In Episode 143 of Keto Talk, Jimmy and Dr. Will Cole do a deep dive on the subject of Adaptogens–plant medicines, but not just any old plant medicines– and shine some light on what this means for your health.
"I like to think of adaptogens like Captain Planet. When all the forces combined, they saved the day. Adaptogens are a whole kingdom of substances that all work together, but they all have their own strong suits as well." – Dr. Will Cole
"Most people can find benefit from these adaptogens in their life right now." – Jimmy Moore
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a broad family of herbs and plant medicines that have been used for thousands of years throughout the world. To be labeled an adaptogen, a plant medicine must fulfill at least three specific criteria:
How adaptogens work
Stress and hormone pathways are connected – your body’s stress system, the sympathetic nervous system, controls hundreds of pathways that are responsible for inflammation, and when inflammation gets out of control, this can lead to hormonal problems like adrenal fatigue, low sex drive, and thyroid dysfunction.
Adaptogens help to regulate the sympathetic nervous system so everything downstream works better. And because chronic inflammation is linked to many of the common health problems we see today, the medical literature has found adaptogens to have even more cool and far-reaching health benefits like:
They all mediate stress, fight inflammation, and bring balance to your hormonal system but each adaptogen also has its own special set of skills.
Here are the 12 most popular adaptogens and what you should know about each:
1. Ginseng: The pick-me-up
Ginseng varieties, including Asian White, Asian Red, and American White, are great for those seeking an extra boost of energy without the jitters that can come from caffeine. Personally, I especially like to use it to combat jet lag.
2. Pearl: The beauty secret
Crushed-up pearl powder is a great source of amino acids and will nourish skin, hair, and nails.
3. Rhodiola: The stress calmer
Rhodiola rosea is good for people struggling with adrenal fatigue and fibromyalgia, but it can have a stimulating effect on the extra-sensitive, so take it before noon or it could keep you up at night.
4. Schisandra: The adrenal supporter
Another super adrenal supporter, this berry is one I used on a regular basis during my journey recovering from adrenal fatigue.
5. Shilajit: The sex hormone igniter
People with low libido or sex hormone imbalance can benefit from shilajit. This Ayurvedic herb’s name translates as “conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness.” Sounds good to me.
6. Ashwagandha: The thyroid + mood master
A superstar adaptogen, this popular herb is a great tool in supporting optimal thyroid function. If you tend to get mood swings, ashwagandha may also be all the remedy you need. Just watch out – ashwagandha is a nightshade, which may aggravate symptoms (such as joint pain) in some people with autoimmune conditions.
7. Maca: The energizer
Maca both boosts energy and calms anxiety. It’s also a rich source of vitamin C, making it an immunity enhancer. There are three types of maca powders: Red, yellow, and black. Red maca is the sweetest and mildest tasting. Yellow maca is the least sweet, and black maca is somewhere in between the two.
8. Holy Basil (Tulsi): The memory booster
I recommend holy basil to my patients who complain of brain fog because it gently increases cognitive function. As a bonus, it’s also great for bloating and gas.
9. Ho Shou Wu: The libido pumper-upper
Another great tool for people with a low sex drive, this herb has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine.
10. Mucuna pruriens: Nature’s chill pill
This adaptogenic bean extract is jam-packed with L-DOPA, the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. I take this daily as it helps with focus and calms me down during my busy day.
11. Eleuthero: The battery pack
If you are dragging through the day, this herb is another great one for optimizing energy levels. Extra stressful week? Eleuthero is your go-to.
12. Adaptogenic mushrooms
Within the adaptogenic kingdom, there is an extra-special group of medicinal mushrooms that offer some of the same hormone-balancing benefits as the adaptogens above and some extra immune-boosting qualities too. These include:
What are adaptogens anyway?
Adaptogens encompass a wide variety of different natural medicines from all corners of the globe that have a few things in common: They are generally safe and they have a balancing effect on something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis. This is the delicate dance between your brain and hormone system, and include your brain-adrenal (HPA) axis, brain-thyroid (HPT), and brain-gonadal axis (HPG). You need all these communication systems working in perfect harmony for a healthy mood, metabolism, energy, immune system, and sex drive. When your HP axis is unbalanced it leads to hormone problems like adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, and libido issues. And nobody wants that.
