On our long, arduous journeys toward health, we inevitably come across important terms worth examining. Adaptogens and nootropics are two examples of similar yet different words we need to define.
Adaptogens and nootropics encompass foods, herbs, and compounds that benefit the body and mind in specific ways. Adaptogens and nootropics, however, are distinct in their benefits.
That's why, in this article, we're going to define "adaptogen" and "nootropic," discuss the differences between them, and then give examples of each that you can use daily.
The most basic definition of adaptogens is a type of plant that helps your body cope with stress. They minimize your stress levels by regulating cortisol, which can also mitigate the effects of restlessness and fatigue.
Adaptogens are herbs and plants that interact with your endocrine and nervous systems by adjusting levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. They can adapt to changes in your body at a specific moment, allowing it to remain in homeostasis.
Adaptogens research has found that they can improve mental performance. Reducing your body's reaction to stress can allow you to achieve peak concentration. Similarly, adaptogens can diminish the negative effect of extreme temperatures, harsh weather, or loud noises on your physical performance.
The main benefit of adaptogens is their ability to increase your body's resistance to stress over time!
Some examples of adaptogens include ashwagandha, Rhodiola, curcumin, and reishi mushrooms. Although the term adaptogen may be relatively new, these plants and herbs have been used for centuries in traditional styles of medicine.
Individuals that face high-stress situations regularly, like athletes, students taking exams, or manual laborers, can supplement with adaptogens to improve performance and reduce the effect of their stressful environments.
How are Nootropics Different?
Nootropics can enhance cognitive function, but they are a bit different. Many of the same herbs that are considered adaptogens are also nootropics. As a result, nootropics can almost serve as an umbrella term since most adaptogens can be categorized as such.
The key is that where adaptogens specifically focus on reducing the effects of stress, nootropics include all plants and herbs that can improve cognition and brain health. The mushrooms in this category can help you feel motivated and focused, boost memory and concentration, and enhance your creativity.
While you might not necessarily be familiar with the term, you likely use these brain boosters daily.
For example, the caffeine found in your morning Cup of coffee is a nootropic that can improve physical and mental performance. Here are some other examples:
- Creatine: boost the energy supply to your brain cells
- Siberian Ginseng: reduces adrenal fatigue and improves learning capacity
- Rhodiola Rosea: enhances your attention span and mental processing capabilities
- Choline: a nutrient that optimizes brain function
In other words, nootropics are natural, safe substances that can help you improve several aspects of brain function, like memory and learning.
Examples of Adaptogens
A favorite among ayurvedic practitioners, shilajit is a mineral-dense resin found in the mountainous regions of the East, particularly in the Himalayas. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
Though shilajit has pro-cognitive effects, we've added it to our adaptogens list. Shilajit, according to Ayurveda, increases the body's resistance to stress by supporting various tissues in the body and vital organ function with its high mineral content.
After all, shilajit is Sanskrit for "destroyer of weakness" and has been shown to prevent several diseases. It's an excellent go-to supplement to keep in your cabinet.
There's a good reason our Reishi Mushroom Extract is in high demand.
Reishi contains antioxidants and synergistic constituents that may protect against sleep disorders, fatigue, chronic infections, poor detoxification, and inflammation—several issues intricately tied to stress.
Reishi is considered adaptogenic because it's powerful in its ability to combat stress directly. In one small study, for example, athletes successfully used reishi to combat unwanted, exercised-induced stress on the body.
You may have heard of all adaptogenic herbs, ashwagandha is perhaps the most commonly referred to. It is another herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, roughly translates to "the smell and strength of the horse."
In terms of its adaptogenic properties, ashwagandha promotes a healthy release of cortisol and inflammatory response in the face of stress (stressful situations, exercise-induced stress/inflammation, etc.). It's also been shown to be beneficial for physical endurance and performance in young adults.
Though studied for other benefits such as increasing libido and bolstering physical endurance, ashwagandha is one to look out for when seeking relaxation and a healthier response to teeth-gritting situations.
Nootropics are foods and supplements that benefit brain health and cognition. They can decrease the risk of dementia, enhance memory, improve neurogenesis, and even boost reactivity. Recent advances in neurology and health science have correlated with a surge in demand for foods and supplements that are healthy for the brain.
Nootropics are for anyone. They're for the elderly who want to keep that extra edge in their old age while preventing neurodegenerative disease. They're for students who study hard in school and are in various academic clubs and circles. They're for the athlete who wants more energy and focus.
Here are a few popular nootropics currently in wide circulation among health enthusiasts.
Lion's mane is a powerful medicinal mushroom that works as a nootropic by enhancing neurogenesis (the production of new brain cells), neuroprotection, and nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is a protein that promotes learning and memory in the brain.
Lion's mane is being studied not only for learning and memory but also for healing the brain. In recent dementia research, lion's hair has been found beneficial for preventing and perhaps even reversing neurodegenerative disease.
There's considerable speculation about whether people should supplement lion's mane via either the mycelium (root system) or the fruiting body (actual mushroom). Just in case, we source high-quality fruiting body extracts for our lion's mane powder.
This is a popular herb used for thousands of years in China (traditional Chinese medicine) for its specific mood and mental neuro-enhancement properties.
Perhaps most notably, as with lion's mane, Ginkgo biloba has effectively treated cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease in studies.
Mood and mental wellness are other areas of study with this herb. This is because of recent research and findings that ginkgo biloba has "been found to alleviate anxiety symptoms in people with mental decline. Therefore, it was tested for clinical efficacy in younger patients suffering from anxiety."
Finally, we come to cocoa (a primary ingredient in our Wild Cocotropic Elixir).
Cocoa, in its purest form, is food, not candy. It is an ancient food that has been used as a brain tonic for thousands of years, particularly in Mesoamerica, where it's been called a "food of the gods."
Cocoa flavonoids and their other various compounds (including caffeine and theobromine), according to research, "provoke angiogenesis, neurogenesis, and changes in neuron morphology, mainly in regions involved in learning and memory.
Cocoa has a lot and what it can offer for the brain. From alleviating depression to promoting thinking and energy, it's truly an "all-arounder" as a nootropic.
Closing Thoughts on Adaptogens and Nootropics
Of course, there is plenty of cross-over regarding adaptogens and nootropics. Shilajit (an adaptogen in this article) can rightfully be called a nootropic. Meanwhile, lion's mane (a nootropic in this article) can easily be noted for its adaptogenic properties and the rest of the medicinal mushroom kingdom.
Experiment with some of the substances in this article as a call to action. Take them for long periods, and note any results you notice along the way.