What Are Adaptogens?

If you’ve been following me for some time then you know that I’m constantly trying to look out for different types of nutritional interventions, supplements and lifestyle habits to maximize health as well as physical and mental performance.

One classifications of supplements that I have been fascinated with lately are Adaptogens.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are  a group of herbs and roots that are able to, like the name says, adapt in the body to elicit many different benefits.  One of the primary ways adaptogens can impact the body is by that improving the ability to respond to stress primarily altering cortisol.

I want to point out that cortisol often gets a bad reputation; however, it actually plays a vital role in our body for things like our fight or flight response, proper circadian function, and post-exercise recover.  It is chronic elevation of cortisol that can be the root of many different issues that commonly arise in the body.

While each Adaptogen has its own benefits, most appear to minimize the effects of cortisol. As a result, Adaptogens have been shown to increase perceptual mood scales, energy levels, testosterone: cortisol ratios, cognition and even immune function!

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Adaptogens is that they offer both a subjective component and objective effect. Meaning after supplementation you may actually feel the effects of stress reduction subjectively as well as objective blood markers may change as well (i.e. testosterone: cortisol ratios).  Below is my list of top Adaptogenic supplements!

  • Ashwagandha (KSM-66)

Ashwagandha may be my favorite adaptogen due to its wide range of potential benefits.  Ashwagandha has high concentrations of withanolides which has been suggested to decrease inflammation. Additionally, research on “stressed out” adults has shown a 30% decrease in cortisol levels! On a subjective level, one study reported a 69% reduction in anxiety! Lastly, in infertile/aging men, Ashwagandha increased sperm count and has been shown to also aid in strength and muscle mass development. Effective dosages can range from 250mg-6,000mg daily (2,3).

While there are several different types of Ashwagandha on the market, research has shown that the best is likely the patented KSM-66 which contains the highest percentage of the withanolides, the primary active ingredient in Ashwagandha.

  • Rhodiola

Similar to Ashwagandha, Rhodiola or Rhodiola Rosea, has been shown to increase mental performance as well as reduce the cortisol response. Interestingly, Rhodiola has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression and prevent mental fatigue. Research has shown effective dosages from 100-500mg daily (4).

Personally, I have noticed the biggest difference between Rhodiola and Ashwaganha being the improved cognitive function from Rhodiola and this is why I supplement with both!

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  • Panax Ginseng

Research on Panax ginseng has been centered around its ability to initiate calmness and subjective feelings of relaxation. Additionally, Panax ginseng appears to improve working memory in healthy individuals. Effective dosages range from 200-500mg daily (5).

  • Cordyceps Mushrooms

Literature on the beneficial effects of mushrooms continues to pile up, specifically in Adaptogenic Mushrooms.  While parasitic in nature, Cordyceps appears to have a variety of beneficial effects in humans. Some of the researched back effects include:

  • Improved Immune Function

  • Improved Endurance

  • Reduced Cortisol

Effective dosages for Cordyceps range from 1-6 grams daily (6).

  • Lions Mane

Lions Mane is another Adaptogenic mushroom that has been used by Buddhist monks for boosting concentration. Lions mane has also been shown to boost immune function and actually increase Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which may also scave off age related brain decline (7).

When it comes to Adaptogenic mushrooms, Lions Mane is the one that I have noticed the most benefit from, specifically when it comes to improving cognitive function.

  • Chaga

Primarily known for its potent antioxidant properties, Chaga (another adaptogenic mushroom) is rich in Betulinic Acid which has repeatedly been shown to combat symptoms associated with the common cold and flu. Additionally, Chaga also contains melanin which helps protect and regenerate DNA (8).

My go to supplement for Adaptogenic mushrooms is NeuroRoast, since it actually contains 6 different Adaptogenic mushrooms including the three that have been mentioned here!  If you want to give it a try, use the code: KETOLOGIST to get 10% off!


In my opinion, when it comes to supplementation, there is supplement I can recommend more than adaptogens.  With there wide range of benefits, they can not only improve overall health, but also improve human performance!


1.) Mishra, L. C., Singh, B. B., & Dagenais, S. (2000). Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative medicine review5(4), 334-346.

2.) Abedon, B., & Ghosal, S. (2008). A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.

3.) Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine34(3), 255.

4.) Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine34(3), 255.

5.)Reay, J. L., Scholey, A. B., & Kennedy, D. O. (2010). Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental25(6), 462-471.

6.)Yue, K., Ye, M., Zhou, Z., Sun, W., & Lin, X. (2013). The genus Cordyceps: a chemical and pharmacological review. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology65(4), 474-493.

7.)Samberkar, S., Gandhi, S., Naidu, M., Wong, K. H., Raman, J., & Sabaratnam, V. (2015). Lion's Mane, Hericium erinaceus and Tiger Milk, Lignosus rhinocerotis (Higher Basidiomycetes) Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate Neurite Outgrowth in Dissociated Cells of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Retina: An In Vitro Study. International journal of medicinal mushrooms17(11)

8.)Park, Y. K., Lee, H. B., Jeon, E. J., Jung, H. S., & Kang, M. H. (2004). Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. Biofactors21(1‐4), 109-112.

Christopher Irvin