Like the colors of a rainbow or the superhero kids on Captain Planet, the inhabitants of the adaptogenic kingdom sometimes work brilliantly by themselves and sometimes cooperate synergistically with other complementary adaptogens. Usually available in powdered form, you can mix these into your morning coffee, make a caffeine-free tonic, or blend them into your daily smoothie.
The next question is: Which ones do you need? Find your current health issue and I’ll give you a list, but always remember to pay attention to how your body responds to anything new.
Poor complexion, Brittle nails, or Unhealthy hair:
Pearl: This adaptogen of the sea is a great source of amino acids to help nourish hair, skin, and nails.
Chaga: This superfood mushroom is loaded with antioxidants that help fight free radicals to keep skin youthful.
Cordyceps: This is the ultimate anti-aging adaptogen. Not only does this mushroom increase antioxidants, but it decreases the pro-inflammatory monoamine oxidase and lipid peroxidation activity that causes us to age.
Rhaponicum: Full of antioxidants, this root helps to promote cell health, keeping you young and vibrant.
Jiaogulan: Consuming this adaptogen can actually help your body increase its production of superoxidase dismutase. This particular antioxidant protects your body’s cells from premature destruction and aging.
Rhodiola: This herb can help reduce stress and is great for people with adrenal fatigue. However, if you are extra sensitive, be careful because it could potentially keep you up at night.
Mucuna pruriens: This bean extract is packed with L-DOPA, which is the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. I call this nature’s chill pill.
Ashwagandha: Since it has the ability to regulate cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, this is a powerful calming tool to have on hand.
Licorice root: Bring stress down with this cortisol-controlling Zen master.
Schisandra: This berry supports your adrenals and can help fight adrenal fatigue.
Cordyceps: For those struggling with adrenal fatigue, this is a great hormone balancer to help increase energy and stamina.
Ashwagandha: The ultimate cortisol balancer, this helps to support your brain-adrenal (HPA) axis. This herb is also powerful when it comes to thyroid support. Since adaptogens are balancing in nature, ashwagandha in particular is great at boosting sluggish thyroid hormones.
Licorice root: Just like ashwagandha, it helps to heal adrenal fatigue by balancing cortisol levels.
Ginseng: Asian white, American white, Asian red, and Siberian (Eleuthero) all boost energy without the caffeine jitters.
Maca: This herb is available in three different varieties: red, yellow, and black. Red is the sweetest but most mild tasting. Yellow is the least sweet, and black is right in the middle. They are all great energy boosters.
Low Sex Drive:
Shilajit: This herb is used in ayurvedic medicine and translates to “conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness.” Shilajit helps to lift up low libido and balance sex hormones.
He shou wu: If sex were an herb, it would be he shou wu. Used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, this herb helps increase sex drive in those with low libodos. Mix with shilajit for a sexual health tonic.
Holy basil (Tulsi): Start incorporating this into your wellness routine if you struggle with brain fog as it works to increase cognitive function.
Lion’s mane: The nerve growth factors (NGFs) found in this mushroom can help regenerate and protect brain tissue.
Rhaponticum: Some studies have shown that this root can stimulate brain activity.
Maca: Packed with vitamin C, this is a perfect immune booster.
Chaga: Studies have shown this mushroom to have powerful antiviral effects as well as immune-balancing properties.
Turkey tail: When consumed daily, it has been shown to improve immune function.
Ashwagandha: This is traditionally used in ayurvedic medicine to help boost the immune system after being sick.
Astragalus: Having strong immune-boosting abilities, this herb has been used to help restore immune function for people with weakened immune systems from cancer treatments or chronic illnesses. In addition, it has powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Anxiety and Depression:
Lion’s mane: Studies have shown that the consumption of lion’s mane can reduce depression and anxiety.
Ashwagandha: Taking ashwagandha has been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 44 percent!
Blood Sugar Balance:
Reishi: This magic mushroom helps to lower blood sugar levels by down-regulating-alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars.
