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Adaptogenic is a loosely defined term applied to an herb or herbal product used medicinally to reduce stress, boost the immune system and improve health. Because the term does not refer to a scientifically described group of herbs with similar composition, patients can become confused about the effectiveness or use of a particular adaptogen. These herbs rarely cause serious problems, but their vague promise of medical benefits can lead to a neglect of proper care and an over-reliance on unproven methods.

Common Side Effects

Many adaptogenic herbs list side effects including anxiety, racing heart and flushed skin. Few have terrible known side effects, but it's best to investigate each herb individually since they all have their own effects. Ginseng can cause stomachaches and sleep loss, for instance. Because adaptogens are intended to neutralize and normalize the body's functions, you may notice discomfort from side effects more than relief from the original symptoms.

Allergic Reactions

Some adaptogenic supplements are made from common herbs and supplements known to Western medicine for a long time, such as licorice, ginseng and maca root. However, you may be unaware of a possible allergy to a relatively obscure herb like fumaria indica or rhodiola extract. Some interfere with common medications; noni juice can impact warfarin effectiveness, for example. For this reason, it's best to consult a physician, read the ingredients list and start with a small dosage to gauge your reaction.


Adaptogens are often thought to reduce toxins in the blood or elsewhere in the body, but each herb has its own minuscule amount of toxicity. To cause stomachaches or other health problems, you would likely have to ingest an extremely high dose of the adaptogen. However, if taken in large quantities, on an empty stomach or without enough hydration, an herbal supplement can cause pains or illness due to its natural components.

Treatment of Severe Illness

Patients with serious health issues like diabetes or cancer have reported many positive results from adaptogenic herbs. Doctors advise that regardless of herbal benefits, a patient should continue to check in with general practitioners for regular check-ups and any adaptogen lacking full medical evaluation should be discussed with doctors in case of dangerous interactions. For instance, the National Institutes of Health reported in 2000 that St. John's Wort, a different kind of supplement, greatly reduces the effect of medication given to HIV patients.

About the Author

John Bland

John Bland has been a freelance writer since 2009, with his essays, fiction and poetry appearing in "Shine Magazine," "North Texas Review" and many online journals. He received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of North Texas in 2008.