What is the Difference Between Adaptogens and Nootropics

The main difference between adaptogens and nootropics is that adaptogens focus on reducing both mental and physical stress, whereas nootropics focus on cognitive performance and brain health.

The proper functioning of the brain is vital for the overall well-being and optimal performance of living beings. Disorders, defects, and disease conditions related to the performance of the brain can be treated with herbs and drugs. Adaptogens and nootropics are two types of substances we can use to treat the defective conditions associated with the brain.

Key Areas Covered 

1. What are Adaptogens
     – Definition, Features, Examples
2. What are Nootropics
     – Definition, Features, Examples
3. Difference Between Adaptogens and Nootropics
    – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Adaptogens, Nootropics

Difference Between Adaptogens and Nootropics - Comparison Summary


What are Adaptogens

Adaptogens are plant materials that help to manage stress and balance. They may be often introduced as herbal pharmaceuticals as they are active ingredients in most plants and mushrooms with medicinal value. They help the body to respond to fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Moreover, we can take in adaptogens as food, beverages, or even tinctures. These target specific stressors in your body. But the effect of the adaptogens is temporary. Therefore, they are not a solution for the long-term treatment of stress.

For a plant to be considered an adaptogen, there are a few qualities to be fulfilled. They include being non-toxic when taken in normal doses, allowing the body to return to normal balance, and helping your body cope with stress. When considering their chemical properties, these herbal pharmaceuticals decrease or increase the chemical reaction in the body, achieving homeostasis.

Furthermore, there are about 70 types of adaptogens. Examples of these adaptogens include ginseng, ashwagandha, tulsi, astragalus, Rhodiola rosea, American ginseng, chaga mushroom, turmeric, shathavari, and Panax ginseng. In fact, most consider Panax ginseng to be one of the most powerful adaptogens. It helps to improve the working memory performance in young adults and improves feelings of calmness. Additionally, American and Asian ginseng is associated with reducing fatigue in people with chronic illnesses. Studies also show that this plant reduces blood glucose levels, adrenal gland weight, ulcer index, serum corticosterone, creatine kinase, and triglycerides.

Adaptogens vs Nootropics

Additionally, these adaptogens give immune system support (immune-modulators) that helps reduce inflammation to relieve pain (anti-inflammatory), fight stress, and boost the nervous system. They also improve how the body responds to stimuli (ex: fight or flight), reset dopamine levels, regulate the mood, protect cells acting as antioxidants, reduce swelling in inflammation, and reduce emotional reactions to stress.

What are Nootropics

Nootropics are drugs that focus on improving cognitive performance and brain health. They are any natural or synthetic substances that have a positive impact on mental skills. We also call them smart drugs or cognitive enhancements. Generally, nootropics fall into three different categories: synthetic compounds, dietary supplements, and prescription drugs. Examples of nootropics include caffeine, L-Theanine, creatine, Gingko biloba, bacopa monnieri, nicotine, noopept, Panax ginseng, etc.

Synthetic nootropics are a class of manmade drugs with a similar chemical structure. Examples of synthetic nootropics include piracetam, oxiracetam, pramiracetam, aniracetam, and phenylpiracetam types of racetams.  Moreover, based on their nature and effects, they can be classified into subgroups as classical nootropic compounds, cholinergic substances increasing brain metabolism, and plants and their extracts with nootropic effects. These nootropics are effective in cases where cognitive functions are obviously impaired. They have the ability to increase intelligence and enhance memory and brain power. They also increase mental functions such as thinking, mood attention, creativity, and motivation. Sometimes they can treat specific conditions. For example, nootropics are useful in medication to treat Alzheimer’s disease, as a stimulant medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for children with minimal brain dysfunction syndrome, and patients with encephalopathy.

Compare Adaptogens and Nootropics - What's the difference?

Nootropics could be obtained from food supplements and herbal extracts. When planning to use nootropics, it is always best to consult your doctor. It’s also best to inform the doctor about any medical conditions you have prior to the intake of nootropics.

Difference Between Adaptogens and Nootropics


Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and improve overall physical and mental performance, while nootropics are substances that enhance cognitive function, memory, creativity, and motivation. 


Adaptogens focus on reducing both mental and physical stresses, whereas nootropics focus on cognitive performance and brain health.

Effects on the Body

Adaptogens have a broad range of effects on the body, including increasing energy levels, reducing stress, and improving immune functions. Nootropics primarily affect cognitive function, including focus, creativity, and focus.


Adaptogens are considered safe, but some nootropics may have potential side effects, particularly if used in high doses for a longer period of time.


Adaptogens and nootropics are two substances of medicinal value mostly associated with brain health. The main difference between adaptogens and nootropics is that adaptogens focus on reducing both mental and physical stress, whereas nootropics focus on cognitive performance and brain health.


1. Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 3,1 188-224. 19 Jan. 2010.
2. Julson, Erica. “The 14 Best Nootropics and Smart Drugs Reviewed.” Health Line.

Image Courtesy:

1. “American Ginseng 3” By John Carl Jacobs – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Micobutin capsules and powder” By Inc ru – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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