Adaptogens 101 with Katie Lemons + Alyssa Melody

It's hard to adapt to the perils of PMS. Between the cramps, mood swings, brain fog, and overall fatigue, most days I’d like to collapse onto my mattress, toss on an easy going sitcom (read: Parks and Recreation, The Office, New Girl, etc. etc. etc.), grab a few brownies and tune out the world. Side note: Is there a job description that encompasses these things? If so, I’m ready to eagerly submit my application...

But because I am a (mostly) realistic person, however, I know this isn’t any way to adjust and adapt to 25% of my adult life. Enter ADAPTogens stage left. Combined with a few supplements, diet, and lifestyle protocols, sprinkling a few adaptogens into the mix can assist with general stress symptoms, increase energy, combat fatigue, decrease anxiety, improve sleep, and fight cravings and mood swings.

The world of adaptogens, in general, can be somewhat confusing and overwhelming, especially because some species have different effects on some people than others. It’s an individualized game, but for the most part, they assist with stress response due to their ability to increase adaptability to environmental stress and decrease serum cortisol (the stress monster hormone) ( 14 ). They also prevent neurotransmitter depletion (think: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA - the things you need to stay in check to keep you happy and smiley face and heart eye emoji), in turn enhancing both physical and mental stamina. They can increase resistance to stress as well as improve concentration, performance and fatigue endurance ( 7 ).

Unfortunately, there have been limited human clinical trials conducted to test the efficacy of adaptogens and where they do exist they are usually small scale studies. Some of these adaptogens may take awhile before results are felt. One practitioner, for example, recommends a minimum of two to three months before significant results ( 5 ). Turning to the research, here’s what we found:


for general anti-stress effects:

  • Schisandra and Rhodiola rosea may be the new pb&j: when taken together, they exert an anti-stress effect in rats subjected to stress by balancing the HPA axis ( 7 ).

  • Ginseng also may be an effective supplement, as it engages the HPA axis and plays a role in the body’s ability to adapt to stressors ( 2 ). Siberian ginseng has also been shown to engage the HPA axis, and the herb’s antioxidant activity against free radicals helps explain the overall beneficial effects of adaptogens ( 2 ). It can help support patients emotionally and reduce the impact of excessive cortisol production on immune irregularities, HPA negative impact, and inflammation ( 4 ).

for energy increase/combat fatigue:

  • Maca is the 1,2 power punch for fatigue. It’s abundant in protein, unsaturated fats, and minerals - and this nutritious nature may be a reason why it combats tiredness. It can also help reduce stress, relieve depression, and help with poor memory ( 11 ).

  • Schisandra is like a double shot of espresso but without the jitters. This guy increases energy through its ability to boost nitric oxide levels in the body. It fights fatigue and increases energy on a cellular level ( 10 ). This herb can increase your energy by stimulating the central nervous system without making you nervous like caffeine would. But since it’s an adaptogen, it can also calm the nervous system when facing stress ( 10 ).

  • Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) can also be helpful. In one study, R. rosea was used to treat stress related fatigue and showed an increase in mental performance, ability to concentrate, and decreases in cortisol response to patients with fatigue syndrome and burnout ( 2 ). In one study, R. rosea extract 100 mg twice daily restored normal menstrual cycles in 25 subjects ( 3 ).

  • Reishi is not only an immune system tonic, but also an incredible nervous system calming herb. It is used to counteract general fatigue or weakness that may be associated with chronic PMS.

  • Cordyceps is an adrenal tonic, specifically known for increasing energy, oxygenating the blood and brain, feelings of alertness. Post ovulation is when the body is naturally supposed to have more energy and drive and is a good time for people to increase activity levels, do exciting things and feel more zest.

to decrease anxiety / help with sleep:

  • Ashwagandha is the capital of Relaxation Nation. Ashwagandha has been most studied for stress reduction. One of the most common symptoms of PMS is increased reactivity to stress or anxiety and poor sleep, and the alkaloids in ashwagandha may be what creates its sedative and hypotensive properties, reducing heart rate and also insomnia ( 2 ). It can also help improve thyroid gland function, and abnormally low thyroid gland production can negatively affect PMS. ( 5 ). It does this by boosting T4 to T3, the inactive form of the hormone to the active form. Ashwagandha also helps reduce anxiety through increased GABA activity (a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells and the brain. Low levels are linked to anxiety and mood disorders ( 5 ). 1-3g/day is the recommended dose ( 1 ).

  • Reishi is an excellent herb for calming and relaxing women who experience irritability, nervousness, emotional excess, and sleeplessness.

hormone balancing:

  • Ashwagandha:  Hormonal imbalance could be a result of stress. Testosterone, for example, while a traditionally “male” hormone, is crucial for women as well, especially for lean muscle mass. Ashwagandha can also increase testosterone levels ( 6 ). 1-3g/ day is the recommended dose ( 1 ).

  • Maca: Maca is a natural hormone balancing agent, which is helpful to men and women alike, due to its estrogenic properties. It can help regulate estrogen levels both for women with too much or too little estrogen.


  • Ashwagandha can also be used as a diuretic, which may assist with bloating ( 12 ).

to combat cravings:

  • Another study reported that adaptogens may have an effect on cravings and binge eating. In a rat study, Rhodiola rosea abolished the binge-type eating of palatable food, perhaps due to to a blunting of stress ( 8 ). It could also be due to its ability to increase both serotonin and dopamine.

