With chaos and upheaval seemingly the order of the day these days, remaining energetic, emotionally buoyant and physically balanced can be a tall order. Exhaustion, burnout and anxiety are all-too common afflictions, leaving sufferers dragging through the daylight hours and resting poorly at night. For those of us trying to manage stress, fatigue and/or exhaustion, the unhealthy quick-fixes typically include some combination of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs and prescribed meds. Sound familiar? But there is a better way, enlisting the help of a group of herbal ingredients called ‘adaptogens.’

Adaptogens are known for their ability to improve adrenal function and boost the body’s ability to cope with anxiety and fatigue. They’re a healthy way to pump the brakes when life’s got you stuck in the way-too-fast lane. Where to start with these well-tolerated, drug-free miracles of nature? How to choose the ones that are right for you? Your relief roadmap starts here:

Adaptogens are a healthy alternative to meds.

Those quick-fix solutions for increasing energy and reducing stress — prescription meds, sugar, caffeine, alcohol – all carry with them the risk of long-term side-effects, including dependency and addiction. Sure, pharmaceuticals may be warranted for acute or severe conditions, but in non-emergency situations, adaptogens can deliver significant relief, with few (if any) downsides. Think of them as plant-based support for modern life, or the herbal world’s answer to superfoods. Another thing that puts adaptogens in the plus column? They have a solid safety track record, having been used for thousands of years in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine. I’ve used adaptogenic herbs in my practice for decades, with excellent results.

Adaptogens safely fortify your ability to handle stressors.

In simplest terms, adaptogens are best buddies with the adrenal system that’s in charge of managing your hormonal responses to stress. They have a unique ability to “adapt” their function to your body’s specific needs, enhancing its ability to adjust to life stressors, cope with anxiety and fight fatigue, working slowly over time. Whether the stressors you face are emotional or physical, adaptogens will help you rise to the challenge, and fight back with more stamina, endurance and a strengthened immunity.

Adaptogens are like a thermostat for calmness and energy.

Like a thermostat that senses when the room temperature is too high or too low and adjusts accordingly, adaptogens, working through the adrenal system, keep your body in balance, the dynamic equilibrium we call homeostasis. Adaptogens counteract the adverse effects of stress; they enable the body’s cells to access more energy; help cells eliminate toxic metabolic byproducts and help the body use oxygen more efficiently. And, unlike prescription meds, adaptogens make all these necessary adjustments without generating jitters or knocking you out.

Meet the Adaptogen ‘Feel Good 4’.  

The adaptogenic herbs I consider most important are what I call the Feel Good 4, namely, Asian ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng, and Rhodiola rosea, any of which can be taken on their own or as part of a blend or formula. If you were to choose only one adaptogen though, I’d recommend Rhodiola. However, I have found that adaptogen work best in combination, so look for a product that has at least 3 of the 4 adaptogens in one formula and make sure it has some Rhodiola in it.

That said, here’s a topline on my four favorites:


(Panax ginseng) One of the most valued medicinal plants in the world, Asian ginseng has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress. Western herbalists say that it restores and strengthens the body’s immune response, promotes longevity, and enhances the growth of normal cells. It is also known to promote a sense of well-being, and may protect against some kinds of cancer.

Suggested Dose:

— 100 – 200 mg per day of a standardized extract. Most standardized Asian ginseng extracts contain approximately 4 – 7% ginsenosides. Or 1 – 2 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, usually taken in gelatin capsules.


  • At the recommended dose, Asian ginseng is generally safe.
  • Occasionally it may cause agitation, palpitations or insomnia.
  • Consuming large amounts of caffeine with large amounts of ginseng may increase the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset.
  • If you have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be monitored when taking it.
  • Asian ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.


(Withania somnifera) Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India. Nicknamed “Indian ginseng” because, like Asian ginseng, China’s king of herbs, it’s used for helping to increase vitality, endurance and stamina, and to promote longevity and strengthen the immune system. (It’s actually not related to ginseng, botanically). Today, herbalists often recommend it for people with high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and impotence associated with anxiety or exhaustion. It enhances the endocrine system, especially the function of the thyroid and adrenal glands. Ayurvedic healers have long prescribed the herb to treat exhaustion caused by both physical and mental strain. Most of my patients who are physically spent and who take ashwagandha usually respond after a week or two by feeling warmer and having more energy. After a couple of weeks, they’ll come back feeling stronger—and some report an enhanced libido as an added bonus.

Suggested Dose:

— 3 – 6 grams per day of the dried root


  • Avoid during pregnancy.
  • Don’t use if you are taking sedatives or if you have severe gastric irritation or ulcers.
  • Also, those who are sensitive to the nightshade group of plants should be careful


(Eleutherococcus senticosus) Used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia, and fatigue, eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng, is also popular in Germany for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and for convalescing after illness. Western herbalists note that eleuthero improves memory, increases feelings of well-being and can lift mild depression. (It’s also known to be helpful for those who work too hard and sleep too little – but it’s not a replacement for either!)

Suggested Dose:

— 2 – 3 grams per day of the dried root.


  • Like Asian ginseng, eleuthero is generally safe, but occasionally it has been associated with agitation, palpitations or insomnia so it may not be appropriate for someone with a cardiovascular disorder.
  • If you have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be monitored when taking it.
  • Though there is no evidence of harmful effects on the fetus from limited use in pregnant women, I generally do not recommend it for pregnant or breastfeeding women.


Rhodiola rosea acts like a hormone thermostat, especially with regard to our main stress hormone, cortisol. I believe the rhythm of our body’s production of cortisol is usually, if not always, impaired when we’re stressed or wrung out. (Our exposure to light and dark, or our circadian rhythm, cues our cortisol.) So, our cortisol level is too high at night when it should be low or not high enough during the day when we need all the energy we can get. Rhodiola literally helps balance the cortisol levels in your body, crucial when you’re under too much stress. What’s more, rhodiola has demonstrated a remarkable ability to support energy production at the cell level, and it has a positive impact on brain function, depression, and heart health. In my experience, patients taking rhodiola usually start feeling better fairly quickly, usually within a few weeks to a month.

Suggested Dose:

— 200 – 600 mg per day of a Rhodiola rosea extract standardized to contain 2-3% rosavins and 0.8-1% salidroside.

— Or 2-3 grams per day of the nonstandardized root.


  • Avoid if you suffer from manic depression or are bipolar.
  • Rhodiola is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Although it’s unusual, at high doses, rhodiola may cause insomnia.

10 Daily Habits to Live to 100

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