The Issue With Adaptogens No One's Talking About
Can you imagine a wellness world without adaptogens? The buzzy powders that add an instant dose of magic to your smoothie may also have some consequences, as it turns out. More does not equal better when it comes to these potent herbs. In fact, because they are largely unregulated by the FDA and lack of nutrition label, recommended dosages are often overlooked by the consumer.
It's a larger discussion than simply, "read your labels," so we asked a medical doctor, a nutritionist, and an acupuncturist what they think of adaptogens and dosing. Can you "OD" on adaptogens? Here's what they said.
They're probably not toxic, except for licorice.
"'Adaptogen was coined in France in 1947 to describe plant compounds that promote hormesis or 'normal' functioning of the human organism. They are increasingly popular for modulation of stress, anxiety, fatigue, and as a generalized 'tonic.' While there is copious research on their effects and lack of toxicity in Russia and China, much less is published in the English literature. However, as just one example, in an American rat study, the average dose of Rhodiola, one of my favorite adaptogens, to achieve 50 percent toxicity was over 3,000 mg/kg. In other words, a 150-pound person would have to ingest about 95 pounds a day of Rhodiola. Since I use between 100 and 500 mg for my patients, that's not likely to happen.
The only adaptogen to be approached with caution is licorice. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which can dramatically increase blood pressure by affecting kidney function. This can be avoided by always buying de-glycyrrhizinized licorice (commonly sold as DGL).
One other caveat for which there is no good consensus: Should these agents be taken chronically for good health or sporadically when needed for a boost? Over the years, I have sided with more chronic daily use for myself and my patients and include some of my recommendations in my book, The Plant Paradox. —Dr. Steven Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox
Adaptogens are a temporary fix for a larger problem.
Adaptogens, in most cases, are not meant to be used long term. They can help resolve imbalances, but the body should naturally reach equilibrium over the course of a few months. At that point, your system should become self-sufficient.
Adaptogens on their own are ineffective. They are only one part of a protocol that must include healthful nutrition and lifestyle decisions. If you’re looking to improve your health with an adaptogen, make sure to first focus on the basics: a diet dense in plant foods, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats in conjunction with daily meditation and exercise.
Adaptogens don’t always improve things. For example, ashwagandha, an adaptogen associated with hormone balance, can have unintended consequences for people struggling with a sluggish thyroid or Hashimoto's. Instead of creating homeostasis, ashwagandha can cause excessive amounts of thyroid hormone production, resulting in the opposite problem. —Brittany Carlson, functional nutritionist and health coach
Adaptogens are an ancient healing modality and should be treated with care and respect.
"Adaptogens are known to help facilitate the body's reaction and reception to stress. The specialty of Chinese herbal formulas is that they are carefully formulated with precise doses to cause specific reactions for proper responses. These formulas use herbs that are mostly all adaptogens. The direct answer to the possibility of someone overdosing is not necessarily available; however, it is very important to practice moderation, even with things that are good for you!"