Holy basil (Tulsi): This little guy works hard to reduce bloating and gas, for those struggling with gut issues.
Turkey tail: I often give this adaptogenic mushroom to my patients who are battling gut overgrowths like SIBO or candida.
Licorice root: This has been used for years as a common remedy to help heal leaky gut syndrome since it is both soothing and anti-inflammatory.
Shiitake: Japanese studies have shown that this mushroom has the power to actually decrease tumor growth.
Himematsutake: Also known as God’s mushroom, the protein blazein that is found in Himematsutake actually has the ability to kill some cancer cells. Studies have shown that cancer cells died after just a few days of treatment!
Where the heck do I buy these?
You can find many high-quality, organic adaptogens online and at health foods stores. Some of my favorite brains are Moon Juice, Sun Potion, Four Sigmatic, and Real Mushrooms.
In Episode 142 of Keto Talk, Jimmy and Dr. Will Cole answer your questions about Mixed Messages About Bonking On Keto, Yellow And Floating Stool, Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia, Hypoglycemia When Cheating, Traumatic Brain Injury, and more!
Jimmy and Will answer your questions:
– Why did I seemingly “bonk” when engaging in demanding skiing conditions while on a ketogenic diet?
Hi Jimmy and Dr. Cole,
I really enjoy your podcast and appreciate your diligent work. My question is about sports performance. I've been doing a lower carb diet for 8 months now, always under 150g carbs and mostly under 100g. For the past 6 weeks, I've been strictly following a keto diet with net carbs under 30, many days around 20g. I'm also limiting my calories and doing intermittent fasting with calories coming in between 1200-1500. Once or twice a week I cycle up to about 2000 calories. I just returned home from a snowboard trip where I experienced a scary problem and I'd like to learn more about the physiology of what may have happened.
The first two days were challenging conditions with a lot of powder. This takes more effort so I'd consider it somewhat demanding exercise, but still aerobic. This was my first trip since going strictly keto and I was still adhering to the diet strictly. On the third day after a breakfast of Canadian bacon and eggs, we got up and headed up the mountain. On my first short run of the day, the trouble began. My legs literally would not work and I had trouble getting up on my board after falling. This happened a few times and I started to worry I may be having a panic attack even though this is not something I've ever experienced on the slopes. I was definitely a little worried about what I was experiencing but I just chalked it up to nerves, calmed myself, and eventually made it down. I assumed resting on the lift would be all I needed.
I got up to the top and the same thing happened although initially I was fine for a few minutes. It was a real challenge to both my legs and my brain and then I started having the same symptoms again about halfway down. These were steep, challenging runs and I began to worry I had just finally freaked myself out to the limit. Then it occurred to me that I may be "bonking"...I've run one marathon and experienced something like that, however, this was very different. I seriously couldn't get my legs to work, as in laying on my back trying to flip over and couldn't even pull my knees up to my chest.
I ended up making it down safely, albeit so ungracefully and very slowly and decided I should probably eat some quick absorbing carbs if I wanted to continue. I slowly ate half of a very large chocolate chip cookie, monitoring how I felt. Incidentally, this didn't even taste good to me and didn't create any cravings in the days after. After a rest, I went back out and was totally back to "normal." I know I'm relatively fat-adapted at this point since I can fast 18 hours easily. However, I've also read it can take months for metabolic processes to fully adapt. I'm guessing what happened is that the demands of the activity outpaced my body's ability to access fat, and being keto, I had fully depleted my glycogen stores. Is that what happened to me? That's pretty simplistic, but I'd love to hear a more detailed scientific explanation of what may have happened.
Thanks again for producing a great show!
– What’s going on with yellow and floating stool when you are eating keto?
Hi Jimmy and Will,
I’m one month and two days in to my new lifestyle, but I still have diarrhea and it’s always yellow. Is this normal? Thank you!
Hey Jimmy and Dr. Cole,
I keep a very strict keto diet eating two times a day, so I have a regular bowel movement every other day. But my stool mostly floats. Is this a problem? I consume quality fats and protein with very few carbs in the form of green vegetables. Thanks for your help!
