“At the most basic level, an adaptogen is an herb that helps the body adapt to a wide variety of stressors, be it psychological, physiological, noise, temperature…” says David Winston, RH (AHG), herbalist and author of “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.” “You can’t get anything from the pharmacy that does this unless you’re buying an adaptogen because, within orthodox medicine, there’s nothing that does this.”
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs that target specific ailments, adaptogens produce a non-specific response to physical and mental stress and normalize the overall physiology in the body. Although adaptogens, such as ginseng and ashwagandha, have been used successfully for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, modern research of adaptogens began in the late 1940s.
These healing herbs work by re-regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the master control system for endocrine function, nervous system and immune function. Recent research suggests that adaptogens may also combat stress on a cellular level. Only about a dozen herbs have been officially classified as adaptogens; however, due to limited clinical studies, many are still being evaluated as possible adaptogens.
“Adaptogens are not a one-size-fits-all,” says Winston. Some adaptogens are stimulating and heating, such as red Asian ginseng, while others, like ashwagandha, have a calming effect. If you’re unsure which adaptogen is best for you, consult an herbalist or naturopathic physician. You can search for a clinical herbalist in your area at www.AmericanHerbalistsGuild.com. Before taking adaptogens, talk to your doctor about potential interactions with any drugs you are currently taking.
Although adaptogens can be used by anyone at any age, below are a few of Winston’s general recommendations. Look for these powerful herbs at your local health food grocery store.
|Adaptogen||Effects on the Body||Common Uses||Suggested age group|
|American Ginseng||Mildly stimulating, slightly warming and moistening||For those who feel a little fatigued and catch colds easily.||45 to 60|
2 types:1. White2. Red
|Most stimulating of the adaptogens, warming
Moderately stimulating and moistening
|For those with very depleted energy and who feel cold most of the time.
For those who are especially deficient
55 to 70
70 and older
|Ashwagandha||Calming, slightly warming||For those who feel anxious or are suffering from stress-induced insomnia or muscle pain.|
|Eleuthero||Energetically neutral||For those who are stressed out, low on sleep and nutrition, and working long hours.||Teens and
20s to 30s
|Rhodiola||Stimulating, cooling and drying||For those in a depressed mental state, fatigued or feeling unfocused.||20s to 40s|
|Schisandra||Calming, warming and drying||Dual effect on nervous system: calming but increases focus and concentration. Also helps relieve anxiety and stress-induced asthma due to its anti-inflammatory properties.|