Health Benefits and Differences of Adaptogens and Nootropics

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Adaptogens and nootropics are different classes of supplements that have overlapping health benefits, often including stress relieving, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, adrenal boosting, and cognition-enhancing effects.

  • Adaptogens are herbal substances that may improve the body’s stress response, anxiety, and energy levels. Ashwagandha and Rhodiola are popular adaptogens.
  • Nootropics are herbal substances that may improve cognitive performance. Doctors may refer to certain drugs as nootropics, but we will be discussing nootropic supplements (not medications).

Both these classes of supplements confer healthful benefits, and some herbs are both nootropic and adaptogenic, such as Rhodiola, tulsi (holy basil), and licorice root.

However, these are 2 different types of supplements. Adaptogens may prevent stress, while nootropics may improve cognition.

Check out these high-quality brain health supplements available in our store. PrimeHealth is devoted to safety, effectiveness, and whole-body health.

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens, also known as adaptogenic herbs, are plant-based substances that may help the body regulate cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase physical load tolerance without increasing oxygen consumption.

What are the benefits of adaptogens? Adaptogens may help reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety. They may also boost your immune system and sleep health.

These herbs help keep your body functioning optimally. They can be taken in multiple ways: raw, in a drink or tea, or in capsule form.

How do adaptogens work? Adaptogens work by regulating chemical reactions within the HPA axis and helping the body return to homeostasis. Adaptogens reduce stress-related impairments in the neuroendocrine and immune systems. This reduction leads to a host of stress-prevention benefits.

Ashwagandha is the most popular adaptogen, but others can confer benefits, too. Some foods also behave as adaptogens, including turmeric, mushrooms, holy basil, and maca.

Types of Adaptogens

The many types of adaptogens come from different plants and plant parts (roots, stems, leaves). Each one may provide slightly different benefits, but they all help prevent stress and improve brain function.

Some of the most popular types of adaptogens are:

  • Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng)
  • Siberian ginseng (eleuthero)
  • Panax ginseng
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Reishi mushrooms
  • Licorice root
  • Goji berry
  • Tulsi (holy basil)
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Cordyceps

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Potential Side Effects

Adaptogens are not for everyone. For example, ashwagandha is not recommended for those who are pregnant or going through cancer treatment.

Potential side effects of adaptogens include:

  • Digestive distress
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Sweating

If you’re suffering from frequent headaches, the amino acid 5-HTP might help.

Some adaptogens, such as licorice root, aren’t considered safe when taken in the long term. Talk to your healthcare provider about taking adaptogens and which ones are best for your unique situation.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs,” are a diverse class of cognition-booster botanicals and drugs.

The term “nootropic” was coined in the 1970s by Corneliu E. Giurgea, derived from the Greek words “noos” (mind) and “trope” (turning). He was describing a specific class of neuroprotective, memory-enhancing drugs. Nowadays, “nootropic” often refers to supplements that improve mental performance.

Can nootropics improve memory and focus? Yes, nootropics improve cognitive function, memory, and focus.

Many nootropics increase the synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is important in stimulating memory and cognition

Green tea contains 2 popular nootropics: L-theanine and caffeine. Green tea provides many health benefits, but its nootropic properties, in particular, help boost cognition and mood.

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Types of Nootropics

There are many types of nootropics. The most popular supplements in this category are:

  • Caffeine
  • L-theanine
  • Theacrine
  • Creatine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Lion’s mane mushroom
  • Citicoline (CDP-choline)
  • Panax ginseng
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Bacopa monnieri

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Potential Side Effects

Different nootropics have different potential side effects. 

Nootropic side effects may include:

  • Digestive distress
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating

Talk to your healthcare provider before taking new supplements.


Adaptogens and nootropics are different classes of substances. Although they both benefit your whole-body health, their properties affect the body in varied ways.

While adaptogens mainly boost your well-being by improving your body’s resistance to stress, nootropics enhance your cognitive performance.


Although stress resistance and cognition enhancement are different properties, the overall benefits of adaptogens and nootropics can feel similar.

Many adaptogens and nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Both classes of supplements have a rich history and are known for improving mental clarity, mood, and the ability to respond positively to stress.

The following supplements are both adaptogens (stress relievers) and nootropics (cognition enhancers):

  • Ashwagandha
  • Panax ginseng
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Tulsi (holy basil)
  • Licorice root
  • Bacopa monnieri

Both adaptogens and nootropics also come with a few overlapping potential side effects, including digestive distress (constipation or diarrhea), sweating, and headaches.

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Can You Take Adaptogens and Nootropics Together?

Yes, you may take adaptogens and nootropics together. Talk to your functional medicine health provider about potential interactions between certain supplements.

If you’re starting multiple supplements at the same time, talk to your doctor about an appropriate initiation regimen to ensure side effects can be easily recognized

Dosage and How to Take

Dosage varies by which adaptogen or nootropic you take, what you take it with, and what you take it for. Talk to your doctor about recommended dosages.

Since adaptogens and nootropics are derived from natural sources, there are numerous safe and effective ways to take them. Popular methods of adaptogen and nootropic supplementation include:

  • Drinks, such as tea or similar tinctures
  • Raw mushrooms
  • Capsules or tablets


How can taking adaptogens and nootropics help with stress?

Adaptogens may directly help with stress by improving the body’s cortisol response along with other complex mechanisms. Depending on what you’re taking, nootropics may indirectly help with stress by improving cognition and psychological function.

Who should avoid adaptogens?

The following people should avoid adaptogens or talk to their doctor before consuming them:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People with diabetes
  • Anyone with irregular blood pressure
  • Those with a history of stomach ulcers
  • Surgery candidates (2-3 weeks away from procedure)

How do nootropics affect brain function?

Nootropics may affect brain function in diverse ways. A common way they enhance cognition is to reduce oxidative stress and improve blood flow to the brain.

This 2016 study says, “[Nootropics] work by increasing the mental function such as memory, creativity, motivation, and attention.”

Can you take adaptogens and nootropics while pregnant?

You shouldn’t take adaptogens and nootropics while pregnant unless your doctor has approved them. When pregnant, you should only take supplements approved by your doctor.

Certain nootropics, such as essential vitamins and minerals, are perfectly safe during pregnancy, but your doctor may advise against other herbal nootropics during pregnancy.

Adaptogens may alter hormone levels, which could impact pregnancy in unwanted ways.

Is ashwagandha an adaptogen or nootropic?

Ashwagandha is best known as a stress-relieving adaptogen, but it can also be classified as a nootropic because it may boost cognition.


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