Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help us face and handle stress as it happens –although the lines of classification have been a bit dulled. These herbs restore overall balance and strengthen the functioning of the body as a whole without impacting the balance of an individual organ or system. Adaptogens facilitate these changes by a wide range of actions and energetics, rather than one specific action. Adaptogens can be stimulating and/or relaxing, many help improve focus, support immune system functioning, or provide some other normalizing influence on unbalanced physiological processes. Yep, sign me up, thanks!
These amazing herbs are incredibly beneficial to those with adrenal fatigue syndrome since adaptogens behave like a tonic and strengthens the body and endocrine system helping to heal what's broken and protect from additional damage due to stress.
A known authority on adaptogenic herbs, Dr. David Winston who is considered an expert and the author of a veritable textbook on the subject suggests that an Adaptogen must meet three criteria:
- The substance is relatively non-toxic to the recipient.
- An adaptogen influences many organs or body systems (non-specific) and acts by increasing resistance of the organism to a broad spectrum of adverse biological, chemical, and physical factors.
- These substances help modulate system function and maintain homeostasis
Here is a list of adaptogens:
- American Ginseng root
- Ashwagandha root
- Asian Ginseng root
- Dang Shen root,
- Eleuthero root
- Holy Basil herb
- Jiaogulan herb
- Licorice rhizome
- Reishi fungus
- Rhaponticum root
- Rhodiola root
- (Schisandra)-Wu Wei Zi berries/seeds
- Maca root
- Suma root
How are adaptogens used to improve health?
One of the most impressive aspects of adaptogens that has recently been discovered it’s that they can quiet a stress-activated enzyme, known as JNK. JNK is responsible for increasing inflammatory and oxidative compounds and decreasing ATP (energy) generation. What this means is that taking a herbal adaptogen helps mediate this stress response. This is why so many “stress” formulations contain one or more adaptogens.
Adaptogens are frequently used for their powerful anti-oxidant like actions. Unlike a specific phyto (plant) nutrient or vitamin, herbal adaptogens are unique in the way they are able to protect the mitochondria from stress-induced damage because they actually stimulate the cell to produce proteins that help resist stress and enhance longevity. For this reason they are used in many anti-aging formulations. Another characteristic of adaptogens is that they help regulate the immune and nervous systems and have antidepressant and amphoteric (can act as a base and acid) effects on the body.
Adaptogenic herbs can be helpful for the following:
Exposure to stressors such as high altitude, intensive training etc
To increase physical and mental performance
Because of their effects on the body's capacity to deal with stress, coupled with their tonic activity, these herbs can be used in a huge number of conditions and situations. The particular adaptogens we use in each formulation will depend largely on the other actions attributed to each of these herbs as well as their energetics.
I've listed some specific information for a few adaptogens:
As well as being adaptogenic, tonic and immune stimulating it is also cardiotonic and hypotensive with clinical trials reporting favorable outcomes in the treatment of cardiac problems. Further clinical studies have also demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of liver and kidney disease.
Ashwagandha has traditionally been used for anxiety, bad dreams, mild OCD, insomnia, and nervous exhaustion. It acts as an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory and is very useful for treating fibromyalgia (with Kava and Scullcap), restless leg syndrome, and osteo-arthritis. Its immune boosting properties make it useful for hyper- and hypo-immune conditions. It is frequently used for autoimmune conditions affecting the muscles and joints such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, polymyositis, and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). It enhances male fertility (sperm count and sperm motility) and, due to its iron content, it benefits iron-deficient anemia (take it simmered in milk with molasses added). Ashwagandha also stimulates thyroid function.
Holy Basil isa mildly stimulating adaptogen, antibacterial, anticholesteremic, antidepressant, antioxidant, antiviral, carminative, expectorant, immune amphoteric. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, has a long tradition of use in Ayurvedic systems of medicine. More recent research has shown it reduces excess immune response in allergic asthma and allergies while enhancing normal immune function. In addition, in animal studies, it increases endurance, inhibits ulcer formation, and protects against gamma radiation. In a human trial, Tulsi showed benefits in NIDDM, reducing fasting blood glucose and post-meal blood glucose. (Winston & Maimes, 2007). It is also used to help with depression (along with Lavender, Rosemary, and/or Damiana) and for poor concentration or mental fog.
Schizandra is a woody vine from China. The fruit that it produces is used for it’s cardio-protective properties. It also stimulates liver enzymes and protein synthesis and helps enhance glutathione production (the body’s most powerful detoxifying nutrient) in the liver. It also enhances bile production and improves liver regeneration and is cytotoxic to tumor cells. This means it is very protective of the liver as well as helpful for people with cancer because it enhances cell death. Additionally it’s been found to help improve impaired memory, builds the immune system and it it frequently used in Chronic Fatigue, stress and depression formulations.
My favorite of these is Holy Basil, but it's interesting to note that all of the adaptogens don't work the same way for everyone. Each tailors itself to the the individual needs so is able to create balance in different physiological scenarios. And the best herbal supplement company I have found if Oregon's Wild Harvest - love their products, nothing but quality.
I love herbs :)