– Does having low platelets and possibly Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia have a connection to eating a ketogenic diet?
Hello you guys,
It looks like my wife is having low platelets and a possible diagnosis of ITP (Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia) and we are working with doctors to find out. We started keto in May 2018 and now consume a meat heavy low-carb, high-fat diet. Is there anything in our keto diet that could cause this or help in the healing process? Would adding in more bone marrow to the diet help?
– How do you prevent bouts of hypoglycemia from happening when you go off plan and consume carbs (other than staying in a state of ketosis)?
Jimmy and Will,
I have been on keto since August and have lost about 50 pounds. I have been testing blood ketones and I am usually at 1.0 mmol+. Over the holidays I had three times when I went out of ketosis and each time I had a bad reaction. About 2-4 hours after consuming carbohydrates, I would have what I think is a hypoglycemic reaction with terrible nausea, diarrhea, sweating, and shaking. I was unable to test my blood to see what my glucose reading was because I felt so bad. After a few hours of resting I would start feeling normal again and eating carbohydrates after that was fine. But each of the three times I was getting out of ketosis I had this reaction. Any thoughts on why this is happening or ways to prevent it (besides the obvious of just staying in ketosis)? One more bit of info, the third time it happened I was trying to prevent it and instead of eating a big meal I kept snacking to try and keep my blood sugar up and that didn't work. Thanks for all your help and I hope to hear your response.
KETO TALK MAILBOX:
– What are the mechanisms behind why a ketogenic diet and periods of fasting help with traumatic brain injury?
Hello Jimmy and Will,
Thank you for your work. It is a pleasure to listen to Keto Talk. I have an observation about high-fat/low-carb that you and other listeners may find interesting. I sustained a very bad sports concussion in 2011 and this injury knocked me out (literally!) of school, all physical activity, and nearly all social interaction for upwards of six months. Most of my symptoms subsided within a year, but I had several longer-lasting cognitive effects, including math and language impairment, lack of focus, and increased irritability. One of the more prominent personality changes I noticed after the concussion was the sudden development of OCD, especially compulsion, and heightened anxiety and paranoia. In the years since, I have learned to live with this and work around my "new self." I have even been to counseling, which was somewhat helpful. When I first became concussed, my medical team recommended I take omega-3 fats in the form of flaxseed oil supplements, as well as an anti-seizure medication.
This past summer, I adopted a Paleo diet which quickly transitioned to Paleo ketogenic and I recently began implementing periods of fasting. I am doing all of this for health/longevity/vanity benefits, unrelated to my concussion. Since introducing fasting to my ketogenic diet, I am becoming my "old self" again. I have experienced all the benefits of ketosis and fasting—mental clarity, emotional stability, physical changes, physical performance PR’s, and more. But I never expected that the effects of my concussion would be reversed. They are not gone completely, but every fasting cycle I see huge improvements.
After doing a quick search of Dr. Google and looking on PubMed, I found out that this is a thing. People are using ketosis and fasting to heal traumatic brain injury. And it makes perfect sense- the neuroprotective aspects of fasting and a ketogenic diet should theoretically also help heal. Can you talk more about the mechanism of this on your podcast? My concussion was relatively minor, but there are people with CTE and servicemen coming back from overseas with PTSD and very serious traumatic brain injuries. This could be life-changing for so many people.
Again, thank you for what you do! You are so gracious on your show, and I so appreciate your continued dedication.
In Episode 141 of Keto Talk, Jimmy and special guest cohost Dr. Jay Wiles from DrJayWiles.com answer your questions about Mixed Messages About Keto, Hypopituitarism, Convincing Skeptics Saturated Fat Is Healthy, Insulin Pump And Ketosis, Type 1 Diabetic Weight Gain On Keto, and more!
Jimmy and Jay answer your questions:
– What can I do to prevent the sore, dry eyes that came on when I switched over to keto to help with chronic daily headaches?
Hi Jimmy and Jay,
I went into ketosis for a few months before Christmas with the hope that it might help me with chronic daily headaches I have had for many years. It really helped and I'm hoping it can be the cure I’ve been seeking for so long. However, there were a some side effects which I wonder if you could help with like sore, dry eyes which feels like I’ve drank too much alcohol. What’s going on with this? Liver issues? Dehydration? Lack of sleep? When I switched back over to a “normal” diet during Christmas, my eyes got a lot better.
