Laurence Lee

August 26, 2022 in Supplements

Adaptogen and nootropic are terms sometimes used interchangeably in the wellness and consumer health product space. Yet, the two refer to distinct types of remedies. Let’s find out.

What are Adaptogens?

A term first formally used in 1958, an adaptogen is a medicinal herb that boosts the body's capacity to overcome stress. The stress may be caused by one or more factors including trauma, fatigue, anxiety and infection. 

Adaptogens are the foundation of herbal medicine. The rationale is you must first relieve stress before you begin tackling the actual symptoms of disease.

Studies have pointed to various theories on why adaptogens are stress-relievers. One of the most widely recognized is their ability to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) systems responsible for stress response and that contribute to the regulation of immunity, mood, metabolism and digestion.

What are the Benefits of Adaptogens?

Adaptogens regulate stress-driven emotion, minimize anxiety, ease depression, strengthen immunity, improve vitality, lower fatigue, boost energy and fight off trauma. 

Overall, for a plant to be deemed an adaptogen, it should satisfy three core qualities — support the body's capacity to fight off stress, restore the body's homeostasis and be nontoxic when consumed in normal, regular, recommended doses.

Commonly Used Adaptogens

Some major adaptogens include:

  • Ashwagandha: Also known as withania somnifera, Ashwagandha mitigates chronic stress as well as enhances sexual drive and function. It also slows tumor growth and improves efficacy of chemotherapy and radiotherapy while reducing undesirable side effects.
  • Astragalus: Also known as astragalus membranaceus, it mitigates mental, emotional and physical stress. Astragalus also improves immunity and decreases some allergy symptoms.
  • Cordyceps: Also known as cordyceps sinensis, it enhances quality of life, boosts immunity, supports liver health and assuages renal damage.
  • Eleuthero: Also known as eleutherococcus senticosus, it mitigates symptoms of respiratory infections and the herpes simplex virus.
  • Holy Basil: Also known as ocimum sanctum or o. gratissimum, it mitigates stress symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, forgetfullness and sexual difficulties. Holy basil also works against anxiety, depression and mental fog.
  • Panax ginseng: Also known as Asian ginseng or Korean red ginseng, Panax Ginseng supports natural immunity, fights off stress and treats erectile challenges.
  • American ginseng: Also known as panax quinquefolium, it improves immunity, reduces inflammation, relieves pain, battles stress and enhances nervous system function.
  • Reishi: Also known as ganoderma lucidum, it lowers stress, supports immunity and treats respiratory infections.
  • Rhodiola: Also known as rhodiola rosea or golden root, it lowers levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), improves focus, enhances stamina, lifts mood and mitigates symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Schisandra: Also known as schisandra chinensis, it prevents stress, improves stamina, boosts endurance, elevates concentration, enhances coordination and mitigates symptoms of liver disease.

What are Nootropics?

A term first formally used in 1972, nootropics are plants, organic substances and synthetic compounds that enhance various facets of cognition including memory, creativity, alertness, concentration, thought processing speed, motivation and decision-making.

They work by adjusting neurotransmitters which are the chemicals that act as messengers within the brain. 

The mechanism through which cognitive performance is improved may differ from one nootropic agent to the next. Nootropics are also referred to as cognitive enhancers, brain supplements, brain boosters or smart drugs.

Benefits of Nootropics

Nootropics enhance cognitive performance including memory, creativity, alertness, concentration, thought processing speed, motivation and decision-making.

Commonly Used Nootropics

Some of the most widely known nootropics include the following.

  • Bacopa monnieri: Also known as Brahmi herb, it improves mood, mitigates anxiety, fights off stress and supports knowledge recollection.
  • Caffeine: Found in not just coffee but also tea, cocoa and guarana, caffeine is the most widely consumed nootropic. It boosts passive learning and improves alertness in high fatigue situations.
  • Citicoline: An organic compound long used to manage cerebrovascular illnesses, it improves memory, mind energy, response time, mental agility and cognitive performance.
  • Common oat: Also known as wild green oat or avena sativa, it improves mind function, concentration and mood.
  • Ginkgo biloba: A plant containing compounds known to mitigate anxiety and improve mind function.
  • Huperzine A: An extract of huperzia serrata (Chinese club moss), it has been shown to improve memory, clarity, concentration and thought processing.
  • L-theanine: L-Theanine is an amino acid that fosters mental relaxation.
  • Lion’s mane mushroom: Also known as yamabushitake or hericium erinaceus, Lion's mane mushroom helps regulate mood and enhance mind performance.
  • Phosphatidylserine: An extract of sunflower lecithin, it boosts memory, enhances clarity, prevents mental decline, elevates mood and supports critical thinking.
  • Alpha glyceryl phosphoryl choline (Alpha GPC): Improves memory, learning, concentration and mind function.

Can You Take Both Adaptogens and Nootropics?

Yes, you can. Actually, certain plants and organic compounds such as panax ginseng, bacopa monnieri and rhodiola rosea have nootropic and adaptogen properties. Further, many multi-ingredient supplements that are marketed as either nootropics or adaptogens often contain ingredients of both types. 

Still, the body’s response to mixing adaptogens and nootropics may vary from person to person due to each individual’s unique biochemical composition. So do not mix adaptogens and nootropics before you have had a word with your physician. This is especially important if you are under 18, nursing, pregnant, on medication or diagnosed with a long term illness.

Final Thoughts

Adaptogens and nootropics can help get your mind and body back to a normal, healthy balance. You must however exercise caution in your use of these since they may be accompanied by unwelcome interactions, side effects and contraindications. 

Also, while adaptogens and nootropics can significantly improve your quality of life, they may not always deal with the root cause. They are not a substitute for a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate rest.

About the author 

Laurence Lee

Lee is a neuroscientist who has dedicated his career to understanding the inner workings of the brain. He has seen firsthand the power of these supplements in improving cognitive function and believes that more people should be aware of their benefits. In his articles, Lee shares his extensive knowledge on the subject and provides unbiased reviews of different products.

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