Adaptogens? What are they?

April 12, 2016

Adaptogens are a unique bunch of herbal ingredients used specifically to improve the health of the adrenal system thus managing your body’s hormonal response to stress.

With stress being an inescapable fact of life, our bodies have evolved with built-in survival responses. When confronted with a threatening situation, blood pressure and heart rate increase, glucose is dumped into the blood stream, and non-essential systems such as immune function and digestion are suppressed.  When the crisis subsides, all systems should return to normal.

A modern day problem is that our bodies don’t distinguish between a life-endangering situation and the annoying but not life-threatening stressors of traffic, work deadlines, and financial difficulties. When stress is chronic or severe, we lose our ability to bounce back, which negatively impacts on our health and quality of life.

The natural ability of the body to balance internal and external stress is called homeostasis. When the body is out of balance, or in what is called negative homeostasis, the anabolic and catabolic systems may not function properly, leading to fatigue, depression, insomnia, anxiety, weight imbalance and lack of libido which have a profound effect on our daily life and affect how we age. 

Due to their ability to help us adapt to change, adaptogens are particularly helpful in restoring and maintaining positive homeostasis. Many people who follow traditional healing systems (Chinese, Tibetan or Ayurvedic) have incorporated these herbs and remedies into their lifestyles and even their cooking.

There are many different types of adaptogens, but some of the best-known herbs used to protect the body against stress and aging fall into the following three categories:

Global system regulators
These herbs are known to have a global impact on the body and to positively support the aging process. They are Panax, ginseng, Siberian ginseng (eleuthero), rhodiola, ashwagandha, schisandra (all found in potent doses in our drinks) and Holy Basil.

Cellular and immune regulators
These herbs, also called companion adaptogens, are used specifically to support the immune system of the cells and to prevent degenerative diseases. They include turmeric, green tea, rosemary, grape seed (proanthocyianidin), grape skin (resveratrol) and ginger.

Specific regulators
These herbs target specific issues and include licorice and fo-ti (for energy and sleep), gotu kola (for connective tissue), ginkgo biloba (for circulation) and royal jelly (for mental alertness).

How should I choose which herbs to use?

It is never a good idea to combine herbal approaches and traditional pharmaceutical products without the supervision of a well-trained practitioner who is capable of assessing the potential risks of interactions between certain drugs and herbs.  

It would be wise to have a comprehensive health assesment by a health pratitioner who is well versed in integrative medicine and nutrition who can advise you on the approach that is right for you.