Monday, April 12, 2010

Adaptogens 101

Hello again everyone!

I just couldn't stay away:) I'm really excited to share with you some info I found on some seriously powerful herbs. So, here we go!

First off let's start off with a small history lesson. Adaptogens as we know them today were used for thousands of years by cultures all over the world yet they were not classified until 1947. Russian Physician and pharmacologist Dr. Isral Brekham and his mentor Prof.Lazarev were the first to coin the term "adaptogen". Previously the orientals named these herbs the "kingly" and the "elite." Dr. Brekham came up with three criteria for determining whether a herb or food would be considered an adaptogen and they are as follows:

  • The plants are entirely safe
  • The plants increase the body's nonspecific resistance. This means they provide valuable support to the human body in coping with pressures placed on a wide range of its functions by both internal and external environments
  • The plants will normalize the bodily systems
So, an adaptogen is simply referred to as an effective agent that proves to be effective in helping the body adapt or adjust to strains and changes of daily living.

Some examples of adaptogenic use in history :

  • In China, adaptogens were used by soldiers before battle
  • In Siberia, the same plants were used by hunters before long, dangerous journeys
  • The Tibetan monks were able to go without food and warm clothes, living high in the mountains for many days using only these plants

Let's talk a little bit about physiology and the big picture when it comes to adaptogens.

Humans were once at risk of being attacked by animals or hostile people. Today our bodies still respond to threats by secreting hormones that change our physiology and enhance our ability for "flight" or "fight." This reaction causes stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands which results in increased respiratory rates, higher blood pressure,increased blood sugar levels, and increased heart rate (plus increased force of contractions). At the same time there is a decrease in digestive secretions . In the case of brief or acute stress, the situation often resolves itself quickly and the body returns to normal. If stress becomes chronic this is where we run into problems. When the body is weakened by chronic stress due to lack of sleep, poor diet, chemical toxins, or mental assaults, the body's ability to maintain homeostasis is compromised and this is when illness occurs. Adaptogens come in to help prevent imbalances as a result of stress.

Adaptogens specifically recharge the adrenals which are the body's mechanism for responding to stress and emotional changes. The adrenals cover the upper surface of the kidneys where they make and store dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine responsible for the flight or fight response.

So, how do adaptogens help handle stress? they do so by providing:

  • antioxidant activity
  • liver protection and anti-toxin activity
  • improved blood sugar metabolism
  • improved immune resistance
  • increased energy and stamina
  • improved muscle tone
  • increased strength
  • faster recovery
  • better focus and concentration
  • less anxiety
  • better sleep
  • better motivation and productivity
  • better moods
Adaptogens tend to be amphoteric which means they normalize function rather than stimulate it or suppress it. They are also self-limiting . The more we need them, the more they work; the less we need them, the less they work. Adaptogens were classified by the Chinese as the most effective plants to extend lifespan. Wow, now that is what I'm talking about!

Adaptogens are used in three ways:

1. They are used as general tonics by healthy people who are not suffering from any acute or chronic disease. This gives the body a general tune-up and helps prevent disease. Yet, they are not there to offset the negative effects of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

2. They are used to boost the immune system and help you recover after a period of acute (brief) illness. Adaptogens are not recommended to be used to during illness because we need herbs that help to mobilize our body defenses. Adaptogens do not act in this way as they slowly normalize and strengthen the immune system. Therefore, you will be sick longer and so prevention is key.

3. They are used in the final stages of treatment for chronic conditions. This is because there are two major factors that must be addressed in order to maximize the benefits of these herbs. First off, adaptogens will provide the greatest benefit to organs when they have significantly healed to a certain degree, not when they are in a very dysfunctional state. Secondly, tissue toxicity interferes with the action of adaptogens. Therefore, if toxicity is a factor, detoxification will have to take place before they will be able to experience the full benefits of adaptogens.

There are multiple ways to take these powerful herbs:
  • Ground up - unfortunately, this is the least effective form as they are poorly absorbed in this form
  • Tinctures made from fresh herbs -the most effective form
  • Tinctures made from dried herbs - this is the best option if you don't have any of those herbs in your neck of the woods.
  • Tea - I've heard some herbs can be successfully brewed. You will have to double check if the herb you want to use can be steeped:)

Now you are probably wondering why I haven't mentioned which herbs are considered adaptogens? Well, I want to keep you, just kidding... I will lay it out in part 2 of this post:)

Have a great night!


Nelly said...

i'm excited for part 2...


Melissa said...

Yay! Thank you:)

bitt of raw said...

thanks for this. i have heard the term but had no idea what it really meant.

thanks for schooling me!

Ken Leota said...

Hey Bitt!
Wow! Awesome article on Adaptogens.I think I'll look into making some teas out of it.

Cheers! =]