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How to Use Adaptogens to Handle Stress Better

These safe, potent nootropics have the power to make you less stressed.

Photo by Brandless on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Brandless on Unsplash

What are adaptogens and how do they work?

Feeling good and motivated is a prerequisite for optimal cognitive function.

Is there a magic pill that will solve all your problems? Maybe. It depends on what your problems are.

I believe that there is a link between stress, depression, and optimal cognitive function, but that it is complex and different for each unique person.

One scientific paper that supports my belief is “Depression and hippocampal neurogenesis: a road to remission?”[1], in which it is discussed whether hippocampal neurogenesis could be a potential neural basis for recovery in several different mood disorders.

Hippocampal neurogenesis — the growth of new neurons in the brain region called the hippocampus — is crucial for memory and learning.

”Although the precise role of this process remains elusive, adult hippocampal neurogenesis is important for learning and memory and it is affected in disease conditions associated with cognitive impairment, depression, and anxiety.” [2]

A great method for increasing hippocampal neurogenesis is (especially cardiovascular) exercise. [3]

On the other hand, chronic stress inhibits hippocampal neurogenesis.

”Brief stress can promote hippocampal neurogenesis by increasing cell proliferation [39], but what is more common in modern society is chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to atrophy of the hippocampus and loss of neurons [40].” ~Selfhacked [4]

There are many other health benefits to be obtained by reducing chronic stress.

”Acute stress responses promote adaptation and survival via responses of neural, cardiovascular, autonomic, immune and metabolic systems. Chronic stress can promote and exacerbate pathophysiology through the same systems that are dysregulated.” [5]

Notice that it is not optimal to live a life without any stress. Instead, for optimal cognitive performance, happiness, and health, we want to increase our ability to recover fully and quickly from the stressors we expose ourselves to.

Adapting to stress; recovering more quickly, is crucial for preventing chronic stress. You can adapt to stress better by using adaptogens, but for optimal recovery, I suggest you get your sleep, exercise, nutrition and mindfulness right.

Compounds that help you handle stress are known as adaptogens. They work by improving your cognitive baseline and your ability to get back to that baseline when circumstances push you below it.

They can make you less anxious, less stressed, and less depressed. Flipping the coin, they can make you more optimistic, full of energy, and motivated.

The plant roots below have the potential to get to the root of your cognitive and mood-related problems: stress.

How do you get going with adaptogens?

There is a great degree of individual variation in the efficacy of almost every nootropic. Hence, I believe you should move from one nootropic to the next quite fast if you’re not getting the results you expect and desire.

You should use the adaptogens that are most likely to help you the most. This may sound obvious, but having a clear goal with your nootropic consumption is crucial for getting the results you want.

Once you’ve queried yourself on why you want to use adaptogens, look to the science of one compound. Once you’ve done this, start experimenting systematically on yourself to understand whether the adaptogen serves your purpose(s).

Which are the best adaptogens?

  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Schisandra
  • Ashwagandha

Rhodiola rosea [6]

Science: Rhodiola reduces fatigue and depression while increasing cognition and subjective well-being. It is also neuroprotective and improves the function of the immune system.

“Rhodiola extract at a dose of 200 mg twice daily for 4 weeks is safe and effective in improving life-stress symptoms to a clinically relevant degree.” [7]

My assessment is that Rhodiola rosea has no risk for addiction and that there’s only a low risk for side effects.

My use: I use 175–400mg every now and then in the morning if I want to amp up my cognition during the day ahead. I experience slightly lower levels of relaxation yet almost never stress when I have taken Rhodiola rosea. I’m never mentally or physically fatigued at all during days when using Rhodiola. Rhodiola rosea is a great nootropic for me; it even raises my mood a bit. There is some variation between people as to how well Rhodiola rosea works, so I expect not all users will experience the constant high level of energy that I feel when taking it.

Bacopa Monnieri [8]

Science: Bacopa monnieri is one of the most scientifically backed nootropics for memory enhancement.

In a meta-analysis — review of the scientific literature— it was concluded that Bacopa monnieri improved measures of cognition such as reaction time and visual processing accuracy. [9]

Another meta-analysis [10] showed improvements only in free recall memory. Free recall memory means that a person can recall—remember without help— an item or concept in a list or group of items or concepts.

