Adaptogens to the Rescue
Given the pressures of modern life, none of us are immune to stress. Unexpected bills, the loss of one’s job, personal or family health problems, traffic jams and other daily challenges can produce emotional stress, but our bodies’ are also subject to physical and biochemical stress as well. They have to deal with household chemicals, environmental chemicals, chemicals in our food, loss of sleep and other factors that interfere with optimal wellness. All this can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope, resulting in insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, depression and even physical illness.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with herbal remedies that can help you cope with all of the stresses your body, mind and spirit experience. Adaptogens can help you feel calmer and perform better when dealing with life’s day-to-day challenges. They can also help the body normalize its function when you’re faced with strenuous physical activity, loss of sleep and other physical and biochemical forms of stress.
What is an Adaptogen?
Adaptogens are formally defined as plants with three characteristics:
1. Adaptogens are nontoxic, which means they can be safely taken for extended periods of time.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific biological response that improves the body’s ability to resist multiple forms of stress.
3. Adaptogens have a normalizing influence, meaning that whatever direction the stressors are throwing the body out of balance, adaptogens help to bring the system back into balance.
What Are the Benefits of Adaptogens?
Adaptogens appear to normalize the production of hormones, especially the ones associated with stress, leading to the following benefits:
Normalize Immune Function: Most adaptogens help to balance the immune system. This means that they can boost the body’s ability to fight infection and may also reduce hyperactive immune reactions in allergies and auto-immune disorders.
Improve Athletic Performance: Research on adaptogens demonstrated that they can enhance athletic performance. They appear to help reduce fatigue, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function and aid in building strength and muscle mass. As a result, adaptogens such as rhodiola, eleuthero and cordyceps have been used in Olympic competition, and unlike steroids, they are not banned because they have no harmful side effects.
Enhance Mood and Mental Performance: By reducing cortisol levels, adaptogens can facilitate better mental focus and clarity during times of stress. They can also help enhance memory and cognitive function as age increases. Many adaptogens are also helpful for reducing anxiety and lifting depression, thus normalizing mood.
Protect Cardiovascular Health: Adaptogens help to protect the heart and regulate blood pressure. Here again, they work both directions. Adaptogens can raise low blood pressure and reduce high blood pressure.
Balance Blood Sugar: Adaptogens help to regulate blood sugar levels and may help with insulin resistance in diabetes.
Enhance Energy: Adaptogens help to increase a person’s energy and ability to work by increasing the body’s energy reserves, giving a person more stamina and endurance. Adaptogens also help people sleep better when they are under stress, allowing a person to have more energy during the day.
Balance Reproductive Hormones: Adaptogens have positive benefits on the reproductive health of both men and women. In men, adaptogens can enhance sexual desire, performance and fertility, and in women they can enhance desire, improve fertility and relieve PMS and other menstrual irregularities as well as easing menopausal symptoms.
Other Benefits: Some adaptogens protect the liver from chemical toxicity (hepatoprotective effects), while others can enhance eyesight, improve sleep, aid digestion and improve respiratory function.
Here are some major adaptogenic herbs to consider trying:
Eleuthero improves mental alertness, energy, work output and the performance of both physical and mental tasks. Eleuthero can reduce the incidence of colds and other infectious diseases.
Ashwagandha is a nervine and adrenal tonic that helps anxiety, depression, exhaustion and poor muscle tone. It reduces the effects of stress, while promoting energy and vitality. It is used as a supporting herb for recovery from debilitating diseases, and is effective for treating sexual dysfunction caused by stress.
Ginseng (Korean and American)
Both Korean (or Asian) ginseng and American ginseng have adaptogenic properties. Korean ginseng is more warming and stimulating, while American ginseng is more cooling and nourishing. American ginseng helps to enhance immune function and reduce stress. It also acts as a digestive tonic and has a general anti-aging effect. Korean ginseng is generally more suited for people who are exhausted and feeble. The person who needs Korean ginseng tends to be cold, pale, tired or short of breath. It is very useful for adrenal exhaustion.
Cordyceps entered Western medicine after the Chinese government demonstrated its efficacy at the Olympic games in Beijing, where the Chinese athletes set new world records in nearly every competition they entered. Research suggests that cordyceps has a balancing effect on the immune system. It can stimulate the immune system for people who suffer from frequent infections (especially respiratory infections) or who have cancer. It also calms down hyperimmune reactions in people with allergic asthma, hay fever and autoimmune diseases of the kidney.
Astragalus is an adaptogenic and tonic herb used in Chinese medicine to boost energy and strengthen immunity. Research suggests that the polysaccharides and saponins in astragalus may be helpful to those with heart disease, improving heart function and providing relief from symptoms. It appears to restore immune and adrenal function in people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or chronic illness and has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
This medicinal mushroom has been shown to have immune enhancing effects as well as acting as a general health tonic. Research suggests that reishi relaxes muscles, improves sleep, eases chronic pain, aids heart function, reduces cholesterol and has antioxidant effects.