This is a question I get asked all the time whenever I host workshops and seminars introducing people to adaptogenic herbs. Apart from, “How do you take them?”, duration is probably the most popular inquiry. It’s not surprising considering we do live in the North American culture that is arguably addicted to “faster living”. We want immediate effects, benefits we can feel instantly, and essentially (myself included): results...yesterday! Hence, while I’d love to proclaim that adaptogens are going to instantaneously and miraculously change your life, the truth of the matter is that anything worth having takes time - and that includes low-stress living.
According to the research, and quoting naturopathic doctor and functional medicine practitioner Brooke Kalanick, PhD, ND, MS, “Adaptogens aren’t like some anti-anxiety medications. You won’t take them and immediately notice less stress,” and it’s been further determined that they take at least 2-3 weeks before they build up and work on the body (1).
Now while it’s generally recommended to be patient while first taking adaptogens before you come to your own conclusions on if they are “working” for you, many studies do show that some of these herbs in particular (e.g. eleuthero) “exhibit stimulating effects after both single-time use and prolonged use, leading to increased working capacity and mental performance under stressful and fatigue-inducing conditions” (2).
How does this all make sense? Well it comes back to truly understanding the pure definition of what they herbs are, what they do, and how they work. Adaptogens are a special group of herbs used to improve the health of the adrenal system in particular — the system in charge of managing the body’s hormonal response to stress. They strengthen the body's ability to cope with anxiety slowly and gently, without jolts or crashes. They’re called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to your body’s specific needs. Though their effects may initially be subtle, they’re scientifically proven and undeniably “real” (3).
Depending on your goals and strategies when it comes to using adaptogens, you may try a single or multiple daily dose, possibly starting with a higher dose to “build up” that “adaptive energy” and really nourish your stress-response system - eventually working your way down to a lower maintenance regime (as advised by Dr. Michelle Pobega, ND here). Regarding the question of should you “take breaks” or “cycle” different/multiple adaptogens, there isn’t one clear way to work with these herbs, and some practitioners advice to cycle them on and off them for optimal efficacy - whereas others insist that’s simply a myth, and definitely not necessary (4).
In summary, it’s important to realize that there’s usually not (like, never) any “quick fix” when it comes to restoring your equilibrium and operating at your “peak performance” so to speak (whether that’s killing it at the gym or simply not attacking your boss or pulling your hair out on a Monday morning). Adaptogens are clearly an effective, yet 100% natural, aid to helping you get back to YOUR best “normal”, and after studying and working with these plants for years, my humble suggestion would be to take them for at least a month whilst practicing other forms of conditioning self-care and stress-reducing activities to really encourage your body and your mind to fall back into it’s naturally perfect rhythms. Basically, taking a good quality synergistic adaptogenic herb blend should help regardless of what else you’re doing/changing (or not) in your life, but the “results” can well and truly be amplified beyond belief by fitting in that extra bit of kindness and care into your daily regime.
For those of you who have taken adaptogens - either currently or in the past - I’d love to hear how long before you “noticed the results”?