Amazing Adaptogens: Powerful Stress Busters from Nature
by Helen Wells
Expensive new treatments promising to turn back the hands of time are constantly on the market, yet often, the most efficient weapons against stress, ageing and disease, can be found in nature. This is the case of ‘adaptogens’, which comprise a number of plants and roots and which have in common one amazing quality – the ability to boost our ‘non-specific resistance’ to ageing, illness and tiredness. They are called ‘adaptogens’ because of their ability to adapt to our body’s specific needs, helping our system counter anxiety and stress gently, without any jolts or sudden changes.
Adaptogens: A Not-So-New Phenomenon
Adaptogens may sound new to us, but they have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, to boost energy and increase resistance in the face of stressful situations. Today, they are used in many settings, including top drug rehabilitation centers, where an integrated approach to healing is employed. Thus, to battle the anxiety and stress that arises when one attempts to detox or withdraw from harmful addictions, natural remedies are as vital as humanistic remedies. A wide range of therapies are being used, including holistic therapies such as yoga, compassion-based therapies and of course, adaptogens. The fascinating book, Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, notes, “Adaptogens are important supportive therapies for patients experiencing drug withdrawal regardless of whether they are quitting legal habits such as cigarettes, alcohol or coffee, or illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines…”
The Unique Synergy of Adaptogens: Natural Stress Busters
Soviet scientist, I.I. Brekham, explained why adaptogens are so powerful: it’s not just the combination of chemicals, vitamins, acids etc. which are present in adaptogenic plants and roots that are important – so, too, is the unique way all these components are combined. Brekham’s research revealed that some of the many benefits of adaptogens include protection from radiation damage, a boost in antibody levels, increased vitality, natural detoxification of the body, enhanced repair of proteins in cells, and greater endurance. Thus, adaptogens are an excellent ally when it comes to battling ageing, both on the external level and internally. Brekham and other Soviet scientists noted that when we are young, our body is able to adapt naturally to stressors such as harsh weather, pollution etc. but as we grow older, we lose this ability – this is where adaptogens can help – by enabling us to resist the stressors that cause illness.
Essential Requirements for Adaptogens
To be considered an adaptogen, a plant or herb must demonstrate the following characteristics:
- It must be non-toxic when taken at a standard dosage.
- It must increase our ability to fight non-specific stressors. (i.e. be a natural stress busters)
- It must have normalizing abilities (i.e. it should be able to reduce blood pressure in someone with high blood pressure, and increase blood pressure in those whose levels are too low).
Some of the most widely researched and lauded adaptogens include:
- Panax Ginseng: Health expert and best-selling author, Leslie Kenton, notes that this type of ginseng, which boosts the immunity, should be taken in root form – the most powerful are grown in Korea or China and they are best taken when they are at least six years old. If you are unable to find Panax Ginseng in root form, opt for the supplement form, but bear in mind that supplements often have additives and preservatives.
- Siberian Ginseng: This adaptogen, also known as Eleuthrococcus senticosus,a relatively new discovery compared to Panax Ginseng, is known as the ‘devil’s shrub’. Its roots are also used to resist illness and fatigue, though its effects take a few weeks to build up. Some of its benefits include increased endurance, enhanced sleep and memory, and improved sports performance.
- Ashwaganda: Known as Indian Ginseng, this adaptogen regulates the immune system and is also used to quell the symptoms of anxiety. It has been used for over 2,500 years in Indian medicine and is often used to lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body. Its efficiency has been proven in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. For further information, see the study carried out by Chandrasekhar et. al., published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine (2012).
- Rhodiola Rosea: This wonderful extract has the ability to raise or lower cortisol levels in the body, as required by each individual.
- Schisandra chinensis: This “five flavor fruit” in Traditional Chinese Medicine is so named because it balances all of the healing principles attributed to each flavor. It has been shown to balance liver function, increase endurance and stamina, and act as a powerful antioxidant.
- Withania somnifera: This potent adaptogen is especially helpful to moderate the effects of stress on sleep. Generally it helps protect your body from the non-specific effects of stress, meaning it helps your body to deal with stressors and not get ill.
Adaptogens are a great ally for people of all ages; not only do they have no or minimal side-effects, these natural stress busters can help stave off the numerous effects of stress, both on a physical and mental level. Since they regulate the immune system, lower stress levels and soothe pain, they truly are Nature’s powerful healers.
Thanks again to Helen Wells for contributing this piece – Adaptogens are part of my frequent routine because they feel so nourishing on every level. Any time I need a little extra energy, a little more oomph, a better night of sleep or to take the edge off stress. – Amy.