Since the beginning of the year I’ve cut my carbs again (but not fully keto) and the eye pain is back again. I’ve tried supplementing daily with magnesium, potassium, fish oil, a multivitamin, 5-HTP, a probiotic, and butterbur (which is supposed to be good for headaches). I also put pink Himalayan sea salt in my water and drink 3 liters of water daily. Any help you can give for this issue would be greatly appreciated.
Keep up the good work!
– Will keto help normalize my DHEA-S levels as my blood sugar and insulin levels come down into the healthy range from eating keto?
Hello Jimmy and Dr. Wiles,
I’m a female in my early 40s with elevated DHEA-S coming in at 509. My endocrinologist did additional testing to rule out congenital adrenal hyperplasia and nothing came up. I also have elevated postprandial blood sugar due to metabolic syndrome which also comes with extra weight around my midsection. My question for you guys is this—could my glucose/insulin issues be the reason why my DHEA-S has increased? Or is it vice versa? And will keto help bring this level into normality? I’ve been doing keto for several months and have lost almost all the extra weight around my middle, but I’d love to know more about this DHEA thing.
Thanks for your help,
– Can a low-carb ketogenic diet help bring about healing for the symptoms of someone who has experienced strokes in the past?
Hi Jimmy and Jay,
I love Keto Talk and find it so helpful! I have been looking for information on stroke and keto but have not find anything yet. My boyfriend had a couple of strokes many years ago and now suffers from brain fog, chronic pain, and other quality of life issues. I have been eating keto for a couple of months and have seen so many great benefits. I can't help but think my boyfriend would benefit from doing it as well. Is this wise?
Thank you for answering my question,
– Is my elevated prolactin levels a result of my low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic diet?
Hey Jimmy and Dr. Wiles,
Thank you for playing such a strong part in my journey to better health. In January 2014, I weighed in at 285 pounds and lost 50 pounds with juicing. After slowly gaining back all the weight after getting frustrated with doing that, I then got diagnosed as prediabetic in June 2016 and it terrified me since my older brother has Type 2 diabetes. Fortunately I found the work of Tim Ferriss which led to me the cyclical ketogenic diet and then into full-time keto which helped me lose over 100 pounds. So far so good, right?
I recently went to the doctor and got some bad news about my prolactin levels indicative of the health of my pituitary gland. Normal range is 2.1-17.7, but mine came in at 63.9! Is this increase in prolactin a result of eating keto or is it something completely unrelated to my diet? My doctor is going to run an MRI to see if he can find out more about it. Is this normal for ketosis?
Thank you in advance,
KETO TALK MAILBOX:
– Is developing vertigo a common problem with switching over to a ketogenic diet? What is added or subtracted from the diet that would cause this?
Hi Jimmy and Jay,
After doing keto for a little while now, I’ve just experienced vertigo for the very first time. Is this a common side effect of keto? Does it mean I’m getting too much or too little of something in my diet now that would cause this? I’d appreciate your help in understanding this.
In Episode 140 of Keto Talk, Jimmy and Dr. Will Cole answer your questions about Mixed Messages About Keto, Hypopituitarism, Convincing Skeptics Saturated Fat Is Healthy, Insulin Pump And Ketosis, Type 1 Diabetic Weight Gain On Keto, and more!
Jimmy and Will answer your questions:
– Are concerns over lack of nutrients and acidity in the body on keto valid? How can you cut through the confusing mixed messages on keto?
