Adaptogens and Nootropics: What's the Difference? - Earth's Secret

Adaptogens and Nootropics: What's the Difference?

Have you ever stepped into a health and wellness shop and just stood there in awe, like a kid in the middle of a [healthy] candy store? Shelf upon shelf of colourful bottles, containers, and bright packaging stretch from one end of the store to the other. Once you make it to the Stress-relief section, your awe quickly turns to confusion and anxiousness. 

Overwhelmed with labels like nootropics, adaptogens, dietary supplements, cognitive enhancers, mood stabilizers, and smart drugs, that all-too-familiar feeling of anxiety and worry consumes you. What do these labels mean? Are they right for me? What about my safety?

Two main types of stress-relieving, cognitive-enhancing substances are adaptogens and nootropics. But what’s the difference between them? The bottom line is, they’re more alike than not, so let’s unpack what they are, and how they may benefit you.

Adaptogens for stress

What are adaptogens?

Whilst stress is a normal part of life, when we battle it over a long period of time, we may experience acute or severe mental and physical symptoms. Some of the most common include: sleep disorders like insomnia, fatigue, moodiness, anxiety, depression, and many more. In fact, the effects of stress can interfere with our quality of life and alter our outlook for the worse.

To cope, many people are turning to adaptogens—a substance or herbal pharmaceutical that can lower our stress levels or improve our body’s response to stress in addition to stabilising our mood, replenishing our energy levels, and quelling the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In particular, these herbs can lower the levels of cortisol –the stress hormone – in the body.

Can adaptogens help me feel calmer?

Used for centuries in ancient Chinese and Indian, Ayurvedic medicine as a calm-inducing herb, adaptogens can help you feel calmer and less anxious starting at the molecular level. By lowering the body’s cortisol levels, research shows that adaptogens can have an “anti-fatigue effect” on the body, helping you feel more relaxed and energized.

Nootropics for cognitive performance

What are nootropics?

These cognitive enhancers or “smart pills” are any natural, synthetic, or prescription-controlled substance or supplement that has a positive effect on our cognitive performance and mental wellbeing. 

This can include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, dietary supplements, herbal remedies, or controlled stimulants like Ritalin. Here are some of the most common nootropics available on the market, many of which you may already be familiar with:

  • Caffeine
  • Magnesium supplements
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Creatine
  • Nicotine
  • Ginkgo biloba

Can nootropics make me smarter?

If only becoming smarter were as easy as taking a single, magical pill, then most of the population would take one to get ahead. Nootropics can, however, have a positive impact on your cognitive functioning, help you feel more alert, energized, enhance memory, your thinking process, and creativity

Adaptogens vs. nootropics: here’s the skinny

Adaptogens and nootropics may be more alike than they are different. For example, they can both yield similar results for our wellbeing, but how they do it, or the degree that they do it may be the key to distinguishing them. If we think of nootropics as an umbrella term–meaning a macro-category of cognitive-enhancing, wellness-promoting supplements–then adaptogens would be a sub-category that falls under the nootropics umbrella.

  • Similarities/overlaps: Generally speaking, both can have a positive impact on our overall wellness; both may help restore our energy levels; both may help improve our sleep quality (with obvious exceptions in the nootropics category like caffeine, Ritalin, etc.)
  • Differences: Not all nootropics are adaptogenic and promote a sense of calm (e.g., caffeine, etc.). Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress, whereas, some nootropics, like the stimulant Adderall, help promote focus and concentration.
  • The bottom line is, it may be helpful to think of their similarities and differences this way—Depending on how you define each term, most, if not all adaptogens are nootropics because they can have a positive effect on our mental and/or physical wellness, while only some nootropics are adaptogens/have adaptogenic properties. 

    How do I find the right adaptogen or nootropic for me? 

    No matter which adaptogen or nootropic you choose, it’s always important to determine why you want to take it, and if one of these substances is the best course of action for your symptoms. It’s best to discuss your options with your doctor. 

    This way, you can address your concerns with an expert who is familiar with your medical history, family/genetic background, and your current medications to potentially avoid any adverse reactions or interactions with your current meds.

    Popular adaptogens in 2021

    Panax Ginseng 

    A pillar in ancient Chinese medicine, Panax ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng, or simply Ginseng, is a root that comes from a perennial plant (Ginsuu) in the Araliaceae family, which grows across China and throughout Asia. 

  • How can it help me?
  • In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Ginseng can help you deal with mental and physical stress, improve your sleep quality, and top-up your energy levels. For those suffering from menopausal symptoms, it may even help balance your mood and alleviate some symptoms of depression. 

  • How do I take it?
  • You can take Ginseng in capsule, tablet, powder, liquid extract form, or by peeling and steaming the root. The average dose is anywhere from 200 mg to 3 grams, daily, taken orally for up to 12 weeks.


    Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb native to ancient Ayurvedic medicine, and comes from the leaves and/or roots of the plant. It grows across India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. It’s also called Poison gooseberry, Indian ginseng, or winter cherry. 

  • How can it help me?
  • Ashwagandha can help you feel calmer, less anxious, and better rested because it can lower our cortisol levels, helping us cope with physical and mental stress. 

    When Ashwagandha comes from the root of the plant only, as in KSM-66 Ashwagandha, contains a higher percentage of Ashwagandha’s active ingredient, withanolides, which means it is more potent and has increased bioavailability, making it optimal for full efficacy in our bodies.

  • How do I take it? 
  • You can take Ashwagandha by tablet, capsule, powder (that you can stir into a post-workout smoothie or a steaming cup of soup, etc.), and liquid extract. Although dosing may range from 200 mg to 5 grams daily, a typical dose clocks in around 500 mg per day, for up to 3 months.

    Goji Berry

    These tiny red berries are a “superfood” loaded with a slew of mental and physical benefits. Goji berries (Lycium barbarum) grow throughout Asia and are a potent source of Iron and Vitamins A and C.

  • How can it help me?
  • Because of their high levels of antioxidants, goji berries can help fight inflammation and fight oxidative stress in the body and support your immune system. A research study in the U.S. concludes that goji berries can improve your quality of sleep, increase energy levels, promote calmness, and enhance your concentration.

  • How do I take it?
  • You may already be tossing in a handful of dried goji berries into your morning oats, muffins, yoghurt, breakfast cereal, or drinking it in a superfood juice blend. Goji berries also come in supplement form, often in combination with other nootropics, etc. A typical dose ranges from 6 grams to 18 grams daily.

    Looking for a science-backed adaptogen or nootropic for your routine?

    Searching for just the right adaptogen or nootropic to help you feel like your old self again can be stressful all on its own. The important thing is to do your research and choose one backed by scientific research that could give you the results you’re looking for.

    So, if you’re still having trouble deciding which nootropic and/or adaptogen might be best for your lifestyle, then choosing a holistic and comprehensive wellness system like Earths Secret’s Ultimate Wellness kit could tick all of your wellness boxes.

    Made from a blend of its three all-natural, vegan-friendly complexes: Calm, Sleep, and Boost, the Ultimate kit offers a unique combination of natural nootropics and adaptogens like L-Theanine, KSM-66 Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, etc. that can target multiple issues that may be preventing you from feeling energized, stress-free, and at your prime.


    Related Posts: 

    Should You Take Nootropics for Motivation?

    What Do the Experts Say About Nootropics?

    The Best Nootropics for Memory in 2021

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