Stress is integral to our survival but it has gotten to a point where anything we do can potentially trigger it. A late night at work, a peek into a crowded planner, even just clicking on a link on social media can all be reasons to feel stressed. Good thing nature has been kind enough to provide us adaptogens that help our bodies regenerate.
The concept of adaptogens is not entirely new. Long before they were considered as such, the herbs that we now call adaptogens have been greatly used in traditional medicine across various cultures, from Chinese and Ayurvedic to Native American. In Hindu, holy basil is hailed as “The Incomparable One” and is associated with the goddess Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu. Traditional Chinese medicine, meanwhile, uses an herb called astragalus root—Huang Qi in Chinese, which translates to “yellow senior” in English—to warm the muscles and normalize sweating.
Similar to how astragalus root is used in Chinese medicine, adaptogens are not prescribed as a cure to diseases. Instead, they increase the body’s ability to adapt and fight against stress-induced or psychosomatic illnesses and fatigue. Adaptogens work on a cellular level. They regulate properties that increase the body’s resistance to stress and promote balance, such as the production of various proteins that protect the cells from stress-induced damage.
While there’s an array of substances used in herbal medicine, not every herb can act as an adaptogen. In a study conducted in 1958, Russian doctors Israel Brekhman and Igor Dardymov identified adaptogens as “innocuous, and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism. [They] must have a nonspecific action, and [they] usually [have] a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state.” Whether an herb should be considered as an adaptogen is subject to further research, but numerous herbs have been proven to perform as one.
In Ayurveda, the Ashwagandha root is a prized Rasayana or rejuvenative that is traditionally used to combat anxiety and exhaustion. It’s also used to remedy insomnia and bad dreams. Ginseng, on the other hand, is a stimulating adaptogen that is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to replenish the qi or energy flow by alleviating fatigue, back pain, and even erectile dysfunction. Licorice is one of the most versatile adaptogens: it works as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-histamine, and anti-viral remedy, strengthening cells against autoimmune disorders and immune deficiency conditions like cancer and HIV.
Adaptogens may be taken as tea or tincture, depending on the prescribed amount. Although they occur naturally, it’s still advised to consult a doctor before using them as overdosage may result to adverse effects. Adaptogens are a reminder that while humanity keeps on moving towards modernization, the power of nature remains undeniable.
This story was originally published in Northern Living, January 2017.