Stress. Fatigue. Anxiety. Those words are constant issues we face in our busy, American lives. Self-help books, life coaches, wellness coaches, detoxes, yoga….the list of options to reduce any one, or all three, of these issues is extensive and evolving. I personally call it the SFA Plague. American’s aren’t suffering from a bacterial infectious plague, but an emotional one involving Stress, Fatigue and Anxiety. Adaptogens aren’t new in terms of discovery for healing and wellness purposes. Eastern medicine is a long-time user of these plants, but they are new to Western medicine. Adaptogens are gaining ground on anti-depressants and conventional medicine quickly with great reason.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a class of healing plants that improve reactions to stressors by calming the system and reducing inflammation. Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP of Women to Women reports that adaptogenic herbs can recharge your adrenal glands, helping you to respond to stress. Adaptogens include ashwagandha, astragalus, ginseng, licorice root, holy basil, some mushrooms and Rhodiola. According to Jan Whiticomb, there are 16 proven adaptogenic herbs. Stress hits us in many ways without fail. The power of being able to support and change how your body reacts is astounding, especially considering you can do this with some magical, healing herbs - Adaptogens!
How Do Adaptogens Work?
Dr, Frank Lipman describes how adaptogens work in the body perfectly. He explains them as a thermostat, “When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high it brings it down; when the temperature is too low it brings it up. Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating. They can normalize body imbalances.” These adaptogens are cell-helpers. They come to the rescue when the cells need to access more energy, eliminate toxic waste or utilize oxygen. The adaptogens do a lot of the heavy lifting, so the cells can work better and make you feel better!
You may have heard of Bullet Proof Exec, the blog written by the growingly famous Dave Asprey, who also discusses the major healing powers of adaptogens. Dave Asprey is a health and wellness enthusiast, who’s most known for Bullet Proof Coffee. You can check out the video specifically on adaptogens here. I have yet to venture into the Bullet Proof Coffee trend. Pure butter or coconut oil with coffee is just a bit outside my comfort zone at this point - back to adaptogens.
What are some examples of adaptogen plants?
I am going to focus on Rhodiola rosea for a bit. This is described in many articles and publications as the super adaptogen. You can’t really eat Rhodiola straight like lettuce or other plants, because it tastes terrible. The best way to consume it is to grab a supplement with the extract, and take as necessary or advised by a nutritionist, naturopathic doctor or medical doctor. There is a huge, long list of things Rhodiola can help out with! This article gives a great run down of all the magic the herb holds, and I couldn’t explain it better. The items on the list that stood out the most to me were that it can help me relax and focus at the same time. I find relaxing and focusing to be challenging. Chris Kilham, a Fox News Health contributor wrote a great post on Rhodiola and states, “Almost every herbalist has a favorite medicinal plant. Mine is unquestionably Rhodiola rosea. I have not only consumed it in various forms and in a broad number of potions, but have also studied its science and previously investigated the plant in Siberia. I have a strong affinity for Rhodiola rosea, and believe that use of standardized extracts of Rhodiola rosea could radically enhance people’s mental and physical health.” That sounds pretty amazing to me.
Let’s move on to another one, Ashwagandha. This herb has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, so it is not anything new in Eastern medicine, but it is growing in popularity here. In fact, of all the herbs used in India, it is the most prized herb, according to Chris Kilham on his site, Medicine Hunter.
The JSS College of Pharmacy studies medicinal herbs and their compounds. JSS discovered that, “The plant is rich in potent alkaloids, among which are with amosine, visamine, cuscohygrine, anahygrine, tropine, pseudotropine, anaferine, isopelletierine, and withaferin A. The plant contains a large number of novel compounds known as withanolides, which are novel to the plant and are typically used to standardize the potency of extracts.” Basically, it’s special even for adaptogen herbs. Read more on that study here.
Part of what makes this adaptogen so unique is its use for sexual vitality. It naturally is proven to enhance sexual desire, function and performance. Natural Society reports, “In addition, it is said to impact sexual health—increasing fertility and even sperm count. It has also been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac.” Today, herbalists most commonly recommend Ashwagandha for high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety ad exhaustion.
Rhodiola and Ashwagandha were two adaptogens that stood out to me as phenomenal in my research. I believe it can be hard to take action in improving health and choosing the right vitamins and supplements if you are overwhelmed with options that all seem to be beneficial and a good fit. It starts to become a long list of taking everything you can get your hands on, which isn’t necessarily the purpose.
The important issue to acknowledge when looking into adaptogens is they aren’t quite like taking a vitamin. Different people have different reactions to these herbs. Some may be stimulated by Rhodiola, while others might be relaxed. This is an individual process and discovery based on your unique genetic make-up. If you check out this article, and scroll towards the bottom, you will find that she discusses more in detail the popular adaptogens, and who they are recommended for. For example, she says Eleutherococcus,a ginseng family herb, is generally best for people in their 20s and early 30s. This is a great option for further reading and discovery on your own personal journey.