Adaptogenic herbs have been successfully used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia to boost both energy and resilience to stress. By promoting balance and stability, known as homeostasis, these natural herbs are believed to balance the endocrine system and strengthen the immune system, thereby aiding the body’s ability to cope with anxiety, fatigue and trauma. The term “adaptogen” was coined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in the 1940’s to identify an agent that raises the body’s resistance to stress while countering undesired physical, emotional, chemical or biological stressors.
This means that, by definition, adaptogenic herbs have the potential to reduce the negative impact of all these different forms of stress which can adversely affect our physiological and psychological wellbeing. Chronic stress can upset hormone balance, disrupt digestion, negatively impact the immune system and trigger an unhealthy inflammatory response. To be considered an adaptogen, an herb must possess three qualities:
- It should produce a response that allows the whole body, including multiple organ systems, to increase resistance against harm from stress, anxiety or trauma. Adaptogens are thought to normalize the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which, among other functions, regulates the body’s response to stress.
- It should aid the body in a return to homeostasis by tamping down hyper-functioning systems or ramping up hypo-functioning systems. In other words, they must be able to adapt their functions according to the body’s specific needs.
- It must be non-toxic at normal doses, causing no significant side effects even with prolonged use.
Adaptogenic herbs are believed to naturally restore vitality, protect the body against degeneration and support healthy aging. They are believed to produce generalized health benefits for the entire body by their ability to normalize immune and endocrine functions, improve circulation, control inflammation, and their ability to act in a self limiting capacity.
Adaptogenic herbs are categorized as:
Global system regulators – Herbs such as ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha and Holy Basil fall into this category for their healthy aging benefits and for their ability to have a global impact on the whole body.
Cellular and immune regulators – These herbs provide immune support and aid in preventing degenerative diseases and can include turmeric, resveratrol and ginger.
Specific regulators – These herbs target specific areas, such as ginkgo biloba for circulation, gotu kola for connective tissue and licorice for the gastrointestinal tract.
Some of the more widely known adaptogenic herbs used to balance, restore, support and protect the body are:
Ashwagandha – Known for its powerful balancing and antioxidant properties, ashwagandha is used to help increase vitality, energy, endurance and stamina. It is also believed to promote longevity, strengthen the immune system and relieve symptoms associated with exhaustion by enhancing endocrine function and encouraging more optimal bodily functions.
American Ginseng – Notably used as an overall health tonic, ginseng is believed to improve immune function, support cognitive function and counterbalance stress by reducing the secretion of stress-related hormones.
Eleuthero – Also known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero is believed to increase energy and stamina, improve immune function and support cardiovascular health.
Rhodiola – Known to increase stamina, rhodiola is thought to balance the levels of stress-related hormones, while boosting the body’s endorphins or feel good hormones. As a powerful antioxidant, rhodiola helps prevent cell damage, supports cellular energy metabolism and is believed to aid and support the liver’s detoxification processes.
Reishi mushrooms – Known as the mushroom of immortality in Chinese medicine, reishi mushrooms are believed to promote immune function, fight fatigue and support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Reishi has antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties.
Holy Basil – Also known as Tulsi, this herb has been valued for centuries for its antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed to have its greatest potential in stress relief and relaxation. As an adaptogen, Holy Basil helps the body to function optimally during times of stress by enhancing the body’s natural response to both physical and mental stressors.
For maximum benefits, these natural herbs are meant to be used as tonics and are generally taken over a period of time, often at least 3 months, to strengthen and benefit the entire body. However, if you are taking any medications or have a chronic illness, its best to consult your healthcare professional before use. Adaptogenic herbs are not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Here are some great suggestions for supplementation:Adapten-All by Ortho Molecular – This product provides comprehensive adrenal support with a special blend of nutrients, botanicals, and adaptogens such as eleuthero, rhodiola, ashwagandha and licorice root extracts. Gluten-free formula. HPA Adapt by Integrative Therapeutics – This formula combines 5 powerful adaptogenic herbs to aid in a healthy mental and physical stress response via the HPA axis. Contains key ingredients such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, Holy Basil and eleuthero extracts. Gluten and soy free formula. Rhodiola by Thorne Research – This botanical adaptogen provides support for the neurotransmitters that aid in resistance to chemical, biological and physical stressors while also supporting beta-endorphins. Non-GMO, gluten, soy and lactose free. Ashwagandha by Pure Encapsulations – This formula supplies 500 mg of standardized ashwagandha extract to counteract the effects of occasional stress and for the support of overall wellness. Gluten and soy free formula. References: Adaptogens. Online. http://www.healthline.com/natstandardcontent/alt-adaptogens#2 Adaptogenic Herbs: The Key to Longevity and Optimal Health. Dr. Bertrand Babinet, Ph.D., LAc. Online. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-bertrand-babinet-phd-lac/natural-herbs_b_1167592.html Ayurveda. Online. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/ayurveda