Adaptogens for improving mental health have gained immense popularity in recent years with their ability to help the body adapt to physical, biological or chemical stress. These are typically a class of natural substances that are believed to improve the body’s resistance to various stress factors. What are some of the most popular adaptogens and do they truly help? Here’s your guide to understanding adaptogens and their use:

What are adaptogens for improving mental health?

Adaptogens are typically plant-based, herbal substances that have been found to help our mind and body maintain stress or homeostasis. Simply put, they improve our ability to adapt to external stressors by strengthening our internal systems. Adaptogens are known to improve vitality, focus, mood and performance. They are used as supplement capsules, tisanes or tinctures.

How do adaptogens work?

Much research has gone into deciphering the mood-alleviating properties of adaptogenic herbs. Studies show that adaptogens interact with our body’s hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis which is a system of glands, hormones and receptors in the human body. The HPA axis plays a crucial role in the body’s stress responses, homeostasis and energy metabolism.  What happens when we consume adaptogens is that the organic properties and compounds work with the HPA axis to help balance our systems. In addition, adaptogens may also interact with the body’s immune-neuro-endocrine systems which help the body regulate its use of energy, and maintain strong immune defences.

Popular adaptogenic herbs

While all adaptogens are widely known for stress relief, each has unique characteristics that make it specific.


Ashwagandha is also known as  Withania somnifera and Indian ginseng. It is a shrub that is used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for multiple ailments. However, clinical studies have found Ashwagandha to be particularly useful to reduce anxiety and stress compared to other treatments. Ashwagandha helps the endocrine, nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems by balancing the metabolism and helps the body relax by calming how the brain responds to stress. It has antioxidant properties that protect against cell damage and inflammation.


Tulsi or holy basil is another popular Ayurvedic remedy for multiple ailments. Tulsi can actively reduce oxidative and chemical stress in the body, it is considered a potent adaptogen. It promotes focus and alleviates anxiety. Studies have shown that tulsi has phytochemical compounds that diminish generalized anxiety disorder and associated stress and depression.


Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogen that is found in high-altitude regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Studies have suggested that Rhodiola can reduce fatigue when compared to placebos. Natives of Russian and Scandinavian countries have used Rhodiola for ages to treat anxiety, fatigue, and depression. It is also helpful in coping with symptoms of burnout or chronic stress.


There are two varieties of Ginseng, Asian Ginseng and American Ginseng. Ginseng has a broad range of health benefits and is known to reduce fatigue levels in participants across several clinical trials. Additionally, ginseng combats stress and boosts the nervous system to improve how the body responds to stimuli.

Reishi mushrooms

These are fungus adaptogens and their immunity-enhancing properties have been seen in several studies. Reishi enhances the function of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands secrete cortisol, a hormone that helps the body respond to stress. A 2020 rodent study discovered that with reishi, stress-induced brain inflammation in rats was reduced.

adaptogens for improving mental health

How to use adaptogens

As always, consult your doctor before taking adaptogens or other supplements. A doctor may recommend the use of adaptogenic herbs to get through a stressful period or a longer stretch if need be.  Adaptogens work on the body’s internal resilience for long-term wellness rather than providing a quick fix. This is why they may take several weeks to have an impact. While adaptogens are non-toxic plants with mild effects, it is always important to consider factors other medications, dosages, and suitability when you start.

Adaptogens have a promising effect but they do need to be researched more for their potential benefits. A doctor can suggest the right adaptogen, the brand, and the dosage, depending on your use case.  Available research and studies say that adaptogens are effective in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. However, agencies like the Food and Drug Administration do not monitor the quality and purity of herbs and supplements so you need to do thorough research before you select a product.