Proponents claim these herbs are practically miraculous. But the science isn't really there.
Credit: Photo: Tom Merton / Getty

Google “adaptogens” and you’ll find hundreds of products in bottles and boxes claiming to do everything from solving thyroid imbalances to boosting energy, to preventing cancer. These magic herbs and powders sound too good to be true. Well, maybe that’s because they probably are.

What are Adaptogens?

In short, adaptogens are non-toxic herbs, roots, and mushrooms that are supposed to improve your body's ability to handle stress. Supposedly, taking them helps your body "adapt" to stress and become more resilient. Common ingredients in the category include ginseng, holy basil (a type of herb), and reishi mushrooms, among others.

In addition, proponents advocate adaptogenic foods for soothing hormone imbalances, boosting immunity, improving energy, and even relieving gastrointestinal issues.

Where Did They Come From?

The actual term “adaptogen” originated in the former Soviet Union during World War II. Researchers were looking for substances that could improve the mental and physical performance of pilots and members of submarine crews. Specifically, they were used as anti-anxiety medication.

But using herbs, roots, and mushrooms medicinally has been around for centuries. Many ingredients now known as adaptogens stem from ancient Chinese healing traditions and were consumed in meals or teas.

Should You Take Adaptogens?

Well... you can if you like, but don't expect a lot of benefits. There’s very little actual research showing a benefit to ingesting adaptogens.

Though there have been some positive responses from animal and human cell tests, most products make empty claims without much, if any, scientific backing. Most current research has only been published in small journals, and isn't peer-reviewed.

It’s also always important to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new over the counter medications, even herbal supplements. Studies have found some herbs can complicate prescription medications.

At Cooking Light we’re all for using foods to help make you feel good inside and out. But it’s the Food that’s the key here. Consuming a variety of nutritious foods will help you lead a healthy life, and in general supplements or mystery teas aren't necessary.

Cooking fresh food with real ingredients can make the biggest difference in your overall health—and save you from dropping a ton of money on bottles of pills. Plus, it's much tastier.

If you’re really looking to add some more herbs and roots to your diet, try sipping on any of these teas. Regularly drinking tea can reduce your risk for heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and obesity. Now that’s something we can definitely get behind.