance, sometimes even in people who suffer from cognitive disorders. (6)

    In addition, ginseng is also said to have a mood-enhancing effect, and can thus reduce the symptoms of serious illnesses such as depression. (7)

    • helps against stress
    • can increase cognitive performance
    • has a mood-enhancing effect
  • can lead to heart palpitations and high blood pressure
  • Ginseng appears to have a holistic effect on the human body. In addition to the stress reduction typical of adaptogens and the increase in cognitive and mood-setting abilities, there is also some evidence that ginseng has a positive influence on various bodily processes, for example it supports heart and lung function. (8th)

    What does roseroot do?

    Rhodiola is a herb that is mainly found in colder regions of the world, such as Scandinavia, Greenland or Siberia. This adaptogen seems to have a particularly calming effect, and is therefore often used with many successes for stress problems and even burnout. (9)

    A study indicates that rhodiola not only has an effect on the stress hormone cortisol, but also increases serotonin levels and can therefore have a mood-enhancing effect. (10)

    • helps against stress
    • has a positive effect on serotonin levels
  • can lead to dry mouth
  • some people feel dizzy as a result
  • So there are many indications that roseroot has both a relaxing and well-being-increasing effect. The slight side effects such as dry mouth and dizziness have not been proven in studies, but seem to occur from time to time when taking it.

    How does stress arise?

    Stress is a condition that is affecting more and more people in a negative way in terms of their health and well-being. There is not just one "stress", but a variety of different situations and feelings can cause a feeling of stress, be it an argument with a loved one, too much work, or social problems such as the corona pandemic.

    Long-term stress can lead to many physical problems.

    If you find yourself in a situation where you feel stressed, the following happens: the stress hormone cortisol is released in the body. This allows us to become more efficient in the short term, but if it is produced over the long term, other important regulatory processes are influenced by cortisol, and in the long run you feel exhausted and uncomfortable. (11)

    People who suffer from restlessness often turn to natural remedies such as valerian , but adaptogens can influence the direct physical stress response.

    How can adaptogens help with stress management?

    As already mentioned, cortisol is instrumental in the human body's stress response. Stress management in the human body works via the so-called HHH axis, via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal glands.

    Since this axis runs to the gut, this is the route by which adaptogens can affect response to stress. Here they regulate the release of cortisol and bring the hormone balance back into balance, which means that the long-term effects of stress in particular are weakened. (12)

    Taking adaptogens, such as ginseng, can help manage stress. (Image Source: Manki Kim / Unsplash)

    Some adaptogens, such as ginseng, also seem to help with long-term consequences such as tiredness and a feeling of weakness. Probably by interfering with other hormonal and protein-regulating processes, such as c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase 1. All of these processes appear to occur via the HHH axis. (13)

    What do you have to consider when taking adaptogens?

    There are sometimes very different and contradictory statements on the Internet about how adaptogens work and what effect they should and can achieve. It is therefore important to deal with the topic in depth before taking preparations with adaptognes and, above all, to pay attention to previous studies.

    Before you take adaptogens, you should deal extensively with the topic.

    Since there are many different adaptogens, there are also many different ways of taking adaptogens. Most commonly you can find them as pills, juices, powders or teas. Normally, these dietary supplements can also be found in supermarkets, health food stores or pharmacies without a prescription.

    When is adaptogen supplementation useful?

    Taking adaptogens can be useful in various situations. On the one hand, adaptogens can help if you are going through a strenuous and stressful situation and need direct help to deal with this situation and the effects on your body.

    Sleep problems can be a symptom of prolonged stress.

    On the other hand, adaptogens can also be useful if you suffer from long-term problems that can be the result of stress.

    This can be, for example, the feeling of sluggishness and exhaustion, but more specific problems such as sleep disorders and reduced cognitive performance can also be symptoms of long-term stress. (14) These problems can in some cases be improved by taking adaptogens. (15)

    What types of adaptogen supplements are there?

    Because of the many different plants that contain adaptogens, there are also many different types of adaptogen supplements that you can take. From powders to teas to capsules, there are many ways to get adaptogens.

    supplementary art Advantage Disadvantage
    capsules and pills Fast intake, easy dosing uncomfortable to swallow depending on the size
    powder Easy dosing Often unpleasant taste in the mixed drink / dish
    tea Usually tastes very pleasant Ingestion takes longer

    There are also some preparations that combine the active ingredients of various medicinal plants with adaptogens in order to produce a particularly large and wide-ranging effect.

    What are the side effects of adaptogen supplementation?

    So far there is no evidence that adaptogens can lead to specific, frequently occurring side effects. (16) Nevertheless, allergic reactions can always occur when taking dietary supplements, which is why it is important to compare adaptogen preparations with your own intolerance.

    Adaptogens in capsules

    You can take adaptogens as powder, pills or tea. (Image Source: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash)

    Some mild side effects have not yet been proven in clinical studies, but are repeatedly mentioned when taking certain adaptogens, for example, a feeling of dry mouth often occurs after taking rhodiola.

    Basically, it is important to consult a doctor before taking adaptogens, especially if you are already taking medication, since an interaction between supplements and prescription drugs cannot be ruled out, and such an assessment is usually not easy for laypeople to make.

    It is also usually advised against supplementing adaptogens as a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, as there are no extensive studies on the effects of these substances on unborn and newborn babies.

    How can you further support the effect of adaptogens?

    There are many different ways to support the stress-reducing effects of adaptogens, but in most cases you will need to take your time.

    Regular exercise can help reduce the negative effects of stress. It doesn't have to be competitive sport either, even a little bit of exertion can help to increase physical and mental well-being.

    In addition, it can help to plan a few breaks into your everyday life, during which you do not deal with anything but your own relaxation. A healthy and balanced diet can also help the body to deal with stressful situations.

    It can also help to work on sleep quality and sleep patterns to combat fatigue and sleep deprivation. If you try to stick to these basic healthy lifestyles and support them with a regular intake of adaptogens, you can actively manage your own stress.


    Many people suffer greatly from the effects of stress. It is not always easy, or even possible, to banish the stress triggers from our everyday life. Therefore, one has to find ways to deal with this stress. A very effective and healthy way is to take so-called adaptogens, substances that can positively influence the physical reaction to stressful situations.

    There are a variety of different plants with adaptogens, all of which, in addition to being able to cope better with stress, can also have some other positive influences on the human body, such as cognitive abilities.

    If you combine the intake of these adaptogens with a healthy and balanced lifestyle, you can defend yourself against many difficult stressful situations.


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