Apoptogenic teas, kombuchas, hot chocolates, and coffee and alcohol alternatives are trending social media, claiming benefits for mental and physical performance, immunity, and more. But what are adaptogens, and are they safe?
Adaptogens are plants that are thought to help you adapt to all sorts of stress. That’s why you see products that market to both ends of the spectrum- from sporty packaging for people who want to get more done to tranquil packaging with words like “calm” and “unwind” for people who want to relax. I like to fact-check using Therapeutic Research Faculty’s Natural Medicine’s Database, which evaluates the product’s effectiveness, safety, and how it works. Let’s look at a few popular adaptogens: Ashwaganda, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola, Maca Root, American Ginseng, and Reishi Mushroom.
Pros: There’s good evidence (not enough to say definitively) that ashwaganda root extracts could reduce perceived stress and cortisol levels (stress hormone) and that taking it could reduce stress-related weight gain. Ashwaganda is possibly safe when taken up to 1000 mg per day by mouth and used for the short-term (12 weeks or less).
Cons: There isn’t good evidence for other claims, like anxiety, athletic performance, diabetes, or infertility. Ashwaganda is not recommended in pregnancy or in lactating women because it has abortifacient effects. Ashwaganda could interact with medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, tranquilizers (Valium and Xanax), sedatives, some anxiety medicines, and other Central Nervous System depressants, immunosuppressants, and thyroid hormone.
#2 Panax Ginseng
Pros: There’s good evidence (not enough to say definitively) that Panax Ginseng could improve memory and thinking in a variety of age groups. It could also reduce fatigue in women with MS. It is likely safe to take Panax Ginseng in the short term (up to 6 months) but it’s possibly unsafe to take longer than that. This is because Panax Ginseng could mimic some hormones.
Cons: Research does not support the claim that Panax Ginseng could improve exercise performance. There isn’t enough research to determine if it could help with other potential benefits, like diabetes, cancer, depression, or fatigue. It is not recommended in pregnancy, lactating women, infants and children (it can lead to poisoning/ death), autoimmune conditions like MS, lupus and RA, bleeding or heart conditions, diabetes, hormone sensitive conditions like breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids, insomnia, people with organ transplant, or schizophrenia. It can interact with alcohol, caffeine, estrogens, Allegra, Lasix, insulin, medicine for diabetes, blood clotting, and many more medications, herbs, and supplements.
Pros: There aren’t many. Rhodiola is possibly safe when taken short term (6-12 weeks).
Cons: There isn’t a lot of research supporting claims for Rhodiola use for anxiety, athletic performance, depression, fatigue, stress, cancer, diabetes, or other potential benefits. More research is needed. Rhodiola is not recommended in pregnancy, lactating women, or people with autoimmune diseases like MS and RA. It can interact with medicines for diabetes and high blood pressure, some chemotherapeutic agents, and many more.
#4- Maca Root
Pros: There aren’t many. Maca Root is not the same thing as Matcha, which is used to make green tea. It is likely safe when taken in amounts found in food and possibly safe when taken in medicinal doses of up to 3 g per day short term (up to 4 months). There are no known interactions with medications, herbs, supplements, or foods.
Cons: There isn’t a lot of research supporting claims for Maca Root use for infertility, athletic performance, depression, or other potential benefits. More research is needed. Maca Root is not recommended in pregnancy, lactating women, or hormone-sensitive conditions (reproductive cancers, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, etc). This is because maca root extracts could mimic estrogen.
#5- American Ginseng
Pros: American Ginseng is possibly effective to prevent cold and flu symptoms and for reducing symptom severity in people who do get the flu in otherwise healthy individuals. It is likely safe to take 100-300 mg of American Ginseng short-term (up to 12 weeks).
Cons: There isn’t enough evidence to support claims for use for insulin resistance, diabetes, headaches, stress, menopause, or other potential benefits. American Ginseng is not recommended in pregnancy or lactating women. This is because it has been linked to possible birth defects. It also is not recommended 2 weeks leading up to surgery, in people with schizophrenia, insomnia, or hormone sensitive conditions. This is because ginsenosides could act like estrogen. It can interact with medications for depression, diabetes, immunosuppressants, Warfarin, and blood-sugar reducing herbs and supplements.
#6- Reishi Mushroom
Pros: There aren’t many. Reishi Mushroom extract is possibly safe when taken short term (up to 12 months). Powdered whole Reishi Mushroom is possibly safe up to 16 weeks of use.
Cons: Research shows that Reishi mushroom doesn’t seem to lower cholesterol in people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. There isn’t enough supporting evidence to make claims about the other anticipated benefits of using Reishi, like fighting cancer, immunity, stress, insomnia, or other potential benefits. Reishi Mushroom is not recommended in pregnancy, lactating women, people with bleeding disorders or low blood pressure, or the two weeks leading up to surgery. Reishi Mushroom could interact with medicines, herbs, and supplements for diabetes, high blood pressure, anticoagulants and antiplatelets.
In short, adaptogens have the potential to offer many health benefits, and there is good evidence that they do offer some benefit. Just because there isn’t enough research to support claims doesn’t mean that they don’t work.. it means that we don’t know yet. However, for safety reasons it is very important to check to make sure that your health condition (ex. MS, cancer, pregnancy/ lactation, age) or medication won’t increase your risk for adverse reactions before you start taking any kind of adaptogen. If you are interested in taking adaptogens, discuss your options with your TNT provider who can make sure you are taking safe dosages and using quality supplements. Always let your doctor know what herbs and supplements you are taking whenever they ask you about medication use. If you are not a client CLICK HERE to schedule your free assessment