You may have heard of the category of herbs called Adaptogens that help our bodies resist stress. By using adaptogens on a regular basis, we can increase our bodies’ resistance to all kinds of stressors including emotional, physical, and environmental. Sounds like a miracle, right? Where have they been? Adaptogens may be a relatively new buzz word in the USA, but these herbs have been used, mainly in India and China, for thousands of years. Naturopathic Doctors in the United States, like Dr. Simms, are actively bringing herbal medicine into the mainstream.
Adaptogens help to maintain homeostasis during chronic stress by regulating the body’s adaptive reactions. They can balance under- or overactivity of the central nervous system, immune system, blood sugar metabolism, mitochondrial functions, and the HPA axis (an intertwining of the central nervous system and endocrine system that controls our stress response).
So, how can we benefit from taking adaptogens? In all kinds of ways! To give you a taste, here are a few applications for adaptogens:
Lowering chronic stress, anxiety, depression – Adaptogens work all the way down at the cellular level to help our bodies cope with stressful situations. These adaptive herbs help regulate and support the neuroendocrine and immune systems. Within the neuroendocrine system, they particularly help support the adrenal system (see also Adrenal Fatigue below), helping to counteract the effects of stress. Adaptogens can enhance one’s mood and present antidepressant effects. A few anxiety-reducing adaptogens are: ashwagandha, jiaogulan, reishi, and schisandra. The following can act as antidepressants: ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, holy basil, rhodiola, and more.
Reversing adrenal fatigue – Adrenal fatigue occurs when our adrenal glands cannot meet the needs and demands of chronic stress. They are trying their best, but can’t function at a high enough frequency to maintain balance. Adaptogens can help support the adrenal glands in meeting the needs of the excess stress hormones when one is under heavy stress. Herbs that can help with adrenal fatigue are: ashwagandha, cordyceps, holy basil, licorice, reishi, rhodiola, and more.
Digestive Support – Stress has an effect on our digestive system in more ways than one. Not only can it slow down digestion due to stress hormones, it can have detrimental effects on our gut microflora leading to indigestion, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Licorice is an adaptogen that is widely recommended for those with inflammatory bowel diseases. Amla is useful for those with constipation, diarrhea, colitis, and hemorrhoids. American ginseng aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
Support for aging adults – Adaptogens act as antioxidants and protect cells from damage caused by pesky free radicals. The also support our immune systems which need more help as we age. Several adaptogens that work against oxidative damage are: ginseng (American and Asian), ashwagandha, astragalus, cordyceps, he shou wu, holy basil, and more. The herb eleuthero is also especially helpful in aiding an aging immune system.
Aiding athletes – Adaptogens protect our energy resources from being depleted. They also have an anabolic effect, meaning that they help build up energy sources in our bodies! In fact, according to National Geographic, Russia (the USSR at the time) was found to have secretly studied the effects of adaptogens on the endurance levels of its soldiers and Olympic athletes in the 1970s. Researchers found the most striking results from the use of Rhodiola rosea and its ability to “help soldiers stay alert and energized during sleep-deprivation tests” and for athletes, when exhaustion would normally have set in at the end of their races, “Russian biathletes could shoot their targets without their arms quaking as they raised their guns.” Besides rhodiola, other helpful adaptogens for athletes are: ginseng (American and Asian), ashwagandha, cordyceps, dang shen, eleuthero, holy basil, and more.
We could continue with this list all day! Other than the benefits above, there are adaptogens for hormone balancing, lowering cholesterol, liver support, sleep, weight management, and more! If it sounds like just about everyone falls into one or more of those categories, you’re correct. Adaptogens can truly be helpful to everyone. We recommend working with a health professional who is well versed in herbal medicine when deciding which adaptogens you use and to determine the correct dosage for you!
Authored by Ellen Davenport
Winston, D., Maimes, S. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2007. Print