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Adapting with Adaptogens

Internationally renowned medical herbalist David Hoffman says adaptogens are, by definition, safe gentle herbs that help the body cope with nonspecific stress.  So the name suggests, adaptogens work by enabling the body to adapt, cope with and endure stress longer.

It is important to remember that stress responses are healthy and extremely necessary. This biological function gives us the innate ability escape dangerous or harmful situations, and then recover.

The body goes through three stages when undergoing stress: alarm reaction, resistance and exhaustion.  An ideal response is to move through the initial shock of a stressful situation, and then into the resistance stage. This is where the body begins to repair, and hormone levels begin to normalise

The issue is, many of us remain in a heightened alert state, not fully returning to our pre-stress state.  This is what leads to the exhaustion stage.

So where do these adaptogens come into the picture?

Well, adaptogens have an impact on the way the adrenals respond in this process. It is important to note that adaptogens do not take away stress. But they instead may improve the way in which we respond to the stressor.

As we mentioned earlier, stress is an adaptive and beneficial function for us. The concern is when we are livening in a fast paced modernised world and detached from nature. Constantly bombard with light, sound, pressure, achievement, greed, corruption, conflict, injustice and abuse on our natural environment.  And living in high stress situations can be very debilitating over extended periods of time and really quite dangerous.

Back to adaptogens….

It would seem as if nature predicted our course as a species. It has given us some wonderful remedies helping us survive our modern, and sometimes stressful life.

However, the danger with adaptogens is that they are often being used just to be able to ‘carry on’ and push through high level stressors. And then in turn never addressing or altering the problematic situation. It is much like an individual not being prepared to improved their eating habits or make changes to their lifestyle believing that they have supplements to fall back on that will help keep them heathy.

Within the ‘hustle’ culture the danger can be the reliance on adaptogens to work longer, work harder, and keep going to achieve.  Adaptogens may be able to help you manage for a certain amount of time, but when you reach the limits of what the adrenals can really cope with,  exhaustion is still going to happen.

It is important to remember that the treatment of stress has to be much broader. These plants can be extremely beneficial. But unless there is a thorough, whole person approach to assist the individual, then they may in turn be harmful, or not effective. It is imperative that we also implement changes in lifestyle as well as healthy ways of coping with stress.

Relying on an adaptogen to save the day can be just another way of not having to cope with underlying  problems.

It is for this very reason that it is important that you are working with a qualified practitioner to be able to access the useful benefits of these remedies in the context of wholistic treatment plan.


So what are some popular adaptogens?
  • Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) helps the body adapt to stress through regulation of the endocrine and immune systems via the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Western herbalists understand Korean ginseng to be useful for short-term treatment of the effects, or anticipated effects, of stress and over a longer period to reduce the impact of the ageing process.
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom is classed as one of the great original adaptogen medicines. Its reputation has even surpassed Korean ginseng as one of the most valuable herbs throughout Asia. Using Reishi may help with deficiency syndromes associated with tiredness and fatigue.
  • Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)  Extensive studies on Siberian ginseng contributed considerably to the beginning of an understanding of the adaptogenic response. Early Soviet studies on Siberian ginseng’s clinical effectiveness were conducted involving more than 2,200 people suffering from a wide variety of ailments. These studies showed measurable improvements or, in some cases, normalisation with few side effects.
  • Withania (Withania somnifera) also known as ashwagandha The findings of a recent single centre, prospective, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial suggest that withania improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and therefore can be used safely as an adaptogen in adults who are under stress.

As always, we recommend reading the suggested dosage on the bottle and consult with your naturopath/holistic health care provider for specific dosage as this may vary per everyone’s individual needs.

However, if you are well on your way with cycling adaptogens into your life, here a couple of yummy recipes that we have found that you might like to try that include ashwagandha as an added bonus!



Information and inspiration care of The Herbal Extract Company 

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