Adaptogens have a long-standing history of use throughout the world. Traditionally they have a reputation to extend life span, increase resistance to disease and build overall vitality in the recipient. In practice, I’ve found that it makes great clinical sense to incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine to maximize your health. Research done over the past several decades has been confirming a variety of benefits from several adaptogens. There exist dozens of great vitality building herbs, but in this article I will discuss five that I find most useful.
Considered a spleen, lung and Qi tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is known to increase resistance to infectious disease, build endurance and improve overall digestion. Research has also confirmed the ability of Astragalus to improve heart function as well. Astragalus is quite easy to obtain, inexpensive and often okay with long term use. Another interesting property is the ability to build “wei qi” which is the Traditional Chinese medicine equivalent of building the overall immune system. Often it is used in conjunction with chemotherapy to reduce immune suppression of chemotherapy. In practice I use it to increase resistance to all sorts of viral infections while also building overall energy.
Similar properties to Astragalus except that it tends to be more stimulating or more of a “yang” tonic. Panax is great to build energy and vitality but for some can be too stimulating for regular use. Long term ginseng exposure has been found to be inversely proportional to cancer risk and also have been found to retard cancer growth. Ginseng used alone has been found to improve blood sugar metabolism of diabetics as well. Ginseng has also been found to increase resistance to radiation and also to improve liver function via several mechanisms. It is important to not get confused with other Ginsengs as Panax has distinct properties of its own. American Ginseng and Siberian Ginseng are two unrelated botanicals but valuable tonics in their own right.
Used in many traditional chinese formulas and has a distinct flavor. It improves utilization of other herbs in the formula. It is used as an antiviral, energy tonic, supportive anti-inflammatory and powerful healer of the gastrointestinal lining. Anyone with stomach ulcers, acid reflux would do well to consider using Licorice as a supportive treatment. Licorice can help to normalize low blood pressure in people who tend to get dizzy when they stand up as well.
A traditional kidney and liver tonic. It often is in formulas used to combat long-standing burnout and adrenal fatigue. Inflammation and hot flashes are signs of a need for Rehmannia as it is known to help build “kidney yin” to bring down “empty heat” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Subjects given Rehmannia also exhibit increased resistance to liver damage.
Eleutherococcus senticosus or “Siberian Ginseng”
Not truly a species of ginseng but has garnered a reputation as a gentle yet powerful energy tonic. It is best used as a long term preventative to enable the recipient to better cope with physical and mental stress. It is very beneficial for those suffering from exhaustion while also benefiting overall immune function.
One of my favorite tonics as research has shown it to provide increased endurance and ability to tolerate more exercise without inducing burnout. Rhodiola has also been shown to improve communication between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and adrenal glands to improve overall adaptation to stress also known as the “HPA axis”. Rhodiola has also been found to improve mitochondrial capacity to burn fatty acids for fuel which may aid weight loss.
Who Needs Adaptogens?
In my opinion, everyone can benefit from regular intake of adaptogenic herbs. The important consideration is to find out which ones are right for you by consulting with your local Naturopathic Physician. Be prepared to experience improved energy, sense of well being and resistance to stress.
Although most adaptogens have an excellent safety record, it is still important to consider current medications and medical needs of a patient before deciding treatment.