Adaptogen

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [4]


The term adaptogen is used by herbalists to refer to a natural herb product that is proposed to increase the body's resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue. In the past, they have been called rejuvenating herbs, qi tonics, rasayanas, or restoratives. All adaptogens contain antioxidants, but antioxidants are not necessarily adaptogens and that is not proposed to be their primary mode of action.[1]

The concept of adaptogens dates back thousands of years to ancient India and China, but modern study did not begin until the late 1940s. In 1947, Nikolai Lazarev defined an adaptogen as an agent that allows the body to counter adverse physical, chemical, or biological stressors by raising nonspecific resistance toward such stress, thus allowing the organism to "adapt" to the stressful circumstances.[1]

In 1968, Israel I. Brekhman , PhD, and I. V. Dardymov formally gave adaptogens a functional definition, as follows:

  1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
  2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
  3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

Under this definition, adaptogens would be nontoxic in normal doses, produce a general defensive response against stress, and have a normalizing influence on the body.[1]

It is claimed that adaptogenic herbs are unique from other substances in their ability to balance endocrine hormones and the immune system, and they help the body to maintain optimal homeostasis.[1] Adaptogens are proposed to have a normalizing effect on the body and to be capable of either toning down the activity of hyperfunctioning systems or strengthening the activity of hypofunctioning systems. However, they are also proposed to be functional at the level of allostasis, which is a more dynamic reaction to long term stress, lacking the fixed reference points of homeostasis.[2]

Adaptogenic herbs and other organisms

Most herbal adaptogens that have been identified have long been used in either Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Some of the more commonly used herbs described as adaptogens include:[1][3][4][5]

Scientific
name
Common
name
Research papers on
PubMed through 2007[6]
150px
Codonopsis
pilosula
Dang shen
49
150px
Eleutherococcus
senticosus
Eleuthero
71
125px
Glycyrrhiza
glabra
Licorice
1156*[7]
150px
Gynostemma
pentaphyllum
Jiaogulan
89
125px
Lepidium
meyenii
Maca
169
150px
Ocimum
sanctum
Holy basil
146
150px
Panax ginseng
Ginseng
97+*[8]
150px
Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola
151
150px
Schisandra
chinensis
Schisandra
153
Tinospora
cordifolia
Guduchi
93
Withania
somnifera
Ashwagandha
235
150px
Cordyceps
sinensis
Cordyceps
369
150px
Ganoderma
lucidum
Reishi mushroom
389
Inonotus
obliquus
Chaga mushroom
35

Possible adaptogens with less scientific research include:

Scientific
name
Common
name
Research papers on
PubMed through 2007
Ashphaltum
bitumen
Shilajit, some kind of organic humus
0[9]
Asparagus
racemosus
Shatavari
44[10]
150px
Astragalus
membranaceus
Astragalus
493[11]
150px
Bacopa
monnieri
Water Hyssop
30[12]
150px
Emblica
officinalis
Amla
218[13]
Lycium
chinensis
Lycium
0[14]
Pfaffia
paniculata
Suma
12[15]
150px
Polygonum
multiflorum
He Shou Wu
66[16]
Pseudostellaria
heterophylla
Prince Seng
17[17]
150px
Rhaponticum
carthamoides
Maral root
24[18]

Panax ginseng is an example of an adaptogen that has demonstrated an "overall normalizing effect." Among the active ingredients found in Panax Ginseng are substances called ginsenosides. The herb contains ginsenosides Rg1, which can stimulate the nervous system, and ginsenosides Rb1, which calms it.[1] However ginsenosides alone do not determine the active strength of ginseng and some preparations with higher ginsenosides have lower activity, indicating that cofactors are necessary to potentiate the adaptogenic properties of ginseng.

