Adaptogens have the unique ability to increase our resistance to stress – any kind of stress – mental, emotional, environmental or physical, whether it’s short term or chronic.
Herbs known as adaptogens, used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, have drawn the interest of modern research due to their remarkable ability to help the body to restore balance and adapt to physical, mental, emotional and environmental stress.
In the simplest terms: An adaptogen helps you to adapt.
This category of herbs is not officially defined, but they do have a set of shared and required characteristics. First and foremost, they must be safe and nontoxic. They must reduce the effects of stress, physically and mentally. And they must have broad, normalizing uses for health (tune up, tone down) to restore equilibrium, protect the body systems, and increase productive energy.
Adaptogens lower the stress hormones in the blood, positively affect the stress centers in the brain, and enhance energy, vitality, mental alertness and endurance.
Interest in adaptogens in Western cultures dates back to the mid-19th Century, and modern research on these herbs began in Russia the 1940s and 1950s. The first Russian research was conducted using Panax Ginseng, well known in Chinese medicine. When it was observed to improve physical and mental performance in humans, it was subsequently subjected to extensive laboratory research. When cost and limited availability of the herb caused researchers to explore native alternatives, they found a suitable alternative in Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). The herb was given regularly to Russians involved in high stress, physically and emotionally challenging endeavors, such as space flight and Arctic and Antarctic explorations.
Among the more well-known adaptogenic herbs are: Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, Panax Ginseng, Maca, Reishi, Rhodiola Rosea and Schisandra. We’ll take a look at some of the more prominent adaptogens and review a few of their beneficial effects.
Panax Ginseng. Tradition and scientific evidence indicate that Panax Ginseng possesses anti-stress and equilibrating properties that make it a true adaptogen. Known as Chinese or Korean ginseng and probably the most famous and most studied Chinese herb, Panax Ginseng has been used for more than 4,000 years. It is often taken as a tonic, particularly after a long illness, and to restore energy. Lists of its medicinal qualities and the conditions it has been used to address are extensive. It promotes resistance to fatigue and stress, increases physical work capacity, stimulates learning and supports normal function of the immune, cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems.
This herb is available in two forms: white and red. White panax ginseng, which results from drying the root in the sun, is a bit less potent than red ginseng, made by steaming and then drying the root. Either is safe and nontoxic. The one caution is that, due to its energizing properties, it should not be combined with excessive caffeine intake.
Schisandra Chinesis. The adaptogenic Schisandra berry is the original super-berry. Used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean medicines, it is known as “five flavor berry.” These berries possess all five flavors of TCM (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent) and they benefit all 5 yin organs: liver, kidney, heart, lungs and spleen. The herb is used as a tonic remedy, to help increase energy and fight fatigue. It is useful for the immune system, helping to protect a body under stress from illness.
It serves a dual function, depending on what the body needs. It can act as an energizer, but when a calming effect is needed, it can supply that and ease anxiety. It also helps protect the liver and rid the body of toxins. It has been associated with mitigation of age-related impairments, and studies have shown it to increase the survival of aging rodents. It is taken as a supplement and makes a great ingredient in formulations.
Rhodiola Rosea. Another well studied adaptogen, Rhodiola Rosea improves functioning and promotes resistance to detrimental effects of stress through several powerful constituents found in the root. It has been shown to reduce the levels of stress-induced chemicals that can damage the functioning of the nervous and glandular systems. It helps re-establish a normal, healthy balance in the body.
Rhodiola possesses antioxidant and anticancer properties. It improves brain function, strength, endurance and stamina, as well as motor coordination and cardiovascular measurements. It has been used to enhance sports performance and to promote healthy sexual functioning. It is a potent and versatile healer, a natural remedy for today’s stress-inducing lifestyles.
Reishi. This herbal mushroom is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a number of diseases, and scientific research strongly supports its role as a normalizing, adaptogenic substance. It helps regulate the body’s organs and functions, maintaining balance and restoring balance after illness.
Reishi enhances the functioning of the immune system and improves blood circulation and blood pressure. It helps alleviate common allergies, helps relieve anxiety and improves oxygen utilization and liver function. It helps prevent diseases by helping the body to sustain proper balance.
Stress can damage the body and diminish quality of life. The adaptogenic herbs offer a safe way to combat the effects of stress – physical, emotional and mental – without the impaired mental function, addiction potential and long-term use problems that often accompany use of anti-stress drugs.
Restoring balance to the body and mind – combatting the effects of stress and illness – adaptogens help address multiple debilitating issues, protect the body systems, and enhance performance and enjoyment of life.
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