What is an Adaptogen?

Though this word is a relatively new concept to western medicine, China and Eastern medical theory has employed their use for centuries. The intent behind their use is the very basis of a preventative approach to health and well being. Basically their action is one that improves the body’s adaptability, enabling the body to avoid reaching a point of collapse or over-stress. Adaptogens can have an overall tonifying effect or provide benefit within specific organ such as the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, reproductive and nervous systems. 

How Adaptogens Work

Despite their long traditional use, more and more research continues to appear regarding the present day use of these remedies. The core of their action appears to be in helping the body deal with the physiology of stress. When we’re unable to cope with external pressures it leads to internal repercussions, and the manifestation of illness can develop in many diverse forms. Adaptogens seem to increase the threshold of resistance to damage through supporting the adrenal glands and possibly pitutiary gland function. Their normalizing effect leads to contradictory actions depending on the body’s needs. The restorative quality of these herbs is a unique feature of herbal medicine unlike any in the pharmaceutical index.

Adaptogens are capable of restoring normal tone and function to the HPA (hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal) axis and SAS (sympatho-adrenal system) and therefore to the entire body. As the adrenal glands underlie much of the body’s response to external and internal stressors. While improving resistance to stress they help to prevent some of the more common symptoms of stress including poor concentration, sleep disturbance, fatigue, decreased immune response, and decreased resistance to infections.

Herbal Examples:

  • Borago officinalis (Borage)
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice)
  • Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng) & Panax quinquefolium (American ginseng)
  • Rhodiola rosea (Arctic rose)
  • Schizandra chinensis (Wu Wei Zi)
  • Withania somniferum (Ashwagandha)