Constituents common to adaptogens

It can be difficult to determine which constituents are active ingredients in plants with as diffuse an effect as adaptogens. According to adaptogen researcher Panossian and medical botanist and herbalist Robyn Klein, adaptogens tend to have the following consitituents:[19][20]

Triterpenes (mevalonate pathway)

Phenylpropanes (shikimate pathway)

Oxylipins (acetate pathway)

Triterpenoid saponins have been the focus of most studies of adaptogen constituents. Saponins include ginsenoside from Panax ginseng, gypenosides from Gynostemma and eleutherosides from Eleutherococcus. The lipophilic properties of ginsenosides, for instance, favor binding to intracellular steroid hormone receptors. Triterpenes also include phytosterols and phytoecdysteroids, both of which are thought to have adaptogenic roles in mammals. Phytosterols have been studied more in food science than phytotherapy but are known to have immune function.[21] Phytoecdysteroids are in common use by athletes and weight lifters for the anabolic effects they produce. Rhaponticum carthamoides is notable for these compounds. Oxylipins are fatty acids that have been oxidized and display prostaglandin-like activity due to a shape similar to leukotrienes. Examples are the hydroxylated fatty acids in licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra.[22][23]

In addition to the above constituents, many adaptogens contain polysaccharides that have been reported to stimulate immune system components and have immune system enhancing benefits. Polysaccharide-rich plants have a long history of use in traditional practices such as Chinese medicine. In addition to stimulating the immune system, they are used to increase vital energy and considered qi tonics. Adaptogens that contain polysaccharides include: American ginseng, Asian ginseng, astragalus, cordyceps, eleuthero, licorice, lycium, prince seng, reishi, rhaponticum, and shatavari.[1]

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” Healing Arts Press, 2007.
  2. [1]Robyn Klein."Allostasis Theory and Adaptogenic Plant Remedies" 2004
  3. Saleeby, J. P. "Wonder Herbs: A Guide to Three Adaptogens", Xlibris, 2006. (Three chapters on adaptogens Rhodiola rosea, Eleuthero & Jiaogulan.)
  4. Hobbs, Christopher "Medicinal mushrooms: The history, chemistry, pharmacology and folk uses for modern times" Botanica Press, 1987.
  5. April 2005 MMS Newsletter
  6. "PubMed Home". www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  7. Search term "licorice" instead of scientific name. The search term also brought up some other similar species.
  8. It seems there may be more papers under a synonym for the plant.
  9. 0 PubMed results listed under the name Ashphaltum bitumen + 0 under "Shilajit"
  10. 44 PubMed results found under the name Asparagus racemosus + 0 results under synonym Asparagus rigidulus + 0 results under synonym Protasparagus racemosus
  11. 342 PubMed results under the name Astragalus membranaceus + 151 under the synonym Radix astragali = 493. This is assuming both terms do not appear in the same paper
  12. 30 PubMed results listed under the name Bacopa monnieri
  13. 96 results for PubMed search under the name Phyllanthus emblica + 122 results under the name Emblica officinalis = 218. This is assuming bother terms do not appear in the same paper
  14. 0 PubMed results found
  15. 12 results under the name Pfaffia paniculata
  16. 66 PubMed results under the name Polygonum multiflorum
  17. 17 PubMed results under the name Pseudostellaria heterophylla
  18. 17 PubMed results under the name Rhaponticum carthamoides
  19. Panossian, Alexander G., 2003. Adaptogens: a historical overview and perspective. Natural Pharmacy, 7(4), 1, 19- 20.
  20. [2]Robyn Klein Masters Thesis Paper, May 2004, Montana State University, Dept Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology: Phylogenetic and phytochemical characteristics of plant species with adaptogenic properties
  21. Bouic, Patrick J.D., 2002. Sterols and sterolins: new drugs for the immune system? Drug Discovery Today, 7(14), 775-778
  22. Panossian, Alexander G., 2003. Adaptogens: a historical overview and perspective. Natural Pharmacy, 7(4), 1, 19- 20.
  23. [3]Robyn Klein Masters Thesis Paper, May 2004, Montana State University, Dept Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology: Phylogenetic and phytochemical characteristics of plant species with adaptogenic properties

Further reading

  • Adaptogens.org
  • David Winston & Steven Maimes. “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” Healing Arts Press, 2007. The definitive guide to adaptogenic herbs. Includes overview, history, actions, health benefits, 21 monographs; and chapters on adaptogens as food and adaptogens for animals.
  • Adaptogens in America

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