Adaptogens 101: Get to Know Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, and Schizandra
What are adaptogens?
The term adaptogen refers to ingredients that help the body better ‘adapt’ and deal with stress by helping to support our adrenal glands. They work to physiologically improve our response to a stressful event, deadline or ongoing endless to-do lists. By increasing our resilience to stress we can keep blood pressure and sugars balanced, improve our mood and boost our energy when we need it most.
Why do we need them?
The reality is, modern life is busy. Really busy. Whether it’s long commutes to work, managing a family, or planning for our future, we have a lot on our plates. Unfortunately for many of us, taking a month-long vacation to recover and reset is not always an option. When we ‘keep going’ despite the elevated stress and minimal rest, we can experience what is known as adrenal fatigue.
So in order to keep our body and minds in their optimal state, we may need to nourish and balance our adrenal glands. Though a wide range of symptoms can be experienced with adrenal fatigue, here are the two main categories for those in need of adaptogenic support:
Tired but wired
This is officially the second phase of adrenal dysfunction, but the first phase when someone may notice his or her health isn’t quite what it used to be. The main picture is an overworked, tired body, paired with an active ‘can’t turn my brain off’ mind. Energy during the day may be fine, but a mid-afternoon crash and sleep issues at night might be the top complaints.
Burnt out & exhausted
This phase of adrenal fatigue does not happen overnight. It is due to long standing stress, depleted sleep and inability to recharge the energy batteries of the body. Individuals with this level of dysfunction are always tired, tend to get sick often, may experience low blood pressure and rarely feel naturally energetic.
Which adaptogens are best?
Selecting the best adaptogen for your individual needs is based primarily on two factors: your current energy levels + your mood/general reaction to stress. While most adrenal formulas contain multiple adaptogens, always look for the main 1 or 2 on the ingredient label to make an educated decision about whether the formula is right for you.
Here are some of my favourites to consider:
An amazing booster of both physical and mental energy (this was a lifesaver for me during medical school), but it does have the potential to be too stimulating when used on its own or if someone is severely exhausted. Start with a low dose formula (containing 50-100mg) first before deciding if it works for you.
Also known as Withania Somnifera, this is one of the best adaptogens for the ‘wired and tired’ individual. It helps to calm and balance, especially if sleep is an issue. If taken on its own, it can be taken any time of day, as it is non-stimulating.Schizandra (
Schizandra (Schisandra Chinensis)
One of the most nourishing female adaptogens. This is often added to many combination formulas for maintaining good adrenal health, especially when combined with more stimulating herbs such as Rhodiola, Panax ginseng, or licorice.
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.