Adaptogens are the hidden greatness that Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine hold. They are becoming more and more popular each day in the Western world. They are called ‘adapt’ogens because they help you adapt to certain stressors which can be physical or chemical. If certain signaling in the body gets out of control, they can help with balancing it out. This means that if that signal gets too high, adaptogens can bring it down to normal levels. Conversely, if that signal gets too low, adaptogens can bring it up. Due to these properties, which allow our bodies to function properly, some of them are considered to be nootropic. Nootropic compounds are the herbs and chemicals that enhance cognitive performance. This can be a drug such as caffeine (yes, caffeine is technically a drug), a compound such as Huperzine A, a medicinal mushroom such as Lion’s mane, or an adaptogen such as Bacopa monnieri. I will write about nootropics in a future article. But in here, it is going to get very adaptogenic really quick. In this article, you will learn about three ginsengs which are Indian ginseng, Siberian ginseng, Panax ginseng. Let’s get to it.
Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng)
Ashwagandha also known as Withania somnifera is the adaptogen with the best name. Because it actually means ‘Smell of Horse.’ Apparently, this herb’s root (which I never smelled) smells pretty horsey and the traditional belief is that consuming this herb will result in having the strength of a horse. In addition to having the best name, ashwagandha is, in my opinion, one of the best adaptogens that one can take.
Ashwagandha (image courtesy of: Four Sigmatic)
It is used for its anti-anxiety effect, reducing stress and insomnia, lowering cortisol and improving immune health through fighting stress. Because it is a powerful stress regulator, its main effect is on cortisol. And keeping cortisol in check is a proven way to improve one’s testosterone levels. Therefore, I don’t see any reason not to use it, especially for people who want to improve body composition. Furthermore, ashwagandha is studied for other benefits such as decreasing C-Reactive Protein (CRP, an inflammation marker in the blood), lowering total cholesterol while increasing HDL and increasing power output in trained people. In addition to all the above, a slight improvement is shown in triglycerides, blood glucose, VO2 max, sperm quality, subjective well-being, perceived exhaustion and fatigue in trained people, social functioning (probably a result of anti-anxiety effect), motivation, blood pressure and anaerobic running capacity. I don’t think I need to say more about the amazing benefits of this horsey herb. The active ingredient in ashwagandha is called KSM-66, and the lowest dose you need of KSM-66 is 300 mg. It seems like Jarrow Formulas is the best price-performance ashwagandha supplement you can find on Amazon and it is what I use.
Eluethero (Siberian Ginseng)
Eluetherococcus senticosus, aka eluethero, aka Siberian ginseng, is another adaptogenic herb that is used in traditional Chinese medicine that helps with combatting fatigue. Eleuthero seems to have really cool benefits. These are improved blood glucose, improvements in cognitive decline, reduction in DNA damage, increased fat oxidation while training, improved immune system, decrease pain LDL cholesterol, increased oxygen uptake, improved social functioning in elderly. Most of these benefits can be seen in other adaptogens. However, it seems to be a good idea to combine these herbs. The standard dose seems to be 300–1200 milligrams.
Eluethero (image courtesy of: Four Sigmatic)
Panax ginseng, aka the true ginseng, is probably the most researched adaptogen used in traditional Chinese medicine. It seems to be effective for immune system, cognitive performance and overall mood. Overall, it appears to have similar effects just like the adaptogens mentioned before, but the fact that it is the most researched adaptogen makes it a good supplement to combat stress. Other benefits are improved anti-oxidant system, improved depression, less fatigue, decrease in DNA damage, improved calmness, and increased blood flow. The dosage used in studies seem to be in 200 – 400 mg daily, with 2-3% ginsenosides (ginseng extract) by weight.
Panax Ginseng (image courtesy of: Four Sigmatic)