What Are Adaptogens?

What Are Adaptogens?

From capsules to protein powders, adaptogenic plants and mushrooms have become quite popular in the health and wellness world. As such, you may wonder whether they provide any benefits or if adding them/related products to your diet is worth it.

This article explains everything you need to know about adaptogens including the types of mushrooms and herbs which offer potential benefits along with possible risks that come along with their use.


Discover Your Superpower: Adaptogens

Adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs are not the same as hallucinogenic or "magic" mushroom. They do not act on the mind or perception; rather, they work on other systems of the body to help fight against stress and its effects. In general, an adaptogen is a substance that works with other bodily systems to help reduce the negative effects of stress in order for one's body to stay functional, such as when performing tasks under intense situations like during times of war or stressful events. The primary function for these substances is working through key mediators within your bodies' main stress response system-the HPA axis!


Adaptogens And Their Potential Benefits

Research suggests that some types of adaptogens may have beneficial effects on the body's stress response. However, these are not the same things as the medicinal and immune-stimulating properties found in certain varieties of mushrooms and herbs. The following list includes a few examples: chaga (cow’s tongue), Reishi (mushroom) and lion’s and He Shou Wu - with many more to choose from!


Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium Erinaceus, commonly known as Lion's Mane is thought to offer adaptogenic effects. Studies have shown that it may help reverse stress-related changes in neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, reduce levels of the inflammatory markers interleukin 6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), which increase in response to stress, and also decrease brain function by increasing susceptibility to depression.


Reishi Mushroom

The adaptogenic properties of Reishi help to protect against stress by lessening Cortisol levels, which is helpful for the adrenal glands. Reishi also helps in preventing overtraining. A 2020 rodent study found that it can reduce brain inflammation in rats exposed to low oxygen and help protect against nerve damage, memory impairment, and mountain sickness caused by lack of oxygen. It is also beneficial for people who live at high altitudes due to a Reishi's protection against multiple types of stressors such as cold exposure or low oxygen levels. Additionally, studies have shown how it is good for protecting against illnesses or harm caused by sleep deprivation.


He Shou Wu

He Shou Wu has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to support healthy-lifestyle balance and enhance immune function. He Shou Wu herbs are harvested from the Mycofield Tooth Fungi, which is native to China, as well as known as stinkhorn fungus. There are over 200 species that have been identified there - some have been consumed for more than 5000 years!


Are Adaptogens Safe To Consume?

Many studies show that Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Reishi have a generally good safety profile. They are available in many forms including capsules and powders. Specific populations should not use some of these mushrooms as they may cause side effects like dizziness or headache. For example, Reishi could cause side effects such as headaches or dizziness in individuals who take blood pressure-lowering medication or for pregnant/breastfeeding women, due to potential risks for liver toxicity. There is also an association between allergic reactions to Lion's Mane products and its ingredients, including several other plants.

The most common benefits of using adaptogenic herbs come from their ability to help you cope with physical stress by reducing the impact of high levels on your body.


If you want to try out any adaptogens, please talk with your healthcare provider first. Although certain supplements may be safe for healthy people- they're not an appropriate or safe choice for everyone. Additionally, there's always a risk involved when taking herbal formulations that contain many ingredients promoted as adaptogens. It’s a good idea to work with an experienced health care provider if you are interested in using these herbs and mushrooms - it’s always a good option due to their promised health benefits, but so much more research is needed on them at this time.

Plus, although studies have shown humans can benefit from some of these "superfood" herbs (adaptogens) like cordyceps and reishi; most research has been done in animals.


The Bottom Line

Some mushrooms and herbs, including Reishi, Cordyceps and Lion’s Mane may have adaptogenic properties. These effects are still being investigated by scientists, who need to conduct more well-designed studies to fully understand how these adaptogens affect stress responses in humans. When it comes to experimenting with adaptogens like mushroom and herb extracts for stress management, talk with your healthcare doctor firstly before trying this out on your own.