Adaptogens: The Special Plants That Help Your Body Adapt To Stress And Manage Diabetes

DiabeticsHealth & Wellness

One of the biggest health trends over the last few years is adaptogenic herbs. Also called “adaptogens,” this unique class of plants helps the body adapt to constant stress, hence the name adaptogens. Out of the tens of thousands medicinal plants around the world, only a tiny percentage are considered by herbalists and researchers to meet the definition of adaptogens. Among the criteria that defines adaptogens: they are non-toxic and safe for nearly everybody to take. (However, if you take medication, check with your doctor before using any new supplement.) 

You may already be familiar with a few adaptogens. Perhaps the most well-known is ginseng. Maca root, holy basil, and licorice root are a few other examples of adaptogenic herbs.

Adaptogens are increasing in popularity because of their purported ability to reduce levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol, one of the stress hormones, is very helpful in acute situations, such as almost getting into an accident. However, chronic stress floods the body with cortisol, leading to inflammation and over-taxed, underperforming organs. But what about blood sugar management? If you have diabetes, are adaptogens a magic bullet? 

How Adaptogens May Improve Blood Sugar Levels

Make no mistake about it: adaptogens won’t be a magic bullet (or pill) if you consume a diet high in sugar and quick-burning carbohydrates that rapidly metabolize into sugar (rice, white flour, wheat). However, if you watch what you eat and go for walks everyday (or get other exercise), several studies (like this one) suggest taking products with adaptogenic herbs can help manage diabetes. 

And the reason why circles back to cortisol. Excess stress, including a high-sugar diet leads to increased cortisol secretion. This, in turn, leads to elevated blood sugar levels. Adaptogens help regulate blood sugar by balancing stress hormone levels. And when your cortisol level is regulated, it improves your body’s uptake of glucose; more insulin is directed into fat cells rather than circulating in the bloodstream, which raises blood glucose levels.

Which Adaptogenic Herbs Are Good For Diabetes?

According to the book, “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” by authors David Winston and Steven Maimes, the following adaptogens may help regulate blood sugar and normalize insulin levels: 

  • American ginseng
  • Amla (also called Indian gooseberry)
  • Asian ginseng
  • Cordyceps (a type of fungi)
  • Codonopsis (also called “Poor Man’s Ginseng”) 
  • Eleuthero (also called “Siberian Ginseng”)
  • Guduchi (Heart-leaved moonseed)
  • Fo-ti (Fleeceflower)
  • Holy basil
  • Licorice (the herbal root, not the candy)
  • Reishi (a mushroom variety)
  • Rhaponticum (Maral root)
  • Rhodiola Rosea (AKA “Arctic root”)
  • Shilajit

You don’t have to take all of these adaptogens to manage diabetes. Buying each of these herbs individually would cost a small fortune, and taking them all one at a time would be a major inconvenience. If you want to try adaptogens for diabetes, after clearing it with your doctor, find a product that contains several adaptogens. Adaptogens work synergistically. This means that the sum of their actions is greater than their individual parts. 

Holy Basil For Diabetes

Winston and Maimes, co-authors of the aforementioned book on adaptogens, especially regard holy basil as being potentially very beneficial for those with diabetes. They point to research showing that the herb lowers blood sugar levels with the same efficacy of a standard oral diabetes medication. “People with non-insulin-dependent diabetes who took 2 ½ grams of dried holy basil leaf powder every morning showed significant reductions in their blood glucose levels,” the co-authors conclude. 


Managing diabetes is a multi-pronged approach. Taking adaptogens may provide some benefit for diabetes. However, to have the most chances of success of reversing diabetes, you also need to eat a balanced diet with very low amounts of added sugars. You also need to drink plenty of water,  move your body daily and practice other forms of stress management such as deep breathing

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