If you’re suffering from stress, poor sleep, low energy or general feelings of ‘being stuck’ in life, then chances are your HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary gland-adrenal glands) isn’t in the best shape.
Adaptogens are herbs that have traditionally been used to help with this problem, by bringing the hormones back into a state of balance.
Taking daily adaptogens can offer many health benefits, including:
- Improved cortisol levels (lower at night, higher in the morning)
- Balanced stress response (you don’t get triggered as easily)
- Enhanced vitality (you have more energy for yourself and others)
There are many popular adaptogens currently on the market. From Ashwagandha, Gingseng, Maca, Rhodiola Rosea, to Pine Pollen.
Each one of these affects your body differently. And each has its own unique benefits. But combining them together can have synergistic effects on your mental and physical well-being.
In the following sections, I’ll share with you, based on my own experience as well as the scientific research, the best adaptogen combinations for specific health goals…
For Brain Fog
Brain fog is a big issue for many people. It commonly manifests as a lack of clear thinking, forgetfulness, and inability to stay focused. Your brain literally feels like it’s in thick fog (no kidding!), and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering in life.
You might be surprised to hear that in many cases it’s not actually the brain that’s causing the issue – but the adrenals.
When your cortisol levels get out of whack, your brain can feel really fuzzy and sluggish. Especially in the morning.
Therefore, nourishing your adrenals to help them produce the right amounts of cortisol is one of the ways you can alleviate brain fog.
The best adaptogens for this goal are:
- Rhodiola Rosea – This herbal adaptogen has long been used to boost mental sharpness. Interestingly, it can also repair damaged neurons, contributing to long-term brain health.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom – Lion’s Mane is probably the most effective natural supplement for brain fog you can take. Many people report an increase in mental clarity after a few weeks of supplementing it. It helps your brain make new cells, which is one of the reasons why it’s so effective.
- Panax Ginseng – Also known as ‘true ginseng,’ or ‘Asian Ginseng,’ it has a long history of use amongst mystics, yogis and other individuals whose daily practices required them to reach deep states of focus.
For Stress & Burnout
If stress is your main issue, you should first check with your MD to test your cortisol levels. This way, you’ll see if your ‘burnout’ manifests as low cortisol, or high cortisol. This is very important.
Knowing this, you can choose the right adaptogens that will make you feel better (taking the wrong ones can do the opposite!).
If high cortisol is the issue, look into these:
- Ashwagandha – shown to reduce cortisol by up to 30% in a study.
- Bacopa Monnieri – calms racing thoughts and reduces feelings of anxiety.
- Schisandra – this can naturally lower your cortisol levels when they’re too high.
- Holy Basil – this adaptogen has been traditionally used to help with stress and burnout.
If low cortisol is the case, try these:
- Licorice – naturally raises cortisol levels in people with adrenal burnout.
- Rhodiola Rosea – an energizing herb used by the Vikings to help them get through harsh living conditions.
For Mood & Mental Well-Being
Mood is heavily influenced by your neurotransmitters. These are like hormones, but in the brain. Neurotransmitters – your brain’s chemical messengers – help regulate your mood and other vital functions.
The most important neurotransmitters for mood are dopamine, GABA, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Therefore, optimizing these can make all the difference in how you feel.
The best adaptogens for this include:
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom – it stimulates the growth of neurons in the hippocampus brain area, which is associated with mood and depression.
- Bacopa Monnieri – It has the potential to upregulate serotonin receptors. Read more here.
- Maca – Although it’s most commonly used for libido, Maca can also significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and irritable mood.
- American Ginseng – This can boost GABA, a relaxation chemical linked to social behavior.
Energy is all about optimizing your adrenals and mitochondria.
Whereas adrenals produce hormones such as adrenaline to keep you alert and awake when it matters the most. Mitochondria make ATP (adenosine triphosphate) within your cells to support overall and long-term energy production.
The following adaptogens can help optimize your energy:
- Rhodiola Rosea – It’s one of the best anti-fatigue supplements in general. It has slight stimulatory(ish) properties, although different from caffeine. Not only that, Rhodiola can assist in the repair of damaged mitochondria, helping them to make more energy.
- Ginseng – This includes both the Siberian and Asian Ginseng. Both are effective at raising energy levels without causing the ‘crash’ afterwards.
- Maca – Native to Peruvian Andes, it’s been used by indigenous people who live at high altitudes to help their bodies cope with lack of oxygen and fatigue.
Getting better sleep means restoring proper adrenal function. You’ll want to keep your cortisol naturally high in the morning, but it needs to gradually go down as the day progresses. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping a regular sleep schedule and avoiding blue light 2 hours before going to bed. It’s also beneficial to go out in the bright daylight as soon as you wake up.
Apart from this, the best adaptogen combination for sleep is:
- Ashwagandha – Has the strongest cortisol-lowering effect out of any adaptogen.
- Moringa – Moringa is rich in sleep-promoting elements, including tryptophan (needed to make serotonin, and consequently, melatonin) and vitamin B6.
- Schisandra – Schisandra fruits contain compounds that have calming effects on the mind.
Here’s the best adaptogen combination for performance, libido and youthful vitality:
- Maca – Maca is the best adaptogen for libido; it improves not only sexual function but also satisfaction and desire.
- Holy Basil – Holy Basil has been suggested to promote libido and performance.
- Shatavari – This is specifically for females. It’s been shown to strengthen the reproductive system, along with improving sexual energy and vaginal lubrication.
For Immune Function
Keeping your immune system strong means you’ll experience lower levels of inflammation. This will naturally help further reduce cortisol levels, allowing your body to better cope with stress.
Here are our top picks for this goal:
- Ashwagandha – Ashwagandha bolsters your natural killer cells as well as other molecules that help defend your body from pathogens.
- Panax Ginseng – Panax Ginseng, much like Ashwagandha, increases the immune activity and modulates body’s resistance to microbial attacks.
- Astragalus – It reduces inflammation and improves kidney function, both of which are crucial for keeping your immune system strong.
- Cat’s Claw – Also known as Uncaria Tomentosa, this Amazonian vine has been traditionally used to lower inflammation that is associated with a suppressed immune system.
Conclusion on The Best Adaptogen Combinations
Adaptogens are herbs that can enhance immune function, reduce stress, and improve certain aspects of adrenal function – such as cortisol production.
Combining certain adaptogens can have more powerful benefits than taking one alone. Although adaptogens don’t treat anything, they can help boost your overall well-being.
Adaptogens aren’t for everyone, though. Ask yourself these questions before using them;
- How’s your sleep?
- Can you easily handle stress and anxiety?
- Do you a healthy libido?
- Is your appetite healthy?
- Do you have good concentration and focus?
If you have issues in any of these areas, combining certain adaptogens can help you.
Remember, adaptogens are just one of the tools you can use to optimize adrenal function and quality of life. They’re by no means a replacement for proper sleep hygiene, whole-foods diet, regular activity, and mindfulness.