Do Adaptogens Really Work?



You hear a lot of incredible things about adaptogens these days. Especially when you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue and other hormonal issues. These miracles herbs are said to help anyone and everyone with stress responses, because they adapt to your particular needs when taken.

I first learned about adrenal fatigue a few years ago when I was feeling very sick and started researching everything I could about what was going on with my body. This lead me to a lot of information on the power of adaptogens. I immediately ordered some Ashwagandha and Holy Basil online and started taking a small amount, eventually working up to the max suggested dosage. Then after taking some tests with a ND and officially being diagnosed with extreme adrenal insufficiency, I also added Rhodiola to the mix per my doctor’s suggestion.

Initially, they made me feel great. I felt a sense of calm but not tired. I felt focused and  more motivated. They really seemed to help lift me out of my slump and balance things out. Ashwagandha in particular also seemed to be helping with the hormonal layer of stomach fat I had accumulated and couldn’t get rid of. I had no complaints and took my adaptogens daily for the better part of a year. They felt like a necessity for dealing with hormonal issues. I did sometimes back off on the dosage of ashwagandha due to some extra hair growth I believed it was contributing to; but otherwise adaptogens were part of my daily routine.

Until one day, they kind of just stopped working. I suddenly realized if I missed a day, I didn’t feel a difference. So I skipped a few days. Then stopped them completely. Not only did stopping them not seem to affect my mood or energy levels (positively or negatively), but the last few months before I stopped taking them I had been struggling with a rapidly growing stomach again (despite taking the max dosages).

So what’s the deal? Did I become immune to adaptogens?

There’s actually not a TON of information out there about how long to take adaptogens or any potential risks with taking them long term. I have read before that you should rotate your adaptogens, and I assume it’s to keep them effective (I didn’t really do this previously because the above three mentioned are the only ones recommended for me as any mushrooms are a no-go right now). But I’ve also read – probably more often – you must take adaptogens consecutively for a few months to make sure you give them a chance to work properly. I never assumed this meant to then take a break; I thought it just meant you need to give them time before writing them off as ineffective.

It turns out Gaia Herbs does recommend taking breaks from any of their herbal products, which includes adaptogens:

“If an extract is to be used for more than 1 week, then take 6 days on and 1 day off. If an extract is used for more than 6 weeks, then take 6 weeks on and 1 week off, with a day off each week. If an extract is to be used for more than 6 months, then take 6 months on and 1 month off, with a day off each week. The periodic time off from using the herbal extract allows for the full benefit of the herb to be fully integrated into the constitution.

So, I guess the idea here is to take your adaptogens of choice consecutively for six months or so, then take at least a full month off. But notice it’s also recommended to still take one day off each week. This definitely isn’t discussed when we talk about incorporating these herbs.

I think it makes sense to take breaks from any supplement every once in a while. This gives your body a chance to rest and refresh itself (I also took this a step further and recently did a water-only fast where I gave my body a total break from all food and supplements… and it was amazingly healing for me).

Relying on adaptogens

When I first started taking adaptogens, I kind of thought these supplements (and others) would be the biggest solution to my fatigue/hormonal puzzle. But the truth is, there is so so SO much more to all this than supplements alone. This is something that has taken me a long time to fully grasp. If we want to truly heal, it’s vital we address our stress head-on in order to solve the root causes of our messed up stress responses (hormones) in the body. We must change our lifestyle. And look to reprogram our thoughts and emotions. The effects of meditation, yoga, deep breathing, self love and care, forgiveness, letting go of resistance/fear/negativity, good sleep, laughing, and perspective shifts cannot be understated. Diet, supplements and lifestyle all work together to heal. The latter is probably the hardest and most overlooked but the most important.

So, do adaptogens really work? Yes, if you use them right. And when you incorporate them along with diet and lifestyle changes, that’s when the real healing-magic happens.

I’m sure I’ll eventually give adaptogens another go, but for now I’m using some other techniques to deal with stress and heal my hormones.


Are you taking adaptogens? What’s your experience with taking them long-term?



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