There are some things in Nature that never seem to change. One of them is the principle that life depends on cellular energy. In the human body too there is a constant ebb and flow of energy, in response to external factors. Each day we are exposed to thousands of physical, chemical, emotional or biological stress-agents. The healthy body resiliently responds to each stressor in a positive, adaptive manner. Stress hormones help us carry out any activity by expending energy and then help us rebound and repeat this cycle after a period of restoration. The process that helps the body to re-establish its equilibrium in a dynamic manner is called homeostasis. However, at times the stress can be excessive and negative, and our ability to cope can get compromised. We can fail to ‘adapt’ to the constant change and stress around us and the body’s immune system can break down. Before we know it this slippery slope becomes a downwards spiral of chronic life-threatening diseases.
All traditional healing systems lay emphasis on building ‘overall wellness’ and ‘vitality’, and for this they have promoted the use of ‘supplements’ like tonics and rejuvenating substances, to help strengthen the body’s resistance. These are mostly of plant origin. In Ayurveda, these have been referred to as ‘Rasayanas’ (the path for life-giving essence) and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) these are called ‘Superior-Herbs’, as they nourish Qi, Jing, and Shen (Kinetic Energy, Vital Force and Consciousness). In Africa these herbs are called ‘Manyasi’. In 1947 a Russian scientist – Dr. Nikolai Lazarev – coined the term ‘Adaptogen’, to describe some of the characteristics of these wonder-herbs, which seemed to offer multi-fold benefits in terms of vitality and general well being. Adaptogens are non-toxic plant substances that can increase the body’s ‘total-defence’, by producing a non-specific response that rejuvenates multiple systems of the body – namely, the immune, endocrine (hormones) and central nervous systems. In other words, Adaptogens may tone down systems that are in ‘over-drive’, or these herbs may boost those that are under-performing. The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis plays a key role. It modulates direct and indirect feedback mechanisms that regulate the body’s reaction to stress, build immunity and impact the efficacy of key activities such as digestion, energy usage, mood and sexuality. In short, Adaptogens have the unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to the body’s specific needs as well as help the body to ‘adapt’ to changed circumstances. Researchers have recently turned to Adaptogens as a possible treatment for patients experiencing high levels of emotional and physical stress, as well as for the debilitating conditions associated with ageing and chronic lifestyle diseases. The increasing cost of conventional healthcare is spurring a lot of interest in these natural products.
Tip of the Week
Adaptogens are meant to be taken as a ‘tonic’ for the good of the whole body. Hence, the best effects are when taken as preventative medicine for at least three months at a time. In some specific cases even a single dose administration has produced results. However, to treat a specific condition, it’s wise to consult a herbal professional.
Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Adaptogens from around the world
Natural herb products supplement the body’s ability to deal with stressors such as anxiety, fatigue or trauma. The most researched and highly esteemed anti-stress immuno-enhancing of these Adaptogens are: Amalaki , Ashwagandha , Eleuthero, Ginseng, Guduchi , Haritaki , Long Pepper , Shatavari and Holy Basil or Tulsi .
The use of these drugs typically generates no side effects, unlike traditional stimulants that possess addiction, tolerance and abuse potential, produce a negative effect on sleep structure and cause rebound hypersomnolence (or ‘come down’ effects). Further, a single administration of these Adaptogens effectively increases mental performance and physical working capacity in humans. R. rosea is the most active of the three plant Adaptogens, producing, within 30 minutes of administration, a stimulating effect that continues for at least 4-6 hours. Most people can take these Adaptogens daily without facing any side effects; however, most also means that this isn’t true for everyone. If you see or feel unusual symptoms, please immediately discontinue use and/or consult a knowledgeable health professional.
Here is an illustrative list of Adaptogens from around the world:
Amla or Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), Long Pepper (Piper longum), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and Shilajit (Ashphaltum bitumen)
Far East & TCM
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), Dang Shen (Codonopsis pilosula), He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), Jiao Gu Lan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), Lycii Berry (Lycium chinensis), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus),Eleuthero or Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Prince Seng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), Rhaponticum (Rhaponticum carthamoides or Stemmacantha carthamoides), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
North & South America
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), American Spikenard (Aralia racemose), Cat’s Claw( Uncaria Tomentosa), Devil’s Club ( Oplopanax Horridum), Maca (Lepidium meyenii), Suma or Brazilian Ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata)
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions