Fresh Clips: All About Adaptogens

Herbal adaptogens have been used since the ancient times. Rediscover how these herbal wonders can fight off stress, improve the immune system and restore the body to its natural balance.

| December/January 2012

  • This standout group of herbs, which includes licorice root, can balance your body in the face of stress.

A mysterious group of herbs can increase stamina, fight off infection and lower blood pressure. Some of these herbs reduce inflammation and alleviate the side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. These herbal wonders are known as adaptogens.

Stress is unavoidable, but too much stress for a prolonged period of time can have physiological and psychological effects. Precisely how stress will affect your body is hard to determine because the impact depends on factors such as body type, personality and family history, as well as the intensity, severity, timing and duration of the stress. Even pleasurable events can put stress on the system. The genius of adaptogens is that many of them can support the body in modulating and regulating stress hormones and help the neuroendocrine and immune systems maintain a balance. This group of herbs doesn’t just beef up immune defense, they can help balance the body during a stressful time.

The name adaptogen was coined in the former Soviet Union, where much of the early modern research on this group of plants took place. Beginning in the late 1940s, scientists there began searching for a product to increase performance for athletes, soldiers, political officers and chess players. However, many adaptogens have been in use since the ancient days of human history.

To put it simply, an adaptogen is any nontoxic substance that defends the body against stress and restores its natural balance. This loose definition makes it difficult to say how many adaptogens exist. We do know they have been around a long time—Ayurvedic and Chinese physicians have trusted in their healing qualities for thousands of years.

Here are some prominent herbal adaptogens:

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng in the United States, is one of the most commonly used herbs worldwide. The herb strengthens the immune system and wards off colds and the flu. Eleuthero has been used to help radiation victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

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