Well, I don’t know. What in the world is an adaptogen?
Adaptogens are very special medicinal plants that satisfy three defining criteria, which significantly set them apart from other botanicals with therapeutic properties. That is:
- An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disturbance of the normal physiological functions of an organism;
- The action of an adaptogen should be nonspecific (i.e., it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of harmful factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature);
- An adaptogen may possess normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the preceding pathological changes (i.e., if a body parameter is high, the adaptogen brings it down towards normal; if a parameter is low, the adaptogen brings it up towards normal).
This thermostat like effect makes adaptogens, when used in natural supplement formulations, ideal for helping the body normalize a wide variety of health conditions, including things like stress, fatigue, and problems sleeping. And science is now devoting considerable effort to understanding how adaptogens work, which is great. But there’s nothing new about adaptogens, they have been used by the Chinese and the Indians (Ayurveda, the science of life) in their traditional medical systems for thousands of years.
Adaptogens are indeed a unique group of herbal ingredients. Within that unique group, there are a few that deserve special mention. Briefly, they are:
We know that ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The name "ginseng" refers to both American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), which are made up of similar phytochemicals. Both Asian and American ginseng contain substances called ginsenosides, which scientists consider to be the key bio-active ingredients. For many years, ginseng has been one of the most valued medicinal plants in the world. Ginseng affects the body by influencing metabolism within individual cells, and it has been studied extensively for its ability to help the body withstand stress. Herbalists say that it restores and strengthens the body’s immune response, promotes longevity, and enhances the growth of normal cells. Moreover, research indicates that it promotes a sense of well-being.
Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)
Siberian ginseng, or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), is a completely different plant and does not have the same active ingredients as Asian or American ginseng. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia, and fatigue. In Germany, eleuthero is approved for chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and convalescing after illness. Herbalists say that it improves memory, feelings of well-being and can lift mild depression.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Like Asian ginseng, ashwagandha is used to help increase vitality, energy, endurance and stamina, promote longevity, and strengthen the immune system. Today, herbalists often recommend it for people with high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and impotence associated with anxiety or exhaustion. It enhances endocrine function, especially the thyroid and adrenals. Ayurvedic healers have long prescribed the herb to treat exhaustion brought on by both physical and mental strain. Research indicates that it has a very beneficial effect on cortisol levels.
Golden Root (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhodiola rosea acts like a hormone thermostat, especially as it pertains to cortisol, one of our main stress hormones. Cortisol, which is secreted in sync with our circadian rhythms is usually out of balance when we are stressed and exhausted. That means cortisol levels are either too high when they should be low (a classic bio-marker of elevated stress) or too low when we need more (to deal with fight-or-flight situations). Rhodiola, like ashwagandha, helps balance cortisol levels in the body, raising or lowering it as needed, making it very useful for helping people with stress and related conditions of insomnia and fatigue.
If you consider using a natural stress aid or a natural sleep supplement, look for one that has adaptogens in it. And as always, consult a medical professional before starting a new regimen of dietary supplementation.