Adaptogens Help us Meet Modern Demands
The class of herbs known as adaptogens have gained popularity as a solution for the challenges of modern life. For most of us, life is far different from that of our grandparents. Our lives are more hectic. Besides many more diverse experiences, demands have changed too. Needing to keep up with the pace of busy schedules creates a unique aspect of modern society: constant emotional stress. We navigate through traffic jams in concrete caverns, struggle with our depleted bank account, worry if the kids will make it home safe from school, or agonize over the difficult relationship with our boss, co-worker or family member.
The constant stress and anxiety are more debilitating than most people are consciously aware of experiencing. It erodes and diminishes our vitality and energy reserves in ways that the human system was not built to endure.
Dr. Hans Seyle, coiner of the term stress, stated that no living organism can exist healthily when enduring constant anxiety; we need to relax and enjoy life as well. A serious health pitfall in constant stress that is often ignored or unattended is adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal depletion is experienced by many people in varying degrees.
Our Hormonal Stress Response
The adrenals are the gateway to our autonomic nervous system. They contribute to governing and regulating the two branches of nervous response. The familiar adrenaline rush, often referred to as “fight or flight,” is technically called the sympathetic response; while the parasympathetic response allows us to relax after a stress trigger is diminished. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems flush adrenal hormones into our bloodstream as a response to stimuli.
The cascade of hormones of the sympathetic system are generated from fear, worry, anxiety, and other emotions. They cause our muscles to tighten, our breath to become shallow and our eyes to focus on specific details of images in our view.
The parasympathetic hormones flush into our brains and muscles when we eat a piece of cake, make love, create art and music, or experience enjoyment. These effects include a relaxing of the musculature (letting down our guard), widening vision and deeper breathing.
Stress and the Need to Build Stamina
As Dr. Seyle said, we need both of these responses in consistent interaction to be vibrant. Constant stress can wear us down until we are unable to access our true vitality or stand up for our rights. In time, we can lose our creative and adventurous drive because of the lack of energy reserves. Without this vital base energy, we can become vulnerable to disease and health disorders. If we can get away for a vacation to forget our troubles and obligations for a while, our adrenals would rejuvenate, and we might recover some stamina. But that may not be enough to refresh for the year ahead.
Herbal Remedies to Strengthen the Adrenals
Fortunately, there are a number of herbal plant-based remedies that have been shown to carry genetics and phytochemicals to help us regulate and balance the adrenal responses. In the 1940s, Russian Doctor Nicoli Lazarov studied Rhodiola rosea, a plant that grows in high Siberia. The local people claimed that taking Rhodiola fortified them for the harsh winters.
When studying the root structure, Dr Lazarov found it contained complex constituents and unique genetics to survive and flourish in the extreme environment. This robust and beautiful plant grows out of rocks in places where almost no other life exists.
Adaptogenic Rhodiola and Stress Relief
Lazarov’s studies found Rhodiola rosea could impart humans with nourishment of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems via the adrenals to support our circadian rhythms. For instance, when we need stimulation upon waking, tea of Rhodiola root has invigorating nutrients that provide energy. At night, when we want to wind down, Rhodilola also provides for calming. Lazarov created a word to identify these properties defined in Rhodiola rosea: adaptogen.
Plants as Adaptogens
Russian and Chinese researchers have identified other adaptogenic plants. Some of the herbs in the Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia include: Rhodiola sacra (Tibetan variety), Astragalus, Schizandra, Ginseng, Eleuthero, Reishi, Cordyceps, Gynostemma. Ayurvedic adaptogens include the super-rasayan (rejuvenative) Shilajit, the popular tea ingredient Tulsi (holy basil), Amla, and the root Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera).
Other popular adaptogens include the Peruvian root Maca (Lepidium meyenii), and Chaga mushroom. In general, adaptogens are non-toxic and have non-specific, broad-spectrum therapeutic benefits. Used over time, they can help us restore bodily homeostasis. Adaptogenic herbs can be powerful allies when navigating today’s world. They can benefit athletes, creative and sexually active people, multi-taskers, and those who need clarity and maneuverability through their diverse experiences.
Adaptogens are available at health food stores and natural pharmacies. Since there are various grades of quality with herbs and fillers are sometimes added to herbal products, it is important to research the ingredients on product labels. You can contact the company or a health professional to ensure herbal products are pure, effective, and safe.
Including adaptogenic herbs in a daily health regimen will help balance stress, to support more actively pursuing goals, expressing creativity with confidence, and living with vitality and optimism.
Rehmannia Dean Thomas is President of Shaman Shack Herbs (shamanshackherbs.com) and creator of the online course on Tonic Herbalism (GateofLife.org). His books include Raw Chi, Shilajit; The Resin of Life, and Healing Thresholds.