Herbal Adaptogens 101

There is a lot of talk about adaptogens these days. Herbs like ashwagandha, ginseng and eleuthro have entered the mainstream and have captured our attention because so many of our chronic illnesses are related to an overactive stress response. But what exactly are adaptogens and what do they do? Stay tuned to find out!

Adaptogens are tonic herbs that support the body in adapting to different types of acute and chronic stress. This unique class of herbs brings the body into balance by influencing its two primary regulating agents: the endocrine (hormone) and nervous systems. Basically, adaptogens balance the regulatory organs, helping to maintain homeostasis in a wide variety of bodily functions. Adaptogens increase the body's resistance to physical, emotional, and environmental stressors. Most adaptogens help to balance and support immune function and are traditional tonics for encouraging vitality and longevity. 

All of the herbs that are considered true adaptogens have a long history of use as longevity and vitality tonics. These are ancient remedies that have captured our present fascination. Doctor Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist, introduced the term adaptogen as agents that allow the body to counter adverse physical, chemical, or biological stressors by raising nonspecific resistance toward such stress.

This early understanding of adaptogens was fleshed out in the 1960s by Dr. Izrael Brekhman, who elaborated on the theme by setting forth three qualities of adaptogenic herbs:

1- Adaptogens are generally safe and have no the theme by setting forth 3 qualities of adaptogenic herbs.

2- Adaptogens bring about nonspecific responses to improve the resilience of the body to resist multiple stressors, including physical, chemical and psychological. 

3- Adaptogens have a normalizing influence on the body, bringing it back to balance, regardless of the direction of change.

This last quality is especially impressive and is brought about my balancing the neuroendocrine controls of the body. What this means in a human body is that an adaptogen can achieve disparate effects depending on the direction the imbalance has taken. For example, the same herb can raise or lower blood pressure, depending on the state of the person ingesting it. Adaptogens work this "normalizing magic" by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), thus normalizing stress hormone levels. They help the body in protecting itself against the damaging effects of long-term stress and reduce stress reactions during the alarm phase of the stress response.

Adaptogens are becoming increasingly popular remedies in our modern culture, as many people are suffering from chronic stress, overwork, and harrowing effects of endless multitasking and over-exposure to electronics and environmental toxins.

It is important to realize that we can use herbs inappropriately if we fail to address underlying imbalances and lifestyle choices that are ultimately stress inducing. A holistic stress reduction plan can encompass different therapies and strategies, including exercise, nutrition, talk therapy, yoga, acupuncture, massage, laughter, community support, screen-time reduction, meditation, and spiritual practice.

Here are some primary adaptogens:

  • American Ginseng
  • Ashwagandha
  • Asian Ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Cordyceps
  • Eleuthro
  • Tulsi
  • Reishi
  • Rhodiola
  • Shisandra

 Make sure you are addressing the underlying issues of your stress, but once you are tackling those issues, adding herbs to your routine can be an amazing way to address any HPA axis imbalances. 

We hope this helps you understand adaptogens better and that you can get out of the flight or fight mode that we often find ourserlves in.

Happy herbing and if you want a great quality Ashwagandha, check out this one from Anima Mundi Herbals.

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