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Article: Adaptogens 101

Adaptogens 101

Adaptogens 101


What are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are ingredients in plants and mushrooms that may assist with overall well-being in the body. The term ‘adaptogen’ was first used by the Soviet Union in the mid 20th century to “physiological mechanisms of action of compounds and some medicinal plants that presumably increased the nonspecific resilience of organisms to harmful challenges" (1). This concept came from Hans Selye (Soviet Union toxicologist)’s theory on stress and homeostasis and how it affects the human body (1). Since then, the adaptogen definition has been updated to reflect new understanding of what roles adaptogens can be for people.

As adaptogens are coming from natural sources, FDA does not regulate their formulations and so it is important to understand the sourcing of these products.  Plants and mushrooms are composed of many metabolites which can contribute to ‘adaptogen’ properties.  With research going into adaptogens, there is some alignment with these herbs and properties mentioned in traditional medicine in East Asia and Middle East (1).

Below are 4 adaptogens you should know about–especially this time of year.

Ginseng (American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), Korean/Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)


Study Objective 



Effects on subjective mood of a single and sub-chronic Panax ginseng dose

Improved calmness, mood, and mental health


Effects of Panax ginseng on the lipid panel

Decreased levels of lipid levels


Effects on fatigue with Panax ginseng treatment

Supported decreased fatigue levels and improved quality of life


Effects of Panax ginseng on exercise

No significant change


Effects of a combination of Panax ginseng and vitamins on physical and mental stress

Increased quality of life

Table 1. Studies investigating ginseng and results that align with adaptogenic properties

Ginseng is a well-known herbal product which has been used over the course of history for various properties.  To date, there are over 200 metabolites that are believed to have activity in the human body (3). The studies included in this article is only just a small number of available studies that have been conducted and have been done on Korean/Asian ginseng. With American ginseng being a different species, there is some difference in metabolite profile but have similar activity to their Asian counterpart (9). There are various formulations available in which people can take this herbal as a tincture, tea, or include it in food (like sam-gye-tang).

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Also referred to as Indian ginseng, terpenoids from ashwagandha are known for their antioxidant properties and therefore thought to help with neurology health and is considered an adaptogen. There are many studies that look into how ashwagandha and its metabolites contribute to different properties that help bring homeostasis back into the body.  The formulations that are available to ashwagandha are extract capsules (roots and leaves), tinctures of roots and leaves, and teas (2). 

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Traditionally used as an immune system booster, this herb is also one of the most common examples of adaptogens. Another common name for this herb product is Siberian ginseng which is due to its similar properties to the Asian ginseng. There are many other usages for this herb that has been investigated, but research is needed.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

This herb has been traditionally used for its bioactive properties from the arctic regions of Europe.  Main usages were to relieve fatigue, increase work performance, and to alleviate higher altitudes.  Like 3, there are many other usages for this herb that have been investigated and more analysis will need to be conducted in order to understand its full potential.

Are there other adaptogens?

The answer to this is: yes, of course! There are plenty of groups that are looking into different properties of herbs and their metabolites.  This means that we can expect the list to grow as study results become available.  The reason why these two particular herbs are mentioned is because of their easy accessibility and does not take much to find. 

The bottom line

Adaptogens are plants and fungi that aid in homeostasis in our bodies and can help with stresses that affect our bodies. There are various ways to take adaptogens so you do not have to worry about taking formulations that may be uncomfortable (like large capsules). Stay tuned for all of the exciting upcoming research to come on how these herbs can play a role in our overall health and wellness.

Want to learn more about adaptogens? 

Check out this podcast interview featuring our co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Swathi, on this topic!


  1. Panossian AG, Efferth T, Shikov AN, et al. Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress- and aging-related diseases. Med Res Rev. 2021;41(1):630-703. doi:10.1002/med.21743.
  2. Mandlik Ingawale DS, Namdeo AG. Pharmacological evaluation of Ashwagandha highlighting its healthcare claims, safety, and toxicity aspects. J Diet Suppl. 2021;18(2):183-226. doi:10.1080/19390211.2020.1741484
  3. Todorova V, Ivanov K, Delattre C, Nalbantova V, Karcheva-Bahchevanska D, Ivanova S. Plant Adaptogens-History and Future Perspectives. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2861. Published 2021 Aug 20. doi:10.3390/nu13082861
  4. Reay, J.L.; Scholey, A.; Kennedy, D. Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. Hum. Psychopharmacol. Clin. Exp. 2010, 25, 462–471.
  5. Kim, S.H.; Park, K.S. Effects of panax ginseng extract on lipid metabolism in humans. Pharmacol. Res. 2003, 48, 511–513
  6. Etemadifar, M.; Sayahi, F.; Abtahi, S.-H.; Shemshaki, H.; Dorooshi, G.-A.; Goodarzi, M.; Akbari, M.; Fereidan-Esfahani, M. Ginseng in the treatment of fatigue in multiple sclerosis: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot study. Int. J. Neurosci. 2013, 123, 480–486.
  7. Engels, H.-J.; Said, J.M.; Wirth, J.C. Failure of chronic ginseng supplementation to affect work performance and energy metabolism in healthy adult females. Nutr. Res. 1996, 16, 1295–1305.
  8. Perazzo, F.F.; Fonseca, F.L.; Souza, G.H.B.; Maistro, E.L.; Rodrigues, M.; Carvalho, J.C. Double-blind clinical study of a multivitamin and polymineral complex associated with Panax ginseng extract (Gerovital®). Open Complement. Med. J. 2010, 2, 100–104. 
  9. Szczuka D, Nowak A, Zakłos-Szyda M, et al. American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium L.) as a Source of Bioactive Phytochemicals with Pro-Health Properties. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1041. Published 2019 May 9. doi:10.3390/nu11051041



This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Dr. Susan Egbert. She is a pharmacist and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) candidate studying Natural Products Chemistry at University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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