First things first, what on earth is an adaptogenic plant? a quick history lesson can help us to understand where this term came from. The term adaptogen was introduced into scientific literature by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957 to refer to substances that increase the “state of non-specific resistance” in stress. His concept was based on Hans Selye’s theory of stress and general adaptation syndrome, which has 3 phases: alarm phase, phase of resistance, and phase of exhaustion. Another Soviet scientist, pharmacologist Israel Brekhman, postulated that adaptogens must be safe and normalize body functions irrespective of the nature of stressors. By definition, an adaptogen is an herb that:
- Supports a systemic resilience to any kind of stress and stressor
- Has a homeostasis-invoking normalizing influence, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. This is the principle of a medicinal substance that is ‘two-directional,’ for instance, if your estrogen is too high then Shatavri tends to lower it, if it is too low, then Shatavri tends to raise it.
- Be safe and not influence normal body functions more than required.
How do adaptogen plants work?
Adaptogens relieve stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. As biological response modifiers (BRMs) adaptogens restore the body’s innate immune function and help the body adapt to different stressors. This gives them preventative and protective as well as curative activity in compromised immunity.
By optimising the body’s adrenal functions adaptogens support our health and vitality helping to:
- Improve overall wellbeing
- Increase energy
- Optimise organ function
- Reduce stress response
- Increase inner strength
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Optimise protein synthesis
- Reduce inflammatory cortisol levels
- Improve cholesterol ratios
- Regulate the hormonal balance
Adaptogens The Low Down
I have complied a list of some of the better known adaptogenic herbs, there are so many more this is just a snapshot to get you started. I recommend finding a Naturopath for a consolation to get you started; a naturopath aims to bring an individual back to a homeostatic state by reaching internal stability. Whole-body equilibrium may be achieved through the use of dietary advice, herbal medicines, and nutrient supplementation alongside lifestyle changes. Look for one with a Degree qualification (Bachelor of Health Science Naturopathy).
Researchers have taken a renewed interest in aloe vera as a powerful herb and superfood. Two of its compounds, acemannan, and aloctin A, support immune and adrenal health.
Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to strengthen the immune system after illness, and it has also been proven to improve thyroid function, treat adrenal fatigue, reduce anxiety, and combat the effects of stress on the body. It is worth noting that ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family, which means that it should be avoided by some people, particularly those on an anti-inflammatory diet, and there is some doubt as to whether it is safe for pregnant people to consume.
Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, this adaptogenic herb has been shown to protect the body against disease and support the liver, great for the cardiovascular system, immune system, and digestion, in addition to the nervous system. Astragalus is has been used topically for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers (USA) have looked at using it as a treatment for those who have weakened immune systems due to cancer treatments or AIDS.
Also known as Siberian ginseng, and occasionally wucha or ciwujia, eleuthero has historically been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to invigorate sexual function and boost vital energy. Known to increase endurance, to reduce fatigue, to boost immunity, and for overall longevity.
Also known as tulsi, helps enhance the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress, helping our physiology to better react to stressors. Some of the proven benefits to consuming holy basil, including cancer prevention, skincare, reduced anxiety, and reduced blood glucose in diabetes sufferers.
The premier digestive adaptogen. Around 90% of all Chinese medicine formulas contain licorice root, it tastes good (especially compared to a lot of other Chinese herbs), and it has a synergistic quality that helps to increase the potency of the formula. It has a regulating effect throughout the body and is particularly nourishing to a weakened and depleted immune system, increases energy and endurance, and protect the thymus from being damaged by cortisol.
A member of the pumpkin family, the plant contains enormous quantities of compounds similar to those found in ginseng. It has a reputation as an immortality herb, it shows benefits for the heart and for immunity and for brain function.
Also known as Peruvian ginseng, despite having no relation to the Asian plant. Maca was, however, revered in ancient Incan culture for its ability to increase strength, energy, and stamina, just like ginseng — and even more, for its ability to improve libido and sexual function.
The active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, supports liver health and metabolism that helps manage the hormones associated with stress. Milk thistle’s protective qualities of the skin may make it great for reducing visible signs of ageing, so consuming milk thistle may be an easy way to prevent skin cancer and skin damage, such as dark spots, wrinkles, lines and discoloration. Topical application for Milk Thistle Oil can help protect agains photo-ageing both silymarin and silybin have been shown to exhibit preventive effects against photo-ageing. Read full post here
The seeds, leaves, roots, and oils of the Moringa Oleifera plant are used throughout Southeast Asia an ingredient in many common dishes. As part of traditional medicine, it supports the immune response, eases swelling, and promotes energy and adrenal health.
Also known as Korean ginseng or Asian ginseng is used to rejuvenate and invigorate the body in Traditional Chinese Medicine, stimulating the body and improving energy and stamina. In China, ginseng is used for people who are tired and fatigued and worn out and have low chi, it is sometimes given to people upon their release from the hospital to help them build up strength. Cancer centers around the country give ginseng to patients with cancer.
Also known as American ginseng, this adaptogenic herb is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine for promoting yin (shadow, cold, negative, female) energy, as opposed to Asian ginseng, which promotes yang (sunshine, hot, positive, male) energy. American ginseng is used for its calming and tonic properties.
Red Reishi, also known as Ling Zhi in Chinese, is a non-toxic mushroom that is excellent for regulating the immune system and organ function. When taken regularly, reishi mushrooms improve liver function, reduce cancer risk, and can even lower blood pressure. Some studies have also shown that the ganoderic acids in reishi mushrooms can also help alleviate common allergies and asthma, due to their natural antihistaminic properties.
