By Karla Walsh
Between constant smartphone notifications and never-ending work deadlines, it’s no wonder that 79 percent of Americans say they feel stressed on a daily basis, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. That explains why more people are turning to adaptogens for relief.
“Adaptogens are herbs that support your adrenals [the glands above your kidneys that produce stress and sex hormones] to help balance hormones and counteract the effects of stress in the body,” says Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City and author of The Big Book of Organic Baby Food. “Essentially, they work with the body to restore optimal functioning.”
In general, people turn to adaptogens to help turn life’s mountains into speed bumps, and to moderate the roller coaster of emotions and hormones that often come along with changes and challenges.
Who Should Try Adaptogens?
“However, some herbs may interact with medications or other dietary supplements, so it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified practitioner before consuming adaptogens,” she adds.
You can also reference the Botanical Safety Handbook, a guide created by the American Herbal Products Association, that provides information about more than 500 kinds of herbs and explains potentially dangerous pairings.
And as helpful as adaptogens can be, they shouldn’t replace all the other healthy things you do. “Adaptogens should supplement a healthy diet, exercise regimen, and adequate sleep schedule,” Middleberg says. (Related: Why Getting Your Nutrition Only from Food Is a Bad Idea)
The Best Adaptogens for Men
But where to start? “Each adaptogen has a different effect on the body, so consider the result you’re looking for first,” Middleberg says. Here are the four she recommends as an adaptogen starter pack, along with their unique benefits.
The Best Adaptogen for Reducing Inflammation: Turmeric
Turmeric isn’t just for golden milk and curries—we included it in our supplements for a reason. “Turmeric is a strong antioxidant that helps fight inflammation,” Middleberg says. So, if you have any inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or Crohn’s disease, or your body is under a lot of physical stress, sunshine-hued turmeric is a solid go-to. “Turmeric boosts brain function and has been shown to reduce depression, too,” Middleberg says.
In particular, the curcumin (the most active compound in turmeric), deserves a hat tip. It targets inflammation at the cellular level and may be just as good at calming inflammation as some conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, according to a study in the journal Trials.
The Best Adaptogen for Energy: Rhodiola
The flowering herb can reduce cortisol levels in the body, which are tied to increased stress and belly fat—the latter of which has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Rhodiola speeds up mitochondrial activity as well, essentially making the powerhouse of each cell work more efficiently. Translation: More energy. Rhodiola rosea, in particular, has been shown to help combat fatigue, improve attention span, and boost brainpower, according to research published in the journal Pharmaceuticals.
“It’s also said to increase serotonin and dopamine production, which are considered ‘feel-good hormones,’” Middleberg says.
The Best Adaptogen for All-Around Wellness: Ashwaganda
Ashwaganda is categorized as a calming adaptogen and has been used to help treat anxiety and insomnia, Middleberg says. It also regulates cortisol levels in the body and may help you slay your next marathon: It’s been linked to improved endurance.
It’s also a good choice for guys looking for a fertility boost. Men noticed a 167 percent increase in sperm count and a 57 percent boost in sperm motility (a.k.a. sperms’ ability to swim effectively and strongly through the female reproductive maze) after taking a thrice-daily supplement for three months, according to an Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine study.
The Best Adaptogen for a Sharper Brain: Holy Basil (Tulsi)
“A stress-, anxiety-, and depression-reducer, holy basil is a great way to help clear brain fog and help with cognitive function,” Middleberg says. This sharpness might be a result of nourishing, brain-clearing qualities that inspired some researchers to refer to holy basil tea as “liquid yoga.” The shrub-based herb may also prevent gastrointestinal distress and can help with gas and bloating.