Extracts of plant adaptogens such as Eleutherococcus senticosus (or Acanthopanax senticosus) and Rhodiola rosea can increase stress resistance in several model systems. We now show that both extracts also increase the mean lifespan of the nematode C. elegans in a dose-dependent way. In at least four independent experiments, 250 microg/ml Eleutherococcus (SHE-3) and 10-25 microg/ml Rhodiola (SHR-5) significantly increased life span between 10 and 20% (P < 0.001), increased the maximum lifespan with 2-3 days and postponed the moment when the first individuals in a population die, suggesting a modulation of the ageing process. With higher concentrations, less effect was observed, whereas at the highest concentrations tested (2500 microg/ml Eleutherococcus and 250 microg/ml Rhodiola) a lifespan shortening effect was observed of 15-25% (P < 0.001). Both adaptogen extracts were also able to increase stress resistance in C. elegans: against a relatively short heat shock (35 degrees C during 3 h) as well as chronic heat treatment at 26 degrees C. An increase against chronic oxidative stress conditions was observed in mev-1 mutants, and during exposure of the wild type nematode to paraquat (10 mM) or UV stress, be it less efficiently. Concerning the mode of action: both adaptogens induce translocation of the DAF-16 transcription factor from the cytoplasm into the nucleus, suggesting a reprogramming of transcriptional activities favoring the synthesis of proteins involved in stress resistance (such as the chaperone HSP-16) and longevity. Based on these observations, it is suggested that adaptogens are experienced as mild stressors at the lifespan-enhancing concentrations and thereby induce increased stress resistance and a longer lifespan.