Mental health is a popular topic of late, and for good reason. Large numbers of the population are struggling with depression and anxiety.
This is why many people are turning to adaptogens for anxiety and stress management.
Anxiety and depression are mental health disorders that affect mood and behavior. Although medically different, they can both be brought on by high and/or consistent levels of stress and share similar characteristics.
Symptoms of anxiety include tightness in the chest, increased breathing, increased blood flow, and cyclical thoughts. It’s estimated that nearly 25% of the population struggles with anxiety on a regular basis.
As for depression, it is characterized by low energy, social isolation, poor communication, and feelings of hopelessness.
Table of Contents
Adaptogens, Anxiety, & Depression:
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help to build your body’s resilience to stress.
Stress is one of the key contributors to anxiety and depression. In fact, one of the best ways to mitigate anxiety and depression is to reduce stress load.
Adaptogens support the body in building resilience to stress in a couple of ways. These include regulating the HPA axis, reducing cortisol secretion, and increasing energy through the production of ATP.
These biological actions balance out the body’s response to stress and may help to prevent the onset of depression and anxiety.
Best Adaptogens for Anxiety & Depression:
Below, we are going to share the best adaptogens for anxiety and depression that have the ability to regulate biological processes, balance the stress response, and/or induce a calming/relaxing effect.
All of which have the potential to bring the body into a state of homeostasis.
Rhodiola Rosea is a perennial plant that has spanned centuries of herbal medicine use in Europe and Asia. It has an affinity for colder climates, hence the common name “arctic root.” The golden roots are the medicinal part of this plant.
It’s one of the best adaptogens for anxiety.
In a human clinical trial involving individuals with mild-to-moderate depression, participants were given 340mg or 680mg of rhodiola rhizome extract daily over a 6-week period. Both doses of the rhizome extract were able to improve mood, restore energy, and reduce reported depression in participants.
Further research has shown that rhodiola roots inhibit an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain, which leads to a potent antidepressant effect.
A more recent study concluded that a rhodiola extract was able to regulate cortisol levels as well as increase energy metabolism. These effects support the reduction of stress-induced depression and other chronic stress symptoms.
Summary:Clinical trials show that rhodiola appears to be helpful in cases of mild depression. It also appears that rhodiola has a stimulating, energizing effect on the body.
2. Asian Ginseng
Found primarily in China, Korea, and Russia, Asian ginseng is an adaptogen that goes by a couple of different names. Panax ginseng, red ginseng, and Korean ginseng all describe this adaptogen that may contain both antidepressant and anxiolytic effects.
A recent review provided evidence for ginseng as one of the best adaptogens for stress and anxiety.
Ginsenosides, a group of phytochemicals found in Asian ginseng, appear to have antidepressant effects through the regulation of receptors in the brain. Furthermore, it also appears that ginsenosides have the ability to regulate the HPA axis, which works to stabilize cortisol levels.
A couple of different studies, one in 2017 and the other in 2020, found similar antidepressive results for ginsenosides. Each claimed that the effect on this active constituent was comparable to that of an antidepressant pharmaceutical.
Researchers have also found that ginsenosides act as an anxiolytic. It’s thought that they work through a mechanism involving brain receptors. The researchers also found that ginsenosides do not inhibit motor function to the same degree as common anti-anxiety drugs.
Summary:Asian ginseng contains a class of phytochemicals called ginsenosides. Initial research findings indicate that ginsenosides may have an anti-depressive effect. Human clinical trials are needed to prove these initial findings.
Ashwagandha is a herb that is used all over the world as a highly revered adaptogen for anxiety and depression. It grows native in parts of India, Africa, and the Middle East and the root is where most of its therapeutic properties lie.
Research shows that ashwagandha is one of the best adaptogens for depression and stress management.
A clinical study demonstrated that Withania somnifera extract (ashwagandha) held promise in the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms for those with schizophrenia. Participants were given 1000mg/day for 12 weeks and significant improvements were shown in reported anxiety and depression scores.
In an 8-week study with chronically stressed adults, ashwagandha was shown to have potential attenuating effects on the HPA axis and therefore reduced anxiety and cortisol levels.
A review published last year mentioned that ashwagandha was shown to alleviate depression and insomnia symptoms in humans and animals. This may be a result of regulation of the HPA axis and/or the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain.
In an animal study where 3 anxiety tests were conducted, ashwagandha was able to reduce levels of anxiety comparable to an anxiolytic pharmaceutical. Evidence pointed to the reduction of tribulin, which is a marker for clinical anxiety.
Summary:Initial human clinical trials show that ashwagandha appears to be helpful in treating mild depression and anxiety. More in-depth clinical trials are needed to corroborate these initial findings.
4. Holy Basil
Tulsi, or holy basil, is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine and has gained much popularity in modern herbal medicine. Native to India, this adaptogen has been noted for its significant health benefits, especially in regard to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Researchers concluded that Ocimum sanctum, holy basil, shows promising effects in helping reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. It also reduced depression and stress levels in the study participants.
Further, a human clinical trial reported that holy basil helped to reduce symptoms such as forgetfulness, sexual problems of recent origin, exhaustion, and sleep issues.
Summary:Tulsi holy basil appears to be an effective herb for reducing anxiety levels. It especially seems helpful in cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Schisandra, also known as “five flavor berry”, is a common herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is often looked to for its possible effects on anxiety and depression.
Research shows that schisandra may be one of the best adaptogens for anxiety.
