The term “adaptogen” was coined in the 1940s by Russian scientist Nicolai Lazerev who was tasked with studying compounds to increase performance of Russian athletes and military personnel. He began studying traditionally used herbs such as ginseng, and found that their effects had profound impact on the human body without causing unwanted side effects that chemicals had. He used the term ‘adapt’ because he found that these herbs helped the body to adapt to stressful situations and build a reserve that would help the body be better prepared for future stressors.
Today, we are exposed to stress in many areas:
-Biological- exposure to bacteria, fungi, virus
-Chemical- toxins, pesticides, xenoestrogens, perfumes
-Environmental- noise pollution, electromagnetic waves (cell phones), allergens,
-Nutritional- mineral depleted soil, refined and processed foods,
-Physical- injuries, strenuous activity, HTN, drug and alcohol use, sleep deprivation,
-Psychological- social media, grief, loss, fear, responsibility
So how can adaptogens help?
“Adaptogens are remarkable natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions, and help to restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors and provide a defense responses to acute or chronic stress. They are unique from other substances in their ability to restore the balance of endocrine hormones, modulate the immune system, and allow the body to maintain optimal homeostasis”
ADAPTOGENS by David Winston & Stephen Maimes
To be considered an adaptogen, an herb must:
-be completely non-toxic
-produce a non-specific response that increases resistance to a brand spectrum of stressors
-have a normalizing effect on the body, regardless of the direction of change caused by the stressor (meaning they act like a thermostat, increasing temperature when its cold and decreasing it when it’s hot.)
Here are some of my favorite adaptogens:
Ashwagandha- Ashwagandha is an amazing soothing AND anti-inflammatory herb. It is beneficial to the cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Used for insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, mood stability, and fertility. New research is showing that Ashwagandha can be beneficial for hypothyroidism. *note: technically part of the nightshade family, although has been used safely and effectively with many people who avoid nightshades.
Astragalus- Major immune stimulator and energy tonic. Used in many adjunctive cancer therapies. Can benefit blood sugar and cardiovascular system. Traditionally avoided during acute illness for fear that it could make the illness worse, but research shows it can actually shorten the duration and intensity of colds and flus.
Schisandra Berries - Supports normal concentration, coordination, and endurance. Chinese medicine says that schisandra calms the heart and quiets the spirit. Supports normal central nervous system functioning and, interestingly, can both calm and reduce anxiety while also promoting mental focus and clarity.
Chaga Mushroom- Very high in free-radicals, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory. Improves endurance. Being studied to help prevent and treat cancer.
Eleuthero Root AKA Siberian Ginseng- Improves normal mental clarity and concentration, improves emotional stamina during stressful situations, boosts physical endurance, helps with sleeplessness, and supports healthy immune system functioning. Can boost recovery from surgery or illness. *caution with some heart medications.
American Ginseng Boosts physical strength and stamina. Supports mental alertness and memory. Good for exhaustion and vitality.
Moringa- high in antioxidants and nutrients, can reduce inflammation and improve digestion. Also antibacterial.
Rhodiola - Improves the brain’s ability to analyze, evaluate, calculate, and plan. Helps support stamina and endurance. Stimulates release of dopamine and serotonin and can be used as a mild antidepressant. Supports healthy immune system functioning, especially in athletes.
Reishi Mushroom - This immune system supportive mushroom is also considered to have a mildly calming and strengthening effect on the nervous system. Supports liver and heart health. Called the “mushroom of immortality”. Can help fight allergies and asthma. *needs to be extracted or simmered for a long time for medicinal qualities.
How should I use them?
Adaptogens work best when taken over an extended period of time. Consider starting with a few of your favorite adaptogens, or a well balanced blend or blends and take daily for 2 months. Drink as a tea or mix into smoothies, soups, salad dressings.
Be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medications, as some adaptogens can enhance or diminish the effect of pharmaceuticals.
Make sure your adaptogens (or any herbal products) are safely sourced.
Stop taking if you have any adverse effects.