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What if you could feel better? Truly better: less anxious, less easily swayed by the stress of everyday life, and more in tune with your body. Does this sound too good to be true? Herbal adaptogens are designed by nature to do just that. Although many herbs are touted for their stress and depression-busting properties, not just any herb can be properly called an herbal adaptogen. Herbal adaptogens are a remarkable group of herbs that are rightly known as nature's answer to depression and stress.

What Makes an Herb an Adaptogen?

A Russian scientist named N.V. Lazarev first coined the term 'herbal adaptogen' in 1947. Later, the holistic Russian doctor named I.I. Brekman enumerated the specific criteria that a plant must meet before being labeled as an herbal adaptogen. The criteria is as follows:

1. The herb must not cause harm or place additional stress on the body.

2. The herb must help the body adapt to a variety of stresses, both environmental and psychological in nature.

3. The herb must work in a nonspecific way. That is, it should support the whole body, including all the major systems (nervous, immune, hormonal, etc.), and help regulate all the body's functions.

In general, an herbal adaptogen must have a 'normalizing' effect on the body. This means that it must not over stimulate, nor depress the body's systems. At the core of all herbal adaptogens must be the ability to help the body deal with stress. In most cases, this means that the herb must help recharge the body's adrenal glands. Adrenal glands store and synthesize the body's dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. When stress hits, our adrenal glands are responsible for responding to and normalizing these changes. Herbal adaptogen's help the adrenal glands do their work more efficiently and effectively. And, when our body isn't in the thrust of a 'flight or fight' moment, herbal adaptogens can promote our body's functions in other ways, enhancing our overall health.

What Can Stress Do To You?

We know that herbal adaptogens can help improve your body's reaction to stress and emotional change, but why is this so important in the first place? If stress is a natural, unavoidable part of life, why are we intent on fighting it? Truthfully, stress is not something we can fight or overcome. The philosophy behind herbal adaptogens has to do with efficiency. Herbal adaptogens can help regulate our bodies so that the least amount of energy and resources are consumed in the process of reacting and dealing with stress. Why is this so important? If our bodies spend too much time reacting to stress, numerous physical and emotional problems can result. A system overburdened with stress can result in physical and emotional problems such as:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Angina
  • Cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcers
  • Diabetes
  • Colds, headaches, and overall immune suppression
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension, and a host of other problems.

How Can Herbal Adaptogens Help You?

In general, here is what herbal adaptogens do for you:
- Adaptogens can help improve your memory, recall ability, and overall mental functioning
- Adaptogens can help increase your energy, strength, muscle tone, and recovery time after injuries
- Adaptogens increase antioxidant activity in your body
- Adaptogens help you enjoy a better night's rest and lessen the effects of anxiety and depression
- Adaptogens provide you with improved liver activity
- Adaptogens can provide you with improved immune resistance, helping guard against colds
- Adaptogens can improve mood and provide you with an overall feeling of well being

Cream of the Crop: Herbal Adaptogens That Can Improve Your Quality of Life

Clearly, herbal adaptogens are the stars of the plant world. Although using one herbal adaptogen can help support your body substantially, using a host of herbal adaptogen's synergistically can promote a myriad of health benefits. Here are some of the most well known herbal adaptogen's that you can use to improve your quality of life.

Rhodiola Root (Rhodiola rosea)
The health benefits of Rhodiola Root are numerous. Cultivated in the Far East for thousands of years, it has been used to treat depression and fatigue. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that rhodiola root can be used to improve memory, reaction time, and overall mental function. Rhodiola Root has also proven efficacious in improving endurance and physical strength. In fact, it is believed that the Vikings consumed Rhodiola Root to gain endurance for their long voyages! Currently, rhodiola root is being tested for its ability to treat depression, Alzheimer's, fibromalygia, and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
This strange-sounding herb (whose name loosely translates as "strength of a thousand stallions") has been in use in India for thousands of years. Sometimes referred to as the 'Indian Ginseng,' it is renown for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Useful in treating anxiety and stress, ashwagandha soothes the nervous system, and may also be used to achieve a restful night's sleep. In the United States, it has been marketed as a powerful aphrodisiac.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Native to Northern and Northeast China, Schisandra is a woody vine with a tight cluster of red berries. Sometimes known by its common Chinese name, 'wu-wei-zi,' which translates, as "five taste fruit." This refers to the taste of the berries, which can be alternately described as hot, sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. When the berries ripen, the sun-dried fruit is used as a medicinal herb. Schisandra fits all the definitions of an herbal adaptogen: it helps promote the body's natural defenses, and helps protect against stress, anxiety, and depression. It has been used specifically to promote a good night's rest and to ward off night sweats, and is thought to help improve one's vision. The lignan's in the berry's seeds are thought to promote healthy liver function. Other known benefits include improved sexual function, enhanced physical endurance, and improved memory function.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero)
Commonly known as eleuthero, Siberian ginseng is not technically ginseng, but it is grouped with ginseng because of its similar properties. Siberian Ginseng is one of the best-studied herbal adaptogens. Research demonstrates that Siberian Ginseng can significantly improve mental alertness, memory, and overall mental function. It is believed that physical strength and endurance are also enhanced through regular use. Siberian Ginseng is also used to treat depression, stress, and anxiety. In China, it is widely regarded as an overall health enhancer.

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Disclaimer: None of the above statements have been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration or the American Medical Association. The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider before using any herbal products.