Get In Balance With ADAPTOGENS
Powerful Herbs Can~
Balance Your Body
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If there were an America’s Most Wanted for health problems, stress would be at the top of the list.
The U.N. calls stress the 21st century health epidemic. Although stress is perceived to have the danger of a hangnail, it “has exploded to a $1 trillion epidemic, more expensive than cancer, smoking, diabetes, and heart disease combined”. From Joe Robinson, Huffington Post https://www.huffpost.com/entry/job-stress_b_861889
Get IN BALANCE With ADAPTOGENS
Balance is the key to a stress-free, relaxed, rewarding life. Unfortunately, few of us lead balanced lives. In today’s 24/7 world, we seem to be under constant pressure to produce. Many of us exist with a too long work week, an ever-increasing “to-do” list, technology that’s evolving faster than we can absorb, and the demand to do more with less.
In his series about stress in Huffington Post, author Joe Robinson emphasizes the connection between illness and stress. He writes that stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death in the US: heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. He adds that an estimated 75-90% of all doctor visits are stress-related.
In this issue of Nutrition News, we discuss a group of powerful herbs called adaptogens. These plants are exceptional for their ability to take the edge off stress while also building strength, increasing stamina, and balancing our bodies – without side effects. Sound like magic?
Taking The Edge Off Stress
Asian ginseng root (Panax ginseng) is the iconic adaptogen. Although recognized in China for its rejuvenating properties for thousands of years, it was Soviet scientists who performed the seminal research on the root beginning in 1949. Because of its primary effect of enhancing the ability of its users to adapt to stress, the word adaptogen was coined.
The cost of ginseng motivated the Soviets to search for other plants with adaptogenic properties. Their search was successful, resulting in the discovery of Eleuthero, formerly known as Siberian ginseng.
Eventually, they stipulated three criteria for a substance to be considered an adaptogen:
1) It must be able to return the body to balance from a state of stress.
2) It must have a nonspecific action such as increasing overall resistance; rather than a specific action such as bilberry for the eyes. 3) It must be harmless.
In the beginning only Panax ginseng and its North American sister root Panax quinquefolius were considered adaptogens. Since then, the “ginsengs” of other cultures have been revealed each having developed its reputation over centuries of popular use.
We feature ashwagandha, Indian “ginseng”. We also discuss true ginseng, plus holy basil (“tulsi”), rhodiola, and astragalus.
We examine adrenal fatigue, a growing health problem among the overly stressed. (See sidebar, “Adaptogens & Adrenal Fatigue”.)
Lastly, we consider a proposal to encourage public health policies that help prevent and manage stress. (See “Siri Says, ‘Smash Stress’”.)
The 3 A’s: All About Ashwagandha
Used in the Ayurvedic medicine of India1 for thousands of years, ashwagandha is prized for its rejuvenating effects. Often called “Indian ginseng”, it is known for its ability to promote feelings of well being.
In recent times, clinical studies have begun to determine ashwagandha’s specific effects. Documentation shows that it has positive influences on stress, inflammation, the cardiopulmonary system, the central nervous system, and the glandular system (including sexual health).
We look more closely at its uses for stress, sports nutrition, brain health, and sexual function.
The 3 A’s: All About Ashwagandha
1 One of the world’s oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems, Ayurveda was developed thousands of years ago in India. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between mind, body, and spirit.
Ashwagandha & Stress
Ashwagandha root extract was shown to reduce cortisol levels and stress in a recent study.2 The 64 participants were healthy but had a history of chronic stress. All were asked to respond to a battery of stress scales.
Then for 60 days, half ingested 300 mg of ashwagandha daily and the other half, an identical placebo.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers were able to demonstrate ashwagandha’s usefulness for raising stress resistance as well as improving quality of life through enhanced sleep and increased productivity, plus mental calmness and relaxation.
Another study compared the efficacy of naturopathic care (NC) with psychotherapy (PT) on reducing anxiety.
All 81 participants took the Beck Anxiety Inventory before and after receiving treatment. The NC group received nutritional advice, deep breathing exercises, a multi-, and 300 mg ashwagandha.
The PT group received psychotherapy, the same deep breathing techniques, and a placebo.
NC group scores on the anxiety inventory were reduced by 56.5% and in the PT group by 30.5%. The NC group also displayed higher overall quality of life than controls, including less fatigue, better concentration, and more vitality.
Ashwagandha & Stress
2 Called “the stress hormone”, cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Both too much circulating cortisol and too little can become a health problem.
Ashwaganda & Sports Nutrition
An article published in 2015 showed that at the end of 8 weeks of weight lifting, ashwagandha improved muscle building and decreased muscle damage in 57 men aged 18 to 50.
The target group took ashwagandha root extract 300 mg 2x/d. Compared to controls, the target group developed significantly more muscle strength for both the upper body (+75%) and the lower body (+50%). This group also showed greater decreases in body fat, higher testosterone levels, and improved recovery (described as lower creatine kinase levels3).
Protecting the body from creatine kinase accumulation is an important goal for bodybuilders. Incidentally, the men in this study were not experienced bodybuilders.
Ashwaganda & Sports Nutrition
3 Creatine kinase is an enzyme that leaks from the muscles during bodybuilding exercise. This is because the muscles breakdown somewhat as they build up. High levels of creatine kinase can lead to kidney problems.
Ashwagandha & Brain Health
Animal studies indicate that ashwagandha supple-mentation may suppress the acute negative effects of sleep loss on learning and memory.
Studies suggest that ashwagandha may also function as an antioxidant, protecting the brain from oxidative damage.
Ashwagandha & Sexual Function
Data from an 8-week study of 50 women aged 21-50 indicated that the 25 taking 600 mg of ashwagandha daily enjoyed significant improvements in sexual interest, arousal, lubrication, and in achieving orgasm compared to those taking the placebo.
The authors of the study were quick to remark that ashwagandha is not an aphrodesiac, writing that there was no significant increase in “desire” nor in the number of total sexual encounters.
Ashwagandha: More Benefits
Ashwagandha normalized blood sugar in fructose-fed rats by reducing inflammatory