By Jane Barthelemy.
Want to reduce stress and feel more energy in your life? Adaptogens are the perfect natural solution. Top trainers and athletes call them “synergistic meds for healthy people” because they can powerfully boost stamina and recovery without side-effects of pharmaceuticals.
What’s an Adaptogen?
Adaptogens are a special class of plant tonifying herbal medicines used in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries to promote total wellbeing. In those traditional healing systems, these plants are considered the “Kings” and “Queens” of herbs for restoring health, vitality, immunity, stamina, and promoting longevity.
Some of my favorite Adaptogen combinations include:
- Super Adaptogen, by Dragon Herbs, Contains Tibetan Rhodiola Root, Asian Panax Ginseng, Gynostemma Leaf, Root (Siberian Ginseng), Astragalus Root, Reishi Mushroom, Goji Berry, Eucommia Bark, He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), Schizandra Berry, Steamed Rehmannia Root, Polygonatum sibericum Root, White Atractylodes Root, Jujube Date, Licorice Root
- Adaptogen Energizer (Dragon Herbs): Contains Ant formula, Himalayan Rhodiola, Asian Panax Ginseng, Gynostemma Leaf, Eleuthero Root (Siberian Ginseng), Astragalus Root, Reishi Mushroom, Goji Berry, Schizandra Berry, Licorice Root.
- Stress Manager (Herb Pharm): A blend of the liquid extracts of Eleuthero root, Reishi fruiting body, Holy Basil leaf, Rhodiola root, and Schisandra berry.
- HPA Adapt (Integrative Therapeutics): Capsules with a combination of 5 adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, Sensoril brand Ashwagandha, and Eleuthero root extract. (Note: This product is only available through licensed health professionals, so someone would have to order it for you.)
- Adrenal Rx (Buy in person at at La Montanita Coop, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, NM) Contains Extract of Eleuthero, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Schisandra, American Ginseng, Rhodiola, Red Chinese ginseng, Aralia Manschurica (Manchurian Thorn Tree).
Adaptogens Reduce Stress
One of the major stress hormones in the body is cortisol, sometimes called the aging hormone. A high cortisol level puts us in a “fight or flight” response mode, stimulating the nervous system and adrenal glands. A constant state of stress reduces your body’s ability to digest, to think, to recover, to deal with everyday stimulation, and it even impairs your ability to rest. High cortisol causes accelerated aging.
As natural cortisol-controlling compounds, adaptogens are a powerful and effective solution for counteracting the harmful effects of stress. Adaptogens are natural plant substances that help the body adapt to and recover from stress. Because they help balance stress hormones, adaptogens are a powerful tool for people that deal with persistent stress or fatigue.
Why aren’t Adaptogens used in Western Medicine?
Pharmaceutical companies haven’t discovered the benefits of adaptogens – at least not yet. Natural supplements from plants cannot be patented, and thus are harder to re-formulate and mark up. Hence the profit motive hinders their use in the pharmaceutical industry. So we’re looking for alternative herbal tonics, or the pure plant itself for natural healing.
Adaptogenic herbs have been used in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries.
Soviet Scientists Rediscover Powerful Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs
We can thank the communists for giving empirical validity to adaptogenic herbs. For decades Soviet scientists researched the benefits of specific plants on physical stamina and athletic endurance. The concept of adaptogens was originally created by Russian pharmacologist N.V. Lazarev in 1947 to describe “natural remedies that increase the resistance of organisms to biological stress.” A Soviet researcher by the name of Israel I. Brekhman began researching adaptogens to give a competitive advantage to Soviet Olympic athletes, military, and cosmonauts.
The first adaptogenic herb Brekhman researched was Asian Ginseng or Panax ginseng, regarded as a longevity herb in traditional Chinese medicine. Brekhman also studied Siberian Ginseng’s ability counteract stress and increase endurance and performance. The Soviets were particularly pleased to see that Siberian ginseng dramatically improved performance under many different physical conditions. Eventually other adaptogenic herbs were rediscovered and carefully formulated for the Soviet athletes, cosmonauts, and the military.
Soviet pharmacologists Dr. Brekham & Dardymov in 1968 defined adaptogens:
- An adaptogen should be derived from a plant, and cause minimal harm to the body.
- The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific in its range of anti-stress benefits.
- An adaptogen normalizes bodily parameters against pathological conditions.
Soviet scientists also found that certain combinations were more effective before competition or after competition, to speed the recovery process. They found adaptogens such as Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus sinensis), Manchurian Thorn Tree, Schisandra, Rhaponticum carthinoides, Hawthorn extract, Adjuga turkistanica, Tribulus terrestris, and Echinopanax Elatium acted together synergistically for maximum healing and recovery.
During the 1970’s and 80’s, the Olympic games became a tremendous showcase for Soviet athletes who followed the regimen.
USSR government backed research and development of adaptogens in synergistic combinations were used to great benefit for Soviet Olympic athletes during the 1970’s and 80’s.
