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My obsession with all things adaptogenic began where so many other of my new-age, borderline superfluous health obsessions have originated: Goop. Couple this with a few MindBodyGreen podcasts—my favorite being with Tero Isokauppila, the founder of powdered super-mushroom brand Four Sigmatic—and I decided that adaptogenic mushrooms were a vital wellness practice my life was missing. Around this time, I was also traveling through NYC, where adaptogens are available in abundance. I stopped by Cap Beauty in the West Village and proceeded to spend hundreds of dollars on reishi mushrooms and lion's mane like the apocalypse was imminent.
I pored over my haul back at the hotel, convinced my new supps were going to make me a more powerful, productive, and calmer person. Spoiler alert: They kinda have! But first, I'll fill you in on exactly what these adaptogens and adaptogenic mushrooms are, and what they do.
Keep scrolling for more on adaptogenic mushrooms and learn how I've incorporated them into my routine.
What Are Adaptogens and Adaptogenic Mushrooms?
According to Will Cole, DNM, a functional medicine doctor and MindBodyGreen practitioner, the term adaptogen encompasses "a wide variety of different natural medicines from all corners of the globe that have a few things in common: They are safe and they have a balancing effect on something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis. This is the delicate dance between your brain and hormone system."
There are also adaptogenic mushrooms. And, yes, they're different from the hallucinogenic variety sold on the street in parts of Asia. "Simply put, adaptogens support your body’s natural resistance to adverse influences," explains Lily Holmberg, education manager at Gaia Herbs. "These influences could include anything that taxes your body from working out, an illness, or even extra stress from trying to homeschool your kids."
Common adaptogens include reishi mushroom, which reduces stress, anxiety, and promotes restful sleep; cordyceps (which helps with increasing energy and stamina), and ashwagandha (which balances cortisol levels, reduces stress, and boosts thyroid function). "To be an adaptogen, herbs must be non-toxic to the body’s physiological functions, offer widespread support, and help keep the body at equilibrium," says Holmberg.
The Benefits of Adaptogens
• Reduces stress and anxiety
• Helps with adrenal fatigue
• Balances cortisol levels
• Increases sex drive
• Protects brain tissue
There are different benefits, according to which adaptogen or adaptogenic mushroom you integrate into your routine, but the overarching theme is that they reduce stress. "Adaptogens are essentially herbs that help our bodies stay healthy and fight off environmental stressors," says Lauren Smith, a registered dietitian and the founder of The Sorority Nutritionist.
"When our bodies get stressed, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands," she says. "The problem is, in our chaotic and stressful lives, sometimes it's hard for our bodies to 'calm down' and return to normal...enter adaptogens and why they are potentially so impactful to our health and help with common conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression."
How to Use Adaptogens and Adaptogenic Mushrooms
There are several different types of adaptogenic products, and navigating the supplement aisle at the health food market isn't always easy. "Most people use powdered adaptogens such as ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, and medicinal mushrooms, to name a few," explains Smith. "As a new area of research that has gotten a lot of interest lately, they are becoming more available to consumers and on grocery shelves in commercial food products, making trying them easier than ever."
As Holmberg explains, there's not just one way to incorporate them into your diet—it's best to experiment and determine what product works best for you. "You can take them on the go in a convenient capsule or liquid extract format, blend them into your morning smoothie, use them to make an energy-boosting, caffeine-free snack, or drink them in a nourishing nighttime tea," says Holmberg. "There’s no 'right' way to consume them and it really comes down to personal preference." Different adaptogens have different functions, so it's important to do the research to find out which ones are suited to your needs.
What To Expect From Taking Adaptogens
So, as far as my own use, I've been taking Superfeast Reishi powder at night (in warm almond milk with The Beauty Chef Sleep Inner Beauty Powder, $60), and Sun Potion Ashwagandha with Superfeast Mason's Mushrooms and Neural Nectar ($58) in the morning as part of what I now dub my "mushroom coffee." I essentially take plant-based milk (unsweetened) and warm it before adding my adaptogenic powders (roughly a quarter-teaspoon each), a heaping teaspoon of cacao, a tiny sprinkle of stevia, a splash of boiling water, and then I froth the mix using a hand-held milk frother I picked up at Kmart. The result is pretty delicious and gives me the buzz of a coffee without the anxious jitters or digestive troubles (sorry, TMI?). I also love the ritual of a warm drink and just feel generally off if I skip it. I've also found I fall asleep more easily since adding the reishi into my nightly routine. For anyone trying to cut back on coffee, this is actually one of the best methods I've found.
If the above sounds like a lot, you can also try pre-made blends like Sweet Reason's delicious herbal beverages, which are not only packed with adaptogens, but also broad spectrum hemp extract.
It's difficult to fully grasp what the side effects of adaptogenic mushrooms might be—mostly because they are largely unregulated. "Just like any supplement, unfortunately, the FDA does not regulate these products," notes Smith. "It is very important to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian before trying adaptogens to avoid medication interactions or negative health effects, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding."
While Holmberg says that there is little research that shows any negative side effects associated with adaptogens, she adds that it is "important to note that there are multiple herbs classified as adaptogens, and the energetics and actions of these herbs are very different from one another." While some adaptogens—such as rhodiola and maca—may stimulate the body, others, like holy basil, ashwagandha, and reishi, help calm and relax the body and mind.
The Best Adaptogenic Products
A superfood powder meant to promote deep, restful sleep, Superfeast's product contains reishi, an adaptogenic mushroom that calms both the body and mind.
Ashwagandha, which forms the base of this Sun Potion powder, is a powerful adaptogen, meant to help strengthen the immune system and reduce stress.
This premium blend of eight adaptogenic mushrooms boosts vitality, supporting hormonal function and digestion.
Power Dust is an appropriate name for this adaptogenic powder, which boosts energy with a blend of adaptogens including cordyceps, ginseng, ashwagandha, and schisandra.
With adaptogenic betulinic acid and a healthy serving of antioxidants, this powder is an anti-aging powerhouse (which also helps to protect the skin against free radicals).
This Gwyneth Paltrow-endorsed beverage contains adaptogenic mushrooms like lion’s mane and chaga to keep you going long after you drink the final drop.