We get it. Your to-do list looks like a complex math equation. Meanwhile, you can’t focus on the one thing you need to have done right now. It doesn’t help that your toddler is having the meltdown you wish you could have. You’re frustrated because you’ve been doing all the things: meditation, eating healthy, exercising, getting more sleep—or trying to. But the stress beast is chasing you down anyway, making your heart pound and your palms sweat. And the cycle is taking a toll on your health.
No magic wand (or pill) can poof life’s stressors away. But natural options can boost your body’s ability to cope with pressure and your brain’s ability to power through tough tasks or daily grinds. Adaptogens, are herbs that can beef up your stress muscle and help you hold the heavy load longer, while nootropics send juice to the brain so you have fresher cognition.
The terms “adaptogen” and “nootropic” might be new to you but they are herbs that have been around and in use for thousands of years, trusted by our ancestors. Now we have modern science to back up the power of adaptogens and nootropics to aid health, and to guide us in how best to use them.
How do adaptogens work?
Adaptogen is a fancy word meaning it helps you "adapt" to stress. To understand how adaptogens go to battle for us against stress, we have to dive into how the body reacts to a pressure-cooker situation. When stress shows up, we have a three-stage reaction to it called General Adaptation Syndrome, or GAS.
Alarm. Basically, your body has an intense WTF moment about whatever is happening. It goes into fight-or-flight mode and gives you a surge of cortisol, which is the stress hormone, and also adrenaline to fight fatigue. Your heart hosts a rave in your chest, your blood pressure rises, you get hot and sweaty, you can’t think clearly, and you might even feel sick to your stomach. Bleh!
Resistance. The body begins to repair itself from those initial stress responses while offering boosts to get you through the stressor or the task at hand—like leading a meeting even though your PowerPoint has #failed.
Exhaustion. Eventually, your body’s resources for coping with whatever S-storm you’ve faced will ghost you. That’s when your body crashes.
Adaptogens lower that fight-or-flight response during the alarm phase, allowing us to stay a bit more focused instead of so spazzed. Next, they bolster us in that resistance phase, like a supportive best friend, and help us stave off and minimize the crash. Essentially, when stress strikes, adaptogens keep us on a more even keel.
According to a study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals, “Adaptogens increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection, and prolong the phase of resistance.”
How do nootropics work?
Nootropic is a fancy word meaning it helps your mind work better. Nootropics are also often called “smart drugs” for their ability to enhance memory, creativity, drive, and focus. Each of these brain boosters works a bit differently to increase mental function. Nootropics often act as vasodilators, meaning they dilate the vessels and arteries in our noggins, according to an article published in the journal Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. That dilation increases blood flow and floods our brains with nutrients and oxygen. This flood of valuable ingredients goes to work on cognitive performance by impacting neurotransmitters. That’s just one of the many mechanisms at play.
Great! Now what?
Adaptogens and nootropics sound good on paper, right? But you don’t have time to sift through a list of herbs, buy them, and then brew a magic potion, click your heels three times, and hope for the best.
No worries. We did the work for you, making it easy-peasy. The body of research surrounding adaptogens and nootropics is ever-growing. Here we cover the nuts and bolts and explain the science behind what we believe to be the five best natural supplements. We believe these five powerhouses from nature have the potential to improve your confidence and help you be the very best version of yourself.
1. American Ginseng
The adaptogen American ginseng is known for its force to fight fatigue. Ginseng has a storied history in herbal healing and is coveted for the root’s anti-inflammatory ginsenosides and gintonin.
A large double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted by the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that American ginseng is useful for boosting cancer patients’ energy. Another study found evidence that American ginseng improves working memory, choice reaction time accuracy, and mental calmness.
If you’ve been lacking motivation or the get-up-and-go to start a new exercise program, finish a creative project, or even just do more activities with the kids, SHINE Energy is for you. And if you’re already super active, the Energy formula just might give you that extra kick to take a workout to the next level. When you feel your best, you can be your best.
