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It is officially time to help your body “adapt” with adaptogens.
Now, more than ever, I am reminding my patience to faithfully keep taking their adaptogen herbs. With the national crises of hurricanes, forest fires, political unrest, international drama and their already busy personal and professional lives, the opportunity to thrive is diminished and most of my patients are sadly relegated to “survival mode.” What’s a body to do?
History offers the answer. Indigenous peoples around the world have for some millennia looked to nature to nourish their bodies in times of need. Imagine for a moment, what a “native healer” would have recommended 1,000 years ago for villagers experiencing stress; the answer invariably would have included adaptogenic botanicals.
Why are adaptogens so important?
An adaptogen helps balance the body’s natural defense system when exposed to stress. When the body can no longer adequately fend off the ravages of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, there is a ripple effect causing potential short term and/or long-term impacts on one’s health. These can include:
- Anxiousness and worry
- Altered sleep
- Weaken immunity
- Hormone imbalance (including sex hormones)
- Changes in thyroid performance
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Weight and metabolic challenges
What adaptogen is right for me?
When helping my patients select the “right” adaptogen for their body’s needs, I guide them based on the scientific research and traditional use of each herb. Below is a short list of herb-specific qualities that may be helpful for you and your healthcare provider to discuss as related to the best fit for your body. Remember, we were all born uniquely “us” and our life journey has, without question, been equally unique relative to stressors, health challenges and life in general. Let’s take a closer look at my top five favorite adaptogens (not including Licorice, Cordyceps and a few others containing specific phytonutrient support).
Rhodiola rosea, and other Rhodiola species, have been extensively researched and offer a unique level of support for both mental and physical stress-induced fatigue. It has been reported that the Russian military, athletes and citizens have harnessed the benefits of Rhodiola because it grows in the aired parts of the Artic and high mountain regions of Siberia as a plant that has had to learn to adapt to harsher terrains and environmental stressors.
Rhodiola is rich in active constituents including, but not limited to, salisdroside. This may be one of the reasons patients around the world use it as a “go to” in their stress and anxiety management wellness program. I personally choose Rhodiola for my patients that are wired, tired and are often struggling with blood sugar and hormone imbalance; frequently accompanied by feeling emotionally vulnerable.
Here are some of the popular uses of Rhodiola: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
- Mental and Physical Fatigue
- Adrenal support
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Circulatory Health
Astragalus membranaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for a millennium to help bolster the immune system and ward off the ravages of stress.
I frequently select Astragalus for my patients that present a weakened immune system and often catch a cold, or other illness, when stress becomes excessive.
Here are some of the popular uses of Astragalus: (7, 8, 9, 10)
- Generalized Stress
- Immune Support
- Heart Health Supportive
- Blood Sugar Protective
Withania somnifera is a revered herb in the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana (tonic). It is traditionally used as a nerve tonic and has been studied extensively for a wide variety of other benefits as well. I use it in my practice for general adrenal support, and specifically for patients looking to balance their adrenal/thyroid system.
Here are some of the popular uses of Ashwagandha: (11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
- Overall Stress Support
- Thyroid/Adrenal Support
- Body weight management due to chronic stress
Ocimum sanctum, also known as Tulsi, was highly revered in a 2014 medical research paper aptly entitled: “Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons” (16). The same paper went on to describe the traditional benefits of Holy Basil as follows:
“Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.”
I share the enthusiasm of the researchers that Holy Basil should be liberated from the kitchen spice rack and incorporated more freely into one’s wellness program.
Here are some of the popular uses of Holy Basil: (16, 17, 18, 19)
- Physical and mental stress
- Heart Health
- Immune support
- Anti-inflammatory support
- Brain performance
American Ginseng, known in Latin as Panax quinquefolius, confers a strong adaptogenic ability to help nourish the body during times of stress. I often recommend it for those with weakened overall vitality, and that need a meaningful lift in their energy and sense of well-being.
Remember, too, it is always essential to start low and go slow with all herbs, supplements and medications as guided by your medical team; much like in the case of ginseng, where it can make “sensitive” individuals feel a surge of energy.
Here are some of the popular uses of American Ginseng: (20, 21, 22, 23)
- Adrenal support
- Blood sugar
- Heart health
- Stress induced mental strain
- Energetic stimulation
I have encouraged over 80 percent of my patients to incorporate one or more adaptogenic botanicals into their wellness program routinely. The reality is, stress is at epidemic proportions and there does not appear to be any reprieve soon. Clinical research is clear that unchecked stress accelerates health risks for premature aging, immune challenges, cardiac disease, altered mental and emotional functioning, along with a slough of hormone imbalances. We must learn from the generations that have discovered these adaptogenic herbs and employ them in our modern existence, which burdens us like never before.
1. PLoS One. 2013; 8(5): e63886.
2. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015; 15: 198.
3. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012; 12: 70.
4. Am J Chin Med. 2017 Aug 22:1-16.
6. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):770-83
7. Am J Chin Med. 2017 Aug 22:1-11.
8. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Jun 13;17(1):310.
9. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 654643.
10. Chin J Integr Med. 2014 Oct;20(10):787-91.
11. Biogerontology. 2017 Aug;18(4):601-614.
12. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan;22(1):96-106.
13. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.
14. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec 1; 20(12): 901–908.
15. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.
16. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 251–259.
17. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Mar;10(3):ZC53-6.
18. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2016 Mar-Apr;20(2):145-50
19. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:239508
20. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Sep;107(Pt A):362-372
21. Eur J Nutr. 2017 Jul 7 [Epub ahead of print]
22. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Sep;95(9):1046-1057.
23. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 May 10;65(18):3684-3692.
Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., has 24-years of experience practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, Oregon. He is dedicated to using his vast knowledge about alternative medicine to help his patients and generously give to those in need. He has written over a dozen books and 100's of national articles, and was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 2003 by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Read more about Dr. Meletis here. Or, visit our "Ask Dr. Meletis, N.D." page for additional articles.
*Statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or health condition. The information on this website, and provided by Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is recommended that patients check with their doctors before taking herbs, to ensure that there are no contraindications with prescription medications. There is additional information linked within this site to HealthNotes®, a third party educational source, containing the latest research on health and supplements. Oregon's Wild Harvest will not be held accountable for this information and consider it an education reference only.