A review paper points out that early clinical trials have reported that schisandra has significant antidepressant effects. One study mentioned stimulatory effects of schisandra extract in participants with mental/physical fatigue and depression.
Several other studies demonstrated the therapeutic effects of schisandra in those with stress-induced depression and schizophrenia. Patients in the studies became calmer and their mood was stabilized.
Results of an animal study also indicated that schisandra extract may induce an antidepressant effect through neurotransmitter regulation.
Summary:Human clinical trials show that schisandra appears to be helpful in reducing depression and anxiety. However, these studies were conducted in the 1960’s. New clinical trials are needed to corroborate these promising findings.
In conclusion, anxiety and depression are sometimes the results of chronic stress.
This means that stress management may be the key to maintaining mental health.
Using adaptogenic herbs appears to be an effective natural way to balance stress within the body.
Using adaptogens for anxiety is a great natural alternative.
It should be noted that adaptogens seem to be best utilized during the early stages of light-to-moderate anxiety and depression. It’s best to speak with a physician or mental health counselor if you have severe anxiety or depression.
As with all herbs and supplements, it’s best to talk with your personal healthcare provider prior to making a change to your routine.
Anghelescu, I. G., Edwards, D., Seifritz, E., & Kasper, S. (2018). Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice, 22(4), 242–252. https://doi.org/10.1080/13651501.2017.141744
Bhattacharyya, D., Sur, T. K., Jana, U., & Debnath, P. K. (2008). Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Medical College journal : NMCJ, 10(3), 176–179. Retrieved from: https://www.nmcth.edu/images/gallery/Editorial/SA2o5d_bhattacharya.pdf
Chand SP, Arif H. (2021). Depression. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430847/
Chatterjee, M., Verma, P., Maurya, R., & Palit, G. (2011). Evaluation of ethanol leaf extract of Ocimum sanctum in experimental models of anxiety and depression. Pharmaceutical biology, 49(5), 477–483. https://doi.org/10.3109/13880209.2010.523832
Choi, J. H., Lee, M. J., Jang, M., Kim, H. J., Lee, S., Lee, S. W., Kim, Y. O., & Cho, I. H. (2018). Panax ginseng exerts antidepressant-like effects by suppressing neuroinflammatory response and upregulating nuclear factor erythroid 2 related factor 2 signaling in the amygdala. Journal of ginseng research, 42(1), 107–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jgr.2017.04.012
Cohen M. M. (2014). Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 5(4), 251–259. https://doi.org/10.4103/0975-9476.146554
Darbinyan, V., Aslanyan, G., Amroyan, E., Gabrielyan, E., Malmström, C., & Panossian, A. (2007). Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nordic journal of psychiatry, 61(5), 343–348. https://doi.org/10.1080/08039480701643290
Gannon, J. M., Brar, J., Rai, A., & Chengappa, K. (2019). Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Annals of clinical psychiatry : official journal of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, 31(2), 123–129.
Hou, W., Wang, Y., Zheng, P., & Cui, R. (2020). Effects of Ginseng on Neurological Disorders. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 14, 55. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2020.00055
Jamshidi, N., & Cohen, M. M. (2017). The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2017, 9217567. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9217567
Jin, Y., Cui, R., Zhao, L., Fan, J., & Li, B. (2019). Mechanisms of Panax ginseng action as an antidepressant. Cell proliferation, 52(6), e12696. https://doi.org/10.1111/cpr.12696
Kim, H. J., Kim, P., & Shin, C. Y. (2013). A comprehensive review of the therapeutic and pharmacological effects of ginseng and ginsenosides in central nervous system. Journal of ginseng research, 37(1), 8–29. https://doi.org/10.5142/jgr.2013.37.8
Lee, S., & Rhee, D. K. (2017). Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Journal of ginseng research, 41(4), 589–594. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jgr.2017.01.010
Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine, 98(37), e17186. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
Munir S, Takov V. (2022). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441870/
Panossian A. (2017). Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1401(1), 49–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13399
Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 3(1), 188–224. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph3010188
Pemminati S, Gopalakrishna HN, Venkatesh V, Rai A, Shetty S, Vinod A, et al. (2011). Anxiolytic effect of acute administration of ursolic acid in rats. Res J Pharm Biol Chem Sci.;2:431–7. Retrieved from: http://eprints.manipal.edu/2857/1/ursolic_acid_acute_anxiolytic_2011.pdf
Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca, M. (2011). An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African journal of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicines : AJTCAM, 8(5 Suppl), 208–213. https://doi.org/10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
Speers, A. B., Cabey, K. A., Soumyanath, A., & Wright, K. M. (2021). Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress- Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia. Current neuropharmacology, 19(9), 1468–1495. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X19666210712151556
van Diermen, D., Marston, A., Bravo, J., Reist, M., Carrupt, P. A., & Hostettmann, K. (2009). Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 122(2), 397–401. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.01.007
Yan, T., He, B., Wan, S., Xu, M., Yang, H., Xiao, F., Bi, K., & Jia, Y. (2017). Antidepressant-like effects and cognitive enhancement of Schisandra chinensis in chronic unpredictable mild stress mice and its related mechanism. Scientific reports, 7(1), 6903. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-07407-1
Yan, T., Xu, M., Wu, B., Liao, Z., Liu, Z., Zhao, X., Bi, K., & Jia, Y. (2016). The effect of Schisandra chinensis extracts on depression by noradrenergic, dopaminergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic systems in the forced swim test in mice. Food & function, 7(6), 2811–2819. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6fo00328a