According to David Winston, Dr. Nikolai Lazare, in 1947, first defined an adaptogen as an agent that allows the body to counter adverse physical, chemical and or biological stressors. This is done by raising nonspecific resistance towards such stress thus allowing the organism to adapt to stressful circumstance. (Adaptogens). In other words, adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions and help restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical biological emotional and environment stressors and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress.
This differs from classical stimulants (think caffeine and other amphetamine like substances), which initially increase the body’s work-capacity. However, this capacity is substantially decreased as the effects wear off. Repeated use of such CNS (central nervous system) stimulants deplete the brain of catecholamines and decrease the body’s conditioned reflexes. In contrast, adaptogens can help to increase the body’s work-capacity gradually over time.
There are some rules regarding adaptogens.
- They must be non-toxic to the body and they must cause minimal side effects (usually the constitution is not taken into consideration).
- They are non-specific to an organ but work through the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
Now, can you smoke, drink, stay up all night and then take adaptogens and expect them to turn your life around? NO. If you don’t eat right, if you don’t sleep right, and if you don’t have a good spiritual practice, then no matter how many adaptogens you take, you won’t be at your best. However, taking them daily will help your body to deal with stress so you can adapt better. Adaptogens are your ally!
Here is a list of the most common adaptogenic herbs. When buying any herb, make sure the botanical name is on the label, otherwise you cannot be sure that you’re getting the right herb.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis)
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, gratissimum)
Korean ginseng a/k/a Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra, uralensis)
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Herbs can be taken as tinctures, teas, powders or tablets. The form is up to the person and there is nothing that says you can’t take a number of them!
Here are some interesting “rid-bits” on various adaptogens:
- Korean ginseng is considered the granddad of all adaptogens and was only taken by the elders in ancient China.
- Astragalus is great for protecting the body, but should not be taken if you are overtly sick.
- Ashwaganda has been taken traditionally as a tea with milk, turmeric and honey, and often in the evening to promote sleep.
- Licorice, because it is so sweet, is added to many formulas as both an adaptogen and a “harmonizer”.
- Shatavari is considered a “women’s tonic”.
- Reishi has been shown to have anti-tumor properties.
- Eleuthero was studied extensively by the Russians and given to their athletes to help them perform better.
If you want to know more about adaptogens, I would suggest reading:
Adaptogens by Donnie Yance
Adaptogens by David Winston
Herbs and Natural Supplements by Braun and Cohen