Ashwagandha is an herb native to India, Africa, and the Mediterranean and lauded for its stress-protective qualities.
Ashwagandha significantly reduced serum cortisol levels in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (Remember, cortisol is the stress hormone.) In the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, the researchers wrote, “The findings of this study suggest that…Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.”
We all react differently to stress, and our reaction can vary depending on the situation. SHINE Unstress is just as much for the mellower mushrooms out there as it is for the Type-A overachievers. When you boot stress from your path, you can see a clear route to reaching your next goal, whether that’s to secure a new job or just to regain control of your inbox.
Bacopa monnieri, also called water hyssop, is a butterfly-attracting, semi-aquatic herb and a powerful nootropic known for its memory-enhancing qualities.
In a randomized, double-blind study, 60 medical students were either given Bacopa or placebo twice daily for six weeks. Students in the Bacopa group exhibited cognitive enhancement in areas of working and logical memory, comprehension, and even the ability to ward off distractions.
Brain fog can crop up for any number of reasons, including chronic illness, fatigue, or side effects from medications. And sometimes we just go through periods where we don’t feel as astute. SHINE Memory is intended to help you perform at your sharpest. Ace your exam, nail your presentation, learn a new language, or just find it easier to remember what you need once you get to the grocery store.
Rhodiola rosea is an herb native to Europe and Asia and known for promoting sustained focus, busting stress, and staving off burnout.
One study evaluated 101 people facing life and job stressors. Researchers found symptom improvement among participants within as little as three days (and continued improvement over four weeks) of treatment with 200 mg of Rhodiola extract. Plus, a clinical trial looked at stress-related burnout in 118 participants treated with 400 mg of Rhodiola extract daily. Researchers found a clear improvement among participants over the 12-week study. The herb is currently undergoing research as a potential treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults.
In the digital age, the world is full of disruptions. And the more fatigue or stress you feel when facing a task, the easier it is to fall prey to distractions—like social media feeds or even that pile of laundry eyeing you from the corner. If you crave better concentration for work, school, or just to read a good book, SHINE Focus is intended to help.
5. Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3 Fish Oil (Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are an essential nutrient, meaning the body must get them through diet. They are also an adaptogen.
Research indicates that a deficiency in omega 3, or low-intake, may predispose certain individuals to depression and anxiety, and supplementation may offer neuroprotection.
When depression and anxiety reign supreme, finding room for anything else can be difficult. SHINE Mood is intended to give you a boost to do and enjoy more of the things you love, like hanging out with friends, trying a new activity, or even asking someone on a date.
L-Theanine is a well-known nootropic among supplement nerds to help boost mental muscle and provide a sense of calm. L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea. Research using electroencephalograph (EEG) shows that L-Theanine increases alpha activity, heightening attention and focus while also having a relaxing effect on the mind. Another study indicated L-Theanine’s ability to reduce one’s stress response when faced with a challenging brain task.
SHINE’s mission is to provide you with natural research-backed, personalized supplements tailored just for you based on your health habits, lifestyle, and goals. You take our confidential Health Quiz, then we do the rest. We send you a monthly amount of supplements in compostable packaging—because, hey, we don’t want Mother Earth to be stressed, either.
The SHINE crew understands that you can be doing all the things and still not be feeling your best—because of stress, anxiety, brain fog, poor focus, mood issues, or just plain old low energy. You deserve to SHINE your brightest, and we want to help.
SHINE Health is the brainchild of longtime pals Phil Desrochers and Greg Leger. Phil, now a self-described supplement nerd, struggled for 15 years with cognitive and mood problems before finally solving his health issues with a targeted, personalized approach.
Greg recognized the beauty in what Phil had accomplished—because that’s what friends do. And together, they gathered the SHINE team of experts and found a way to bring a unique form of supplement personalization to other busy Canadians looking to take control of their health and life confidently.
Jennifer Chesak is a medical and adventure travel journalist for several national publications including the Washington Post, HuffPo, Prevention, Runner’s World, Trail Runner, Women’s Running, Healthline, Doorsteps, SheKnows, and more.