  • Ashwagandha: In one study, 300mg/day twice a day of ashwagandha resulted in improved scores on the perceived stress scale, food cravings questionnaire, oxford happiness questionnaire, three factor eating questionnaire, serum cortisol, body weight, and body mass index. The outcome of this study suggests that Ashwagandha root extract can be used for body weight management in adults under chronic stress ( 16 )

  • Reishi: Because Reishi is also regulator of blood sugar, it helps to keep our cravings for sweetness within range and can encourage us to reach for nutritious sweets instead of refined sugars.

for hot flashes and mood swings:

  • Maca: Women use it to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings and sleeping problems. Too much or too little estrogen is a problem that plagues many women. Maca dramatically fixes these problems ( 11 ).

  • Chinese licorice root: can reduce overall PMS, as well as hot flashes and mood swings ( 13 )


Adaptogens for your cycle:

Before Your Period/During Ovulation:

Cordyceps: Cordyceps is an adrenal tonic, specifically known for increasing energy, oxygenating the blood and brain, feelings of alertness. Adding Cordyceps to your world right after ovulation time is prime. This is when the body is naturally supposed to have more energy and drive. It’s a good time for people to increase activity levels, do exciting things and feel more zest. Cordyceps is also known as a libido tonic and in that case, can be used throughout the month (for some added fun ;))

Need a sexy-time pick me up? Try our Raspberry Black Bean Brownie for a Cordyceps boost — your body (and partner!) will thank you.

Chaga: Chaga is a major immune system tonic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, Chaga would be a great addition to battle pre-period for pain, but could be used at any point of the cycle.


During Your Period:  

Reishi is not only an immune system tonic, but also an incredible nervous system calming herb. It is used to counteract general fatigue or weakness that may be associated with chronic PMS and is an excellent herb for calming and relaxing women who experience irritability, nervousness, emotional excess, and sleeplessness. Reishi would be great especially around PMS time, but also would be wonderful at any time of the month for those who have general anxiety and stress.


Chaga is one of the highest ranking antioxidants in the world. It is a wonderful anti-inflammatory herb, helping to decrease pain and uncomfortable aches. The Chaga compounds responsible for this effect are betulinic acid, inotodial, and ergosterol peroxide. The high levels of the antioxidant called Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), is important for liver cleansing. Some woman with PMS have sluggish detoxification pathways in the liver for breaking down estrogens, meaning that the liver is the root of the problem, not the glands. Because of liver detox symptoms + pain management pros, it is the perfect adaptogen for PMS time.


After Your Period:

He Shou Wu contains iron and zinc and is known in TCM ( Traditional Chinese Medicine ) as a blood tonic, Liver and Kidney support. He Shou Wu is also a rich source of lecithin which has an ability to strengthen the membranes of red blood cells, which will help improve memory and nerve function. The lecithin content of He Shou Wu would also help lower high cholesterol. It has been shown to prevent excessive blood platelet aggregation (clumping) and improve blood flow. He Shou Wu has been shown to reduce the buildup of hepatic fat and also has high amounts of SOD (superoxide dismutase), a potent antioxidant. This would be perfect for after a period to rebuild blood levels. However, being a blood tonic, this would also be good for anyone throughout the month who has scanty periods, brown blood, and very light bleeding, which can be a sign of blood deficiency.

Does this sound like you? Our Honey + Ginger Chocolate cups contain He Shou Wu and is the perfect post-period treat.


The important thing to note about adaptogens is their ability to work differently for different individuals. Start low and slow, and keep close note on how you feel!


To review:

ashwagandha: decrease anxiety, improve sleep, balance thyroid, balance hormones (especially testosterone), decrease bloating, combat cravings

maca: increase energy, balance hormones (especially estrogen), decrease mood swings

rhodiola rosea: general anti-stress effects, increase energy, combat cravings

schisandra: general anti-stress effects, increase energy,

ginseng: general anti-stress effects

chinese licorice root: decrease mood swings

he shou wu: improves memory and nerve function, lowers high cholesterol, improves blood flow + rebuilds blood levels and powerful antioxidant

cordyceps: adrenal tonic, increases energy, oxygenates the blood and brain, increases alertness and increases libido.

reishi: immune system tonic, nervous system calming, regulator of blood sugar, counteracts general fatigue or weakness, calming and relaxing herb for women who suffer from irritability, nervousness, emotional excess, and sleeplessness.

chaga: one of the highest ranking antioxidants in the world. anti-inflammatory, decreases pain and uncomfortable aches, liver cleansing, immune system tonic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, enhances the health of skin, slows the process of our skin aging.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ADAPTOGENS, Be sure to CHECK OUT Alyssa's company ROOT + BONES, and how it's changing the world for people one adaptogen at a time. 

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( 3 ) Gerbarg, P.L. & Brown, R.P. (2016). Pause menopause with Rhodiola rosea, a natural selective estrogen receptor modulator. Phytomedicine, 232(7), 763-769. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.11.013

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( 13 ) Chinese licorice root (2011). Herbs List: A Guide to Medicinal Herbs. Retrieved from:

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( 16 ) Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2016). Body weight management in adults under chronic stress through treatment with ashwagandha root extract: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(1), 96-106. doi: 10.1177/2156587216641830


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