ADAPTOGENS 101 - More than just Ashwagandha!
By Anne Salazar, Lead Clinical Herbalist
Although adaptogens have been around for thousands of years, they have experienced a huge leap in popularity recently in the West. Ancient medicines from cultures such as China and India, have utilized the power and efficacy of these botanical extracts for as far back as they have existed.1. Simply put- one can master stress, improve energy levels, prevent degenerative disease, and age gracefully with the elite herbs known as adaptogens. I rarely, if ever, create a protocol without some sort of adaptogenic support.
Adaptogens got their name from their unique ability to buffer the effects of stress—they actually help the body adapt more readily to the demands of life.2 Everyone experiences stress, whether it’s everyday worries about work, money, and relationships; the physical demands of athletic competition; or the emotional and physical stressors of chronic illness.
This involves interplay of endocrine health; the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, thyroid function, and stress in the aging process. Adaptogenic treatment begins at the cellular level with mitochondria- the microscopic energy producers present in every living cell.
When confronted with stressors, the body rallies by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, quickening breathing, and dumping glucose into the bloodstream to meet the increased demands; at the same time non-essential systems such as immune function and digestion are suppressed. When the crisis subsides, all systems are designed to return to normal. However, if the stress continues, the body cannot handle the onslaught of stressor mechanisms, and it can begin to break down.
- Revitalization of the immune system
- Strengthening cardiovascular health
- Protection of brain function 3.
- Management of weight
- Support in cancer treatment 4.
- Improved sleep quality 5.
- Mood improvement
Adaptogens are considered tonic herbs, and can be taken for long periods of time. These herbs are deeply nourishing, and work by steadily and gently building vitality while restoring and replenishing body systems. Although you can feel a greater sense of balance and wellness within weeks of taking adaptogenic formulas, most of the benefits will be obvious after six months.
Traditional medicinal use of adaptogens almost always utilizes the synergistic combination of multiple adaptogenic herbs in a single formula. There may be a focus on a particular function (adrenal, thyroid, etc), but truly due to the non-specific nature of these adaptogens, the entire endocrine/organ system is positively affected. Combining these adaptogens increases the value of each botanical, while creating a much better balance overall. I cannot overemphasize the value of formulation in herbal medicine! The Ancients figured this out a long time ago. Clinically, I have seen this prove out time after time.
A Few Examples of individual Adaptogens:
Ashwagandha: a botanical that has become immensely popular in recent years in the West. One of the most revered plants in ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been utilized for over 4,000 years. Modern research has shown 6. that Ashwagandha increases stress protection, is neuroprotective (antioxidant), anti-inflammatory, liver protective, cardioprotective, aids in bone marrow and immune restoration following chemotherapy, etc. It is also known for its cortisol modulating properties. Ashwagandha is a well balanced adaptogen that is well suited for all people, although as with all adaptogens, it is best combined with other plant adaptogens to optimize herbal synergy.
Rhodiola: one of it’s many great attributes is its ability to enhance mental and physical performance7. There is a significant historical use of Rhodiola in Olympic performance. It increases memory/learning capacity 8, is mood elevating, provides immune system enhancement, is cardio-protective, provides resistance to altitude sickness, liver protective, reduces chronic inflammation, etc. Best balanced with other adaptogens.
Eleutherococcus senticosus (aka Siberian Ginseng): Known as the “King” adaptogen. There are over 3,000 published scientific studies on eleuthero; more than any other herb in the world. Among its many favorable effects, eleuthero improves visual acuity, displays a normalizing effect on blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and protects against the ill effects of any type of stress (including workload, excessive exercise, and radiation). 9
There are thousands of adaptogens from every part of the world. The most important things to know are the quality of the plants being used, and the expertise behind the formulation of the adaptogen products. This is a category that is gaining wide popularity, which is great, but it does invite some weak quality, adulterated products to be marketed for profit. Always know your sources.
Remedy carries some excellent blended products including-
Stress Care from Himalaya: an excellent supportive blend, from an ancient tradition by an extremely reliable, international company. Works well for the burnt out, not sleeping well, anxious person.
Adrenal Rx a Remedy brand: great formula for the person who feels like they are sliding energetically from too much stress.
Vital Adapt from Natura: one of my favorites; rebuilding, regenerating, ameliorates issues from long term stress, illness, etc. And its in liquid form- perfect for the person who wants less pill taking.
I cannot speak about adaptogens without mentioning nervine herbs. Along with supporting the endocrine system with adaptogenic herbs, it is also important to support the body’s nervous system with herbs that calm and support the function of the nervous system. They work together synergistically. Nervines include herbs like skullcap, passionflower, lavender, chamomile, etc. You can refer to my previous article titled, “Top 5 Herbal Remedies For Relaxation” .It is ideally best to do both classes of herbs, when addressing stress.
Whatever your needs are, please come in and speak to us. And if you feel you need more individualized support, please make an appointment for a consultation We are here to help!!