I am incredibly frustrated with my keto experience so far and hoping you can help. I am a 5'3" female and weigh 155 pounds. I started this journey to help me with brain fog, afternoon slumps, and energy level issues and I finally started to feel better after a really rough two months trying to get keto-adapted. While I have gotten better now, it seems to be a bumpy ride so far. As a runner I’m seeing a negative impact on my endurance, my menstrual cycles have become very intense, and I’ve experience zero weight loss (although that’s not a goal, it would be nice to see). I’ve been doing a ton of research and listening to podcasts trying to figure out if I’m doing something wrong and perhaps seeing if getting the benefits of keto is any different for women as compared with men. I hear things about keto causing acidity in the body which is the precursor to the development of disease and it kinda freaks me out. My diet is very rigid most of the time eating mostly organic foods, very little red meat, and focused on fish, chicken, turkey, and more vegetables thanks to reading Ketotarian and Dr. Anna Cabeca’s new book. I’m ready to give up on my keto plan because of the lack of nutrients and acidity concerns. There seems to be so many mixed messages about keto that I don’t know what to believe and how to do it the right way for me. My desire is to be healthy, not skinny. Can you help me out?
Thank you for answering my question,
– Why would ketones not show up in blood testing from two years of eating very low-carb? Does it have to do with hypopituitarism and will keto perhaps help with this?
Hi Jimmy and Dr. Cole,
I’m a huge fan of Keto Talk and I learn something new every time I listen! I have been eating real food keto staying under 20g of carbs daily for the past two years but have never registered more than .02 on my blood ketone meter. Is this normal for someone who has hypopituitarism? Can eating low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic help with this?
Thanks again for all you do,
– How do you convince friends who think saturated fat and cholesterol are leading to heart disease on keto? Are there third party resources that can explain all of this?
Hey Jimmy and Will,
Saturated fat and cholesterol are the primary concerns that my vegan and vegetarian (and even my SAD dieter) friends point to when it comes to the keto diet. Even when I point out that plant-based food sources such as coconut and olive oil both have more saturated fat than most animal-based foods, they argue that this way of eating will raise cholesterol and saturated fat levels in the blood which will inevitably lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease. I’ve asked them to read your book Cholesterol Clarity, Jimmy, but my very intelligent and mostly skeptical friends want resources from “unbiased” sources since you are a prominent figure in the keto space. I really need some third party resources to share with them about the healthy role of saturated fat, cholesterol, and why a ketogenic diet is a positive thing for the body. I’m shared about Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise as well as the Joe Rogan podcast debate between vegan Dr. Joel Kahn and Paleo diet practitioner Chris Kresser. Do you have other suggestions?
Thanks for your help!
– Does being a Type 1 diabetic using an insulin pump make it that much more difficult to get into a state of nutritional ketosis?
Hello Jimmy and Dr. Cole,
I am a Type 1 diabetic since before I was 2 years old and I’m on an insulin pump as well as dealing with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroid, and celiac. I eat low-carb keto and my blood sugars stay in tight control. My thyroid levels are very good thanks to the Nature-throid medication I use. But here’s my problem—I can never get into a state of nutritional ketosis. Is it because I’m on an insulin pump and there is a constant flow of basal insulin being injected into my body? Over the years, I know I've become insulin resistant and have gained weight especially in my midsection. I'm 47 years old and ever tried working with a personal trainer for two years…but all I did was gain more weight in my belly. Why is my body holding onto fat and not burning it when I’m eating keto?
Thank you for helping me with this puzzle,
KETO TALK MAILBOX:
– Why would a Type 1 diabetic getting good ketone levels struggling with weight loss unless calories are significantly reduced?
Hello Jimmy and Dr. Cole,
I'm 54 years old, 5’2”, and 143 pounds, and needing to lose just a few more pounds. I currently have 25% body fat and lift weights regularly. I've been a lot like you, Jimmy, trying all different kinds of diets and reducing calories—but nothing seemingly works! I know I got too hypocaloric at one point and increased my calories again. I’m a Type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump and don’t need very much insulin because I keep carbs below 20g, 70-80g protein, and fats from eggs, avocados, butter, cheese, and fatty meats. My blood ketones are in the healthy range of 0.7-1.9. As much as I believe in keto, I can’t deal with gaining weight. The only time I’ve seen the scale move is when I’ve cut calories to 1100 a day. But I know that’s not a healthy level for me to be consuming long-term. Why is this so hard for me? It feels like all of the low-calorie, low-fat diets I’ve always suffered with. I really thought keto was different from those.
Please help me figure this out.