Please allow me to do something I try never to do- prescribe something to each and every one of you, without even knowing who I am speaking to, let alone your physical constitution or state of health. I will also be making claims that are not legal, and may sound hyperbolic and hard to believe- but every one of them is true. Yes, dear readers, at the risk of sounding like a charlatan, I present to you the most important class of herbs in the world- The Amazing ADAPTOGENS.
Adaptogens are poorly understood by researchers because they are so damned incredible. They seem to work primarily upon the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. This means that they help improve communication between your brain and your adrenal glands. The adrenals become less reactive to non-life threatening stressors and we stop squirting out adrenalin and cortisol when they aren’t needed. In consequence, we sleep better, and suffer less anxiety, depression, and in general, diminish the ravaging effect of stress on our bodies. We have nourished and pacified our depleted adrenals. In this manner, we are better able to weather the storms of life. Adaptogens make us cool, calm and collected.
The term adaptogen was coined by a Russian scientist and researcher in the 1940’s to describe a class of substances that possess these 3 criterion: (Guess what “substances” these are- plants!)
1. Adaptogens are non-toxic. Most adaptogenic herbs are taken for long periods of time and only good things happen.
2. Adaptogens increase resistance to stress in non-specific ways. This means that regardless of the origin of stress (emotional, physical, environmental), adaptogens help your body respond better to it. Adaptogens help you adapt to stress so the physiological consequences are reduced. You become fortified, self possessed.
3. Adaptogens have a normalizing effect on the body. This means if an organ system is hypofunctioning an adaptogenic herb can stimulate function, and if it is hyperfunctioning, an adaptogenic herb may sedate function. This will happen without you telling it what to do. Adaptogens are super smart.
Adaptogens do these miraculous things by strengthening the body’s regulatory systems, namely, the neuroendocrine system and the immune system. They can also normalize cardiovascular, pancreatic and renal function. Many of them are potent antioxidants that protect cells of the brain, liver, heart, and lungs from oxidative damage. Some of the herbs that we now classify as adaptogens have long been revered and used to promote longevity in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (the ancient medical system of India).
This may sound a bit dry to those of you that aren’t into physiology but love my plog anyway. Here’s what you need to know:
I use adaptogens most commonly for the following conditions (with great success):
Unrelenting stress, grief, anxiety or depression from any cause. Insomnia.
Hormone imbalance in men and women- including menopausal symptoms, infertility, pms, endometriosis, postpartum depression, erectile dysfunction and low libido.
Immune dysfunction- lowered immunity or autoimmune conditions.
Improved athletic performance- increased stamina and recovery time, improved performance of lungs and cardiovascular system during exercise.
This is where I may strain my credibility a bit, but bear with me- there is more.
Adaptogenic plants are also used for mental focus, weight management, cardiovascular health, improved digestion, blood sugar regulation, longevity and even cancer prevention. I could literally go on and on, but it is just unbelievable! (To be fair, no one adaptogenic herb does all of these things. I am generalizing here.) But most adaptogens have broad and varied effects. They each have many talents.
As a class of herbs, adaptogens are capable of correcting nearly any imbalance in your body, because your body is capable of this feat. Adaptogenic herbs support your innate healing mechanisms and can “re-regulate” the body’s important control systems that govern literally every function of the body. Sound important? They are. In the next post, I will highlight adaptogens that I use frequently. I have a feeling some of these compelling plants will be speaking to you.
Yours Truly, Sarah “Cool as a Cucumber” Patterson