Adaptogens are herbal remedies that have been used for thousands of years. The term “adaptogen” was first used by the Russian pharmacologist Nikolai Vasilyevich Lazarev in 1947. He defined adaptogens as “non-specific remedies "that increase resistance to a broad spectrum of harmful factors (stressors) of different physical, chemical and biological natures".1
Stress is a normal part of our everyday lives. Bills, work issues and personal problems can all lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety. There are many ways to treat stress and other diseases, but adaptogens are natural and effective remedies that have been used for centuries.
Cortisol and Adaptogens
Adaptogenic herbs allow the body to fight off stress that originates from external sources. Diet, panic attacks, anxiety, anger and mental anguish are a few examples of external sources of stress. These feelings of “fight or flight” can cause the body to release several hormones, including cortisol. If cortisol builds up in the body, it can lead to a variety of health issues over time:
• Elevated blood pressure
• Slow wound healing
• Increased “bad” cholesterol levels
• Decreased bone density
Stress is a big problem in the United States: the American Psychological Society Association reports that 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the last month, and 50% reporting their stress has increased in the past year. As more people feel the effects of stress, it’s important to learn how to deal with it effectively.
Health Benefits of AdaptogensWhile the body needs cortisol to function efficiently, too much can be hazardous to our health. Adaptogenic herbs help the body adapt to stressful situations naturally. As a result, the body becomes stronger and more resilient. In one study, the authors concluded that several adaptogens were all involved in the protection of brain neurons from various injuries, which means they may have an influence on neurodegenerative mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease.3
Other health benefits of adaptogenic herbs include the following:
- Increased resistance to stress
- Improved sleep quality
- Higher energy levels
- Decreased the sensitivity to stress
- Reduced cortisol levels
To be classified as an adaptogen, an herb must meet the following criteria:
1. Nontoxic: It is safe for everyone to use
2. Nonspecific: It improves the entire body’s resistance to stress, not just one body part.
3. Balance. It helps to rebalance the body, regardless where the issues originated in the body.
Popular Adaptogenic Herbs
The following herbs have been accepted worldwide as adaptogens. Here are the top benefits of each:
American & Asian Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
Studies indicate ginseng can help boost the immune system, reduce the risk of cancer, and improve mental performance.
Healthy volunteers who received extracts of the herb Rhodiola rosea one hour before an endurance exercise saw significant increases in endurance.
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum).
Studies indicate Tulsi protects organs and tissues against chemical stress from heavy metals and industrial pollutants. It also provides protection from physical stress due to prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
Studies indicate Siberian ginseng reduces the severity and length of colds when taken when taken within 72 hours of symptoms starting. In another study, Siberian ginseng reduced the number of outbreaks of 93 test subjects with herpes simplex type 2
Ashawagandha (Withania somnifera).
Ashawagandha has been shown to be useful in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzeimer's diseases. It also has a “Cognition Promoting Effect” that has shown to be useful for children with memory deficit and memory loss in older individuals.
One of the best ways to consume adaptogen Herbs is by adding them to tea. Here are two healthy adaptogenic tea recipes:
White Tea & Ginseng Smoothie Recipe
Servings: 2 Servings
• 1 tsp. white tea leaves or 1 white tea bag
• 1 tsp. sliced ginseng root or ginseng powder
• 8 fl. oz water; very hot (not boiling)
• 1 small wedge of honeydew melon; peeled, seeded and chopped
• 2 pineapple rings; chopped
• 5 fl. oz freshly squeezed orange juice
Place the tea leaves (or tea bag) in a heatproof jug, add ginseng and pour over the water. Let stand for 2-3 minutes, then strain if using tea leaves and ginseng root, or remove the tea bag. Let cool. Speed up the cooling process by adding 2-3 ice cubes to the jug.
Place the melon and pineapple in your blender with the orange juice. Pour in tea and process until smooth.
• 1/4 cup tulsi (indian basil) leaves
• 2 tsp lemon juice
Combine the tulsi and 1½ cups of water in a deep non-stick pan, mix well and cook on a medium flame for 10 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Strain the water using a strainer in a deep bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix well. Serve warm
Add adaptogens to your diet today. Your body will thank you.
1 - Adaptogen. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptogen
2 - STRESS FACTS | Global Organization for Stress. http://www.gostress.com/stress-facts/
3 - Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/
4 - American ginseng | University of Maryland Medical Center.
5 - University of Michigan. Rhodiola.
De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2004;14:298–307.
6 - Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A Herb for all Reasons.
7 - Siberian Ginseng. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/siberian-ginseng
8 - An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda.
9 - White Tea & Ginseng Smoothie.