In a 90-day double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial — the gold standard of scientific study methodology — Bacopa monnieri was shown to improve working memory accuracy and information processing accuracy. [11]

”The Bacopa monniera [sic] product significantly improved performance on the ‘Working Memory’ factor, more specifically spatial working memory accuracy. The number of false-positives recorded in the Rapid visual information processing task was also reduced for the Bacopa monniera group following the treatment period.”

It can also be an antidepressant for some people, possibly thanks to the proven anxiolytic effects. [12]

My assessment is that Bacopa monnieri has no risk for addiction and that there’s a moderate risk of side effects.

My use: It makes me anhedonic and slightly less motivated but I am able to remember about 95% of everything I try to remember. I rarely feel anxious when I take it and can feel a big boost in my learning abilities, but the inability to feel pleasure inhibits my usual bursts of euphoria while exercising or interacting socially. This gives me symptoms of depression because of my psychological tendency to find meaning and motivation in those situations.

Schisandra [13]

Science: Schisandra can be useful to preserve proper cognitive function under exposure to stress.

When rats are given the drug scopolamine, which blocks memory formation, Schisandra preserves the ability of the rats to form new memories [14]. Studying the effects of a compound on memory preservation under the effect of scopolamine is believed to give insight into the capacity of the studied compound to preserve memory in humans under conditions that would otherwise lead to cognitive impairment, such as sleep deprivation or chronic stress.

After strenuous exercise, cortisol (stress hormone) levels were lower in rats that had taken Schisandra than in rats that hadn’t taken anything. [15]

My assessment is that Schisandra has no risk of addiction and that there’s only a low risk for side effects.

My use: I use .5–5g every now and then if I am stressed. I experience significantly lower levels of stress and higher levels of relaxation. Schisandra amps up my creativity, probably thanks to its relaxing effects. It potently improves my attention span and patience.

Ashwagandha [16]

Science: Ashwagandha quite reliably reduces anxiety [17] and stress [18]. The herb induces a state of calm, probably by lowering cortisol levels in the human CNS.

“300 mg of an ashwagandha extract (“full spectrum”) for 60 days in persons with chronic mental stress was able to improve all tested parameters and reduced serum cortisol by 27.9%.”[18]

My assessment is that Ashwagandha has no risk for addiction and that there’s only a low risk for side-effects.

My use: I use .75ml of Ashwagandha from a tincture every day before I go to bed. It’s part of my daily nootropic stack. I find it gives me a slight boost in cognition, which I attribute to lower stress.

If I take a high dose of Ashwagandha I feel very relaxed, yet lose no cognitive functions except for the slightly decreased alertness the relaxation results in. I can still think, write, socialize, and meditate at peak levels.

This post was originally published at, it is not a substitute for professional medical advice diagnosis or treatment.


[1] Eisch AJ1, Petrik D. (2012). Depression and hippocampal neurogenesis: a road to remission? Science.

[2] Costa V, et al. (2015). Role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in cognition in physiology and disease: pharmacological targets and biomarkers. Handbook of experimental pharmacology.

[3] Patrick Z. Liu and Robin Nusslock. (2018). Exercise-Mediated Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus via BDNF. Frontiers in Neuroscience.

[4] Ana Aleksic. (2019). Factors that May “Grow” the Brain: Hope for Brain Injury? SelfHacked.

[5] Bruce S.McEwen. (2007). Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: Understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. ScienceDirect.

[6] David Rönnlid. et al. (2019). Rhodiola Rosea. Nootralize.

[7] Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A. (2012). Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study. Phytotherapy research.

[8] David Rönnlid. et al. (2019). Bacopa Monnieri. Nootralize.

[9] Kongkeaw C. et al. (2014). Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. Journal of ethnopharmacology.

[10] Pase MP. et al. (2012). The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

[11] Stough C. et al. (2008). Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytotherapy research.

[12] Carlo Calabrese. et al. (2008). Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

[13] David Rönnlid. et al. (2019). Schisandra. Nootralize.

[14] Egashira N. et al. (2008). Schizandrin reverses memory impairment in rats. Phytotherapy research.

[15] Li J. et al. (2015). Effect of Schisandra chinensis on interleukins, glucose metabolism, and pituitary-adrenal and gonadal axis in rats under strenuous swimming exercise. Chinese journal of integrative medicine.

[16] David Rönnlid. et al. (2019). Ashwagandha. Nootralize.


[18] Chandrasekhar K. et al. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.