Adaptogens: “Synergistic Medicine for Healthy People”
Although many adaptogens are often used individually with great benefit, the Soviet scientists created a balanced combination of herbal adaptogens. These herbs play a vital role in restoring hypothalamic and peripheral receptor sensitivity to cortisol, restoring the HPA Axis balance. The result is normalization of daily biorhythms, balanced adrenal hormones, increased energy, stamina, and restored vitality.
Adaptogenic herbs can help:
- Reduce physical, mental, and emotional stress naturally
- Slow the aging process and reduce free-radical damage
- Increase vitality, energy, and endurance
- Enhance your mental alertness.
- Enhance your work and athletic performance
- Improve restful sleep
- Support all major organs within your body
- Support your immune system and promote healthy immune system function
- Improve resistance and recovery
- Support your digestive system and optimize your metabolism
- Promote heart and circulatory health
- Maintain sexual energy
Jane’s Top Adaptogenic herbs for Adrenal Fatigue:
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) Sang, seng – Xi yang shen. Helps correct HPA axis imbalances common in Adrenal Fatigue. Gently energizes the central nervous system, relieves fatigue, boosts immune system, enhance stamina.
- Ashwagandha root: Soothing. This traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic tonic is used to improve energy, memory and learning, promoting libido and preventing premature aging. Ashwagandha is calming and anti-inflammatory. It is used to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, improve memory, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (damage from inflammation). It boosts the immune system, calms arthritis and raises fertility.
Dose: 3 to 6 grams of the dried herb in capsule form daily or 1 to 4 mL (20-80 drops) of tincture, in water, 3 times per day
Cautions: Not for use in pregnancy; though not likely to be a problem, use cautiously if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade family; avoid with pharmaceutical sedatives and pain medications.
- Echinopanax Elatum, Elatium, or Elatus (Nakai) (Asian Devil’s Club)
A relative of Panax ginseng, but with very different qualities. Unlike true ginseng, which can have side effects with long-term use, Echinopanax elatus exhibits a more indirect effect. Particularly effective in regulating blood sugar and protecting cardiac function.
- Eleutherococcus sinensis (Siberian Ginseng) Eleutherococcus senticosus is not a ginseng at all. Considered to be the “King of Adaptogens” by Russian researchers, it exhibits a wide range of benefits and protective actions in the body, including ability to help cells absorb glucose.
- Hawthorn Berry Extract – One of the few Western herbal adaptogens, Hawthorn can be used as a heart tonic. It can help lower high blood pressure and will benefit almost any problem that affects the heart or circulatory system, from high cholesterol to chilblains. It helps to dilate coronary arteries, improving circulation and bringing relief from angina. Its high levels of antioxidants help to protect the capillaries.
Hawthorn Berry Extract is also said to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively by improving the contractility of the heart muscle.
- Manchurian Thorn Tree – Can be taken orally for weight loss, tiredness, weakness, headache, depression, stress, to boost the immune system, as a stimulant, and as an adaptogen for general wellness and recovery.
- Reishi Mushroom: Nourishes the Immune System. Reishi mushrooms are highly regarded as a sacred tonic in Chinese medicine to nourish and support adrenal function. Best known for building immunity, resistance to colds and infections, and reducing inflammation, Reishi also helps support the body’s natural abilities to detoxify from environmental exposures. It calms the nervous system, promotes deep, restorative sleep.
Dose: Take 3-9 grams dried Reishi mushroom in capsules or tablets daily or 2-4 mL of Reishi tincture, in water 2-3 times daily
Cautions: Avoid Reishi if you’re using a blood thinner or and medication that lowers blood pressure, based on theoretical risks of drug interactions.
In Chinese medicine, Reishi mushroom is considered a superior tonic for well-being that can be taken by anyone without danger.
- Rhodiola: Calms the Spirit, Relieves Anxiety (Golden Root or Artic Root). Rhodiola extract helps promote a balanced emotional state and supports strong brain performance, high immune function, and balanced hormones. It boosts the immune system, protects against colds and infections, and reduces inflammation. Can be used for chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Cardio-protective, Rhodiola improves heart rate recovery immediately after intense exercise. Good for weight loss as it increases the body’s ability to use lipids (fats) as an energy source.
Dose: Take 200-400 mg Rhodiola in capsules or tablets daily or 2-3 mL (40-60 drops) of tincture, in water, 2-3 times daily. Use products standardized to 2-3% rosavin and 0.8-1% salidroside
Cautions: Avoid for those with bipolar depression or manic behavior.
- Schisandra Berries – Schizandra chinensis (Chinese Magnolia Vine). Exotic, delicious, and only used for medicine, Schisandra chinensis is also called Wu Wei Zi, meaning (five flavored berry) because it is sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent at the same time. Used in Chinese medicine for longevity and overall vitality, retarding aging, increasing energy, as a fatigue-fighter and as a sexual tonic. Considered one of the most highly protective of all medicinal plants, and the berry is included in many traditional herbal formulas for improving energy and mental health. Assists in oxygen utilization of oxygen within the cells. Can suppress excessive stomach acid, a benefit in those prone to ulcers.
Schisandra berries have major antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, to help maintain healthy cellular function.
“A man may esteem himself happy when that which is his food is also his medicine.” -Henry David Thoreau