Low on Energy? Here Are the Best Adaptogens to Combat Fatigue.

Parsley Health
Medically Reviewed
August 29, 2023

According to a 2020 study by the American Psychological Association, more than half of all American adults—52 percent—reported that in the past two weeks, they felt so tired they just sat around and did nothing.

If this sounds like you, you may have come across adaptogens in your search for something to help your feelings of exhaustion, burnout , and fatigue . Read on to find out more about what they are, how they work, and what they can do for you.

What are adaptogens?

From drinks to pills to fad diets, there are a lot of wellness products out there that promise to help you fight fatigue.

Enter adaptogens, the class of herbs and mushrooms with a wealth of anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and anti-fatigue benefits. In order to be classified as an adaptogen, a substance must 1) be non-toxic when taken in normal doses, 2) help your body cope with stress , and 3) allow your body to return to balance (AKA homeostasis).

While adaptogens have been used in Eastern medicine and Ayurvedic traditions for centuries, their recognition in the West only started about 50 years ago, when they were first used in professional sports due to their high potential to increase the body's resistance to stress and to improve physical endurance. Even more recently, a growing body of science is beginning to both validate the claims around adaptogens and explain the physiological mechanisms behind them.

Some popular adaptogens you may recognize include ginseng , eleuthero, and five flavor fruit, which are considered to be naturally occurring plant adaptogens.

Why and how do adaptogens work?

While not a magic bullet, adaptogens can be a powerful tool for those living with chronic stress, as many of us in the modern world are.

“Adaptogens are very aptly named because they literally adapt to what your body needs,” says Dr. Dawn Jacobson, formerly with Parsley Health. Adaptogens help your body stabilize and regulate your cortisol levels (cortisol is the “stress hormone” ). While they can’t take away the stress response, adaptogens can help your cortisol levels recalibrate so they can more closely mimic your true biological needs.

"Most of the patients I talk to report some level of level of stress, which has a huge impact on everything from immune function and mood to hormone regulation and digestive health,” says Ashley Gish, a nurse practitioner formerly with Parsley Health. “Because of this there are very few patients that I don’t think adaptogens are a good option for.”

The best adaptogens for fighting fatigue

Not all adaptogens are created equal. The adaptogens you choose will depend on your unique biological profile and your health goals.

“For people who struggle to to fall asleep, certain adaptogens are more calming to the system, whereas others can provide more of an energy boost throughout the day,” says Gish.

  • Ginseng: “If someone was having issues with sleep, I probably wouldn’t start with ginseng,” says Gish. “But if they were struggling to drag themselves out of bed in the mornings, ginseng might be a great option.” Dr. Jacobson also recommends ginseng for those who have low energy or can’t wake up refreshed because it can help adjust those less-than-optimal cortisol curves. “Technically, we’re supposed to rise with the sun and go to bed with the sun,” says Dr. Jacobson. “We’re chronically living a non-solar life, and we’re starting to see the effects of that.”
  • Ashwagandha: Sometimes you can use an adaptogen to support energy indirectly. “Of all the adaptogens, ashwagandha is the one that’s going to even things out. It’s not going to boost your energy, but it will help you calm and rest,” says Dr. Jacobson. “Ashwagandha is on the more mild side of the spectrum, and I find that it’s really well tolerated by most people," says Gish. "It’s so helpful for sleep, and reducing anxiety and brain fog .”
  • Cordyceps: Having been shown in recent studies to increase the “breathing threshold,” as well as boost resistance to high-intensity exercise, this adaptogen has recently become popular with endurance athletes. A 2015 study showed participants who regularly supplemented with cordyceps took longer to get tired during rigorous efforts and had a greater VO2 max. Studies have also suggested that it may have anti-aging properties.

Adaptogens as part of a holistic lifestyle

Adaptogens will work best with other lifestyle changes. "Adaptogens are not a replacement for sleep and stress management and eating a healthy diet," says Gish.

They're also not necssarily a "forever" thing. "If you're going through a tough time—maybe you're a new mom or working night shifts—or despite your best efforts struggle to manage stress or get to bed at a decent hour, adaptogens can support your resiliency for stress.”

As a Parsley Health member , your medical team will make recommendations for comprehensive lifestyle changes—from your nutrition and sleep schedule to your movement routine and stress management—as part of your personalized care plan.

Want to become a Parsley Health member? Schedule a free call  to learn more about Parsley’s virtual primary care  , how to use insurance  to pay for your Parsley medical fees, and more.

Parsley Health

Parsley Health is the doctor that helps you live healthier, longer, by treating the root cause of symptoms and conditions. Our medical teams—staffed by leading clinicians and health coaches—spend more time with you, order the right tests, and prescribe food, sleep and movement alongside medications so you can get better—and feel better.

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