Rich in antioxidants, helping to promote cell health and even to reduce blood lipids. Some studies have shown that rhaponticum can help stimulate the nervous system and memory. Rhaponticum is, however, best known for its abilities to replicate the effects of steroids. Rhaponticum can help accelerate weight gain, particularly in skeletal muscles, completely independent of testosterone. The result is increased muscle mass without the use of anabolic steroids, meaning that rhaponticum is ideal for people looking to increase bulk in a healthy way via weight training.
One of the most popular in Siberia also known as Golden Root. The herb can be stimulating at low doses and becomes calming at higher doses. It reduces the effects of stress on the body and can reduce fatigue as well.
A super fruit that contains all of the omegas — not just 3, 6, and 9, but also the ultra-rare 7 — as well as more than 60 antioxidants and at least 20 minerals. Known as “Holy Fruit” in the Himalayan Mountains where it is grown, it is often used to improve skin health, as it has been linked to healing psoriasis and to slowing ageing. It can also be used to improve gastrointestinal disorders and colon health. Sea Buckthorn is recognised for its outstanding cellular regeneration properties for skin read full post here
Also known as the Five Flavored Berry, is a general tonic that decreases fatigue and increases endurance and physical performance. Named for its sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent flavors, Schisandra is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for longevity, energy, and as a sexual tonic.
This adaptogen helps the body maintain healthy levels of body weight, blood glucose, cholesterol, corticosterone, memory, and reduced glutathione during the acute and chronic experience of stressors. Turmeric’s adaptogenic actions are based on the ability of turmeric to support the body’s innate antioxidant function while helping the body to maintain healthy levels of corticosterone.
Can adaptogenic plants improve the health of your skin?
Adaptogens benefits depend on which adaptogenic herbs you apply to your skin, used in skin care they help your body and skin stay strong and balanced.
If you are experiencing unexpected breakouts, your cortisol levels are likely elevated as a result of stress, which can lead to oil production in overdrive, clogged pores and blemishes. Ashwagandha can help by regulating problem-causing cortisol. Ashwagandha also has detoxifying, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, further helping to treat your breakout.
Licorice Root - Has been found to counteract inflammation and irritation.
Goji Berry Extract - Reduces irritation and minimizes sun damage that leads to wrinkles, age spots and sagging skin.
Ginseng is prized as an anti-aging ingredient because it has so many phytonutrients, and because it helps tone and brighten skin. It has a natural ability to balance oils, helps counteract dryness.
Gotu Kola - Is rich in triterpenoids — these organic compounds can boost antioxidants and are overall great for the skin. All of these wonderful qualities have made it an excellent natural and organic herb for oily skin and to help minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Milk Thistle - An active medical ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, found in the milk thistle seed. Silymarin is a mixture of three flavonolignans (flavonoids) including silybin (silibinin), silidianin, and silichrystin which act as potent antioxidants.
Turmeric Root - Has the ability to support the body’s innate antioxidant function as well as helping the body to maintain healthy levels of Corticosterone. High in flavonoids and with over 6,000 clinical studies attesting to its ability to protect and nourish the body, it prevents ageing, improves circulation, reduces inflammation and heals wounds.
Sea Buckthorn - Potent skin-nourishing properties used to improve skin health, as it has been linked to healing psoriasis and to slowing ageing.
Adding Adaptogens to Your Diet
In addition to knowing how much of an individual adaptogen to add to your diet, it’s also important to decide how to consume it, there’s no one right way to take them so it’s just a matter of personal preference.:
- A standardized extract in capsule or tincture form
- Drink in a tea or a powder to add to water or a smoothie
- Homemade latte-style drink
- Eat as a food for example Maca - a powder which can be added to a smoothie bowl, porridge, or muesli the options are endless!
An important fact to grasp is that adaptogens don’t work on any one condition of the body but rather help to strengthen our bodies as a whole. Adaptogens work to bring the body back into balance and like most healthy habits, are not a quick fix to any one problem.
To get the greatest benefit from introducing adaptogens to your diet, it’s important to take a holistic approach to your health. If you’re using adaptogens to help with Chronic and or // adrenal fatigue, a few lifestyle tweaks can help increase the effectiveness of the adaptogens:
- Give yourself the opportunity for 8 hours sleep
- Significantly reduce or eliminate caffeine
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Calm down - deep breathing // meditation should not be underestimated!
- Gentle outdoor exercise daily - boost your vitamin D
- Eating a whole food-based diet.
While adaptogens can be taken long term, most experts recommend taking breaks every so often: a day off per week, a week off every few months, and a month off every year. People with diabetes, autoimmune disorders, blood pressure disorders, or cancer should be particularly vigilant about discussing adaptogens with their Doctor and or Naturopath before introducing adaptogens to your diet, as should pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding, people on thyroid medicine, and those who have recently undergone surgery.
Personally I have and do use adaptogens in my daily life, to aid in my recovery from Chronic Fatigue and adrenal fatigue. I drink Tulsi tea and Turmeric tea daily and add Maca and Turmeric to as much food and drinks as possible! Made infusions with Ashwagandha, Schizandra and Korean Ginseng to drink daily and, slowly over time I have made great progress with my energy levels along with calming down cortisol levels therefore improving my sleep patterns and overall health. I have also incorporated topical adaptogenic ingredients into my Hero product launching later this year; namely Sea Buckthorn both Berry and Seed, Goji Berry, Milk Thistle and Turmeric Root.
Until next time
be human | be kind | be you
- Bhatia N, Jaggi AS, Singh N, Anand P, Dhawan R.; Adaptogenic potential of curcumin in experimental chronic stress and chronic unpredictable stress-induced memory deficits and alterations in functional homeostasis; J Nat Med. 2011 Jul;65(3-4):532-43.
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