Adaptogens are herbs that enhance your body’s resistance to stress, anxiety and fatigue. Adaptogenic herbs are unique in their ability to balance endocrine hormones and modulate immunity. They are purported to have a general balancing effect on the body by either tamping down the activity of overactive systems or boosting the activity of weaker systems. If you are experiencing a greater amount of mental or physical stress or anxiety than usual or wish to increase performance and endurance, you may want to consider supplementing with adaptogens.

Research the various adaptogens and choose one or two to try. While all adaptogens modulate the immune system and assist with stress and anxiety, specific adaptogens are more efficacious than others in certain other areas, according to Steven Maimes, author of “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.” For example, lycium is good for eyesight and the proliferation of healthy gut flora. Lycium has also been shown to boost the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. For better sleep, Maimes recommends American ginseng, ashwagandha, eleuthero, rhodiola and schisandra. If hepatitis or other liver diseases are a problem, adaptogens with hepatoprotective properties include schisandra, licorice, guduchi and reishi.

Take the recommended dose of the adaptogen you have chosen every day for a minimum of two weeks, carefully monitoring for changes in mood and in how you feel. These herbs are most effective when taken on an empty stomach. Maimes suggests that you take rhodiola in the morning, while holy basil, eleuthero, schisandra, ginseng and astragalus should be ingested during the day. Cordyceps, reishi, ashwagandha as well as teas made with holy basil and jiaogulan can be taken day or night. If after two weeks no changes have been noted, discontinue for a few days and evaluate any changes.

Cycle the adaptogens you have chosen. In an essay by A.I. Baranov published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology,” traditional use of adaptogens in Russia is described. Russian practitioners often recommend taking breaks from adaptogens. Some recommend a pattern of three weeks on, one week off. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is sometimes recommended that after two to three weeks of ginseng supplementation, you take a one- to two-week break. Product literature on rhodiola recommends against taking it for more than six weeks at a time, partially due to an effect described in a 2000 study published in “Phytomedicine.” The study showed that rhodiola boosted mental performance, but after six weeks the effect seemingly disappeared. Not all adaptogens work in the same way in your body, so switching which type you use from time to time may also help alleviate this plateau effect. For example, rhodiola works on the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, ginseng enhances output of certain hormones from the adrenal glands, while ashwagandha works on GABA and acetylcholine.

Experiment to discover which combination of herbs works best for you with your individual constitution and needs. You may find that your needs change over time. You can’t determine which herbs are causing which effects, positive or negative, if you add more than one supplement at a time to your protocol; therefore, add or subtract only one at a time, wait at least two weeks and keep careful notes.