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Adaptogen Herbs 101

January 04, 2018

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), adaptogenic herbs belong to an elite class of herbs called “Superior Tonics.”

Adaptogens, as the name suggests, help your body to adapt. They’re excellent for people under stress, with intense workloads, or who are adjusting to new challenges or climates.

Some of the best adaptogenic plants grow in extreme, harsh environments like the Arctic or mountainous regions. They have evolved to become extremely resilient, and thrive where other plants don’t.

Herbalists and scientists who research adaptogens believe they’re able to pass on their resilience and strength to the people who use them.

Adaptogens vs. Stress

In the herb world, adaptogens are regularly used to fight stress, but how they do this is different from other anti-stress herbs.

The majority of adaptogens don’t sedate the nervous system. Instead, they help your body adapt to and resist stress, a huge benefit for most of us today!

Furthermore, the longer you use adaptogens, the greater their anti-stress benefits will be. As tonics, adaptogens are safe and recommended to take on a regular or daily basis.

Research into Adaptogens

Asian panax ginseng (Panax ginseng):

Asian ginseng is one of the most popular adaptogens today. It’s widely used to enhance sports performance, energy, and improve immune health.

In one study, Asian ginseng (used for four weeks) benefited symptoms of unexplained, chronic fatigue.

Furthermore, research shows Asian ginseng can help prevent colds by increasing immune cell activity. One study shows people who take 400 mg of ginseng daily for 4 months have fewer colds.

ginseng3American panax ginseng (Panax quinquefolium):

American ginseng is an important adaptogenic herb used in the East and West.

Like Asian ginseng, American ginseng improves immune response and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Evidence suggests American ginseng may balance blood sugar for people with diabetes.

American ginseng has more cooling properties than Asian ginseng. It’s especially popular with menopausal women who want the energy benefits of ginseng without any extra hot flashes.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea):

Rhodiola is a key adaptogen that improves the body’s use of oxygen. Early research finds rhodiola prevents body damage caused by hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

For this reason, it’s the adaptogen of choice for mountain climbers and travelers exposed to higher altitudes.

Additionally, rhodiola is an amazing herb for students and people who work a lot of hours. In one study, students who used rhodiola experienced improvements in fitness, brain and motor activity, performance, and well being.

Rhodiola is also a favored mood elevator that can ease tension and mild depression.

Eleuthero Leaf 1Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus):

Eleuthero is an exceptional adaptogen for older men and women.

For women, it nourishes adrenal health, protecting against anxiety and fatigue.

For men, eleuthero is a tonic for sexuality and physical strength. In one study, the Chinese combination Kan Jang (andographis/eleuthero) was found to increase sperm count.

Many people have the desire to be physically active, but don’t have the energy or endurance for it. I use eleuthero with good results to improve stamina in these situations.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis):

Schisandra is the ultimate workaholic’s adaptogen. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, shisandra is called “five flavors” because it encompasses all five TCM flavors. This quality is thought to give the herb the ability to benefit any type of person.

Like eleuthero, schisandra specifically supports the adrenal gland– the glands most affected by overwork and stress. Schisandra is an important herb to address burnout and chronic fatigue.

Preliminary tests show schisandra protects the adrenal cortex for animals under stress.

Adaptogens are an amazing class of herbs that help support and balance the body’s systems. Evidence shows adaptogenic herbs especially support the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems.

They are used by herbalists all over the world to keep the mind and body strong and prepared for new challenges.

Adaptogens are not “quick fix” herbs. They need to be taken for at least a few months to allow them to build in the system.

Adaptogens strengthen the body over time. Used regularly, they encourage balanced, sustained energy, and are ideal to help support recovery from chronic stress, fatigue, or illness.


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