Adaptogens Or Bust
Adaptogens are some of the most wondrous, unusual herbs on this planet. They’re incredible little miracles packaged up as twigs and leaves, put on this beautiful green earth to keep us thriving and healthy. They’re like little health elves, sent into your body to keep you vibrant and strong making sure you age gracefully and intact.
Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs that must follow certain guidelines. They must be completely safe and non-toxic, have broad uses for health, and specifically reduce stress, both mental and physical. In other terms, they help you adapt. Duh.
Other benefits of adaptogens include: Supporting adrenal function, enabling the cells of our body to have access to more energy, helping the cells eliminate toxic metabolic by-products, providing an anabolic effect (like bodybuilders use), helping the body utilize oxygen more efficiently, and speeding up the proper regulation of our bio-rhythms further adapting to our surroundings.
They not only increase resistance to the adverse effects of long-term stress, but they are also immune-stimulating and increase a general sense of well-being. Talk about killing 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 birds with one stone.
Additionally, adaptogens are able to restore balance to the system, or bring back homeostasis, regardless of the direction of the illness. For example, if you are suffering from an excess condition or a deficient one, the herb will adapt to your specific needs. Whether you are running too hot or too cold, immunodeficient or auto-immune, fat or thin, young or old, these herbs know exactly what you need. Very exciting and very mysterious, they’re basically medical fortune tellers.
Where Did Adaptogens Come From?
The list of adaptogenic herbs is growing, but so far there are around one dozen of these herbal gems, many of which are Chinese herbal medicinals. In China, these plants are considered “superior medicines” as they don’t place any additional stress on the body, rather help you adapt to stress. Let me tell you, the ancient Chinese were superhuman geniuses who were able to observe and predict systems in the body thousands of years before modern research and laboratories. They were the real deal.
Well established adaptogens include Asian ginseng, schisandra, ling zhi, astragalus, withania, ashwagandha, eleuthero, licorice, cordyceps and more. However, be very weary when it comes to where you buy these herbs as sourcing is a real and complicated issue. More on sourcing herbs a bit later.
While many of the adaptogens originated from Asia, it was the Russians who took charge of researching this special class of herbs, contributing an immense volume of research and data proving their value in health and wellness.
The Russians Are Coming
Before the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’, information was a carefully regulated and important commodity in the Soviet Union. Soviet scientists were given unlimited access to the latest scientific ideas and breakthroughs from around the world and given a free pass to study, analyze, and investigate these new scientific ideas. Knowledge was power.
The Soviets caught wind of a Canadian scientist named Hans Selye, who was the ‘father of stress’. Selye had written 1,700 scholars papers and 39 books on stress before his death in 1982, clearly not someone who was daunted by the idea of writing. His research had a clear and profound influence on the Soviets who were doing research for the military, space, and sports programs. It was this research which showed how detrimental chronic stress can be to the body and how damaging it is for health, especially in the long-term.
It was during WWII when the Soviets were looking for substances to aid in performance on the battlefield; overcome fatigue, inability to sleep, increase strength and endurance, etc. However, they realized while amphetamines and other stimulants were able to improve performance and response in the short term, they were harmful to the body when used for prolonged periods.
And here comes the adaptogens (drops the mic).
In an effort to find a more natural source of performance enhancers which also reduce stress, the Russians looked into a group of herbs that were commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These herbs were classified as ‘elite’ and ‘kingly’ for their ability to increase physical and mental capacity, reduce fatigue, improve resistance to disease, and even promote life extension (whether you liked it or not). The Chinese have already tested these medicinals on the battlefield, often consuming them before war. And in Siberia, hunters used these herbs before long and perilous journeys where food was scarce and sleep was nill. Thus, in 1984 began a decades-long research journey into the effectiveness of adaptogens and their role in health.
Decades of Research Later
The Russians completed an assortment of studies, research, trials and case studies trying to understand the effects of adaptogens and the different actions of different plants and herbs. By 1984, they had accumulated over 1,500 pharmacological and clinical studies on adaptogens. Later, research was continued in Germany and Japan. What did they find?
They were able to find that the herbs enable the body to mount an appropriate stress response with lower amounts of cortisol than would otherwise be required. Meaning, it levels you out, chills the mood, lowers your ‘cray-cray’, keeps you level headed. Adaptogens also bring your adrenals back to normal more quickly, which is a very good thing.
If you are interested in taking adaptogens for your own health, it’s important to understand that not all supplements are created equally. Sourcing herbs matters, and where you get them dictates how well they will be absorbed, how many nutrients that still obtain, whether the correct parts of the plants are used and if the plant has any contaminants or not.
Sourcing is an issue in the herbal community, where herbs are often shipped overseas from China or faraway places, and quality control is sometimes unknown. If herbs are grown and collected in the wild, they will not be subject to pesticides. However, it’s not possible for all herbs to be sourced from the wild. It’s just reality that some herbs have most likely been grown with pesticides in the past, even though more and more companies are adopting green policies.
With this in mind, it is important to know where your medicinals are coming from. If bought on big retail websites, make sure to do any due diligence when it comes to deciding whether or not to buy the creepy looking plastic bag filled with wood chips labeled chamomile.
Having quality and nutrient rich soil is one of the most important aspects when buying quality herbs, as it’s the soil which provides the correct and optimal nutrients to each plant. If plants don’t have the right nutrients, YOU won’t be getting the right nutrients, and you are spending your hard earned money on a bunch of tasteless, nutrient deficient pieces of wood.
I have linked to my personal source of herbs, the Mountain Rose Herb company out of Eugene, Oregon. This is a relatively local company for those in the United States (compared to China or elsewhere), utilizing organic agriculture and Non-GMO certified products. They have an incredible variety of herbs, spices, and teas, and grow a surprising amount of Chinese medicinals. I use these products for all my patients in my clinic and recommend them here.
They are by no means the only quality company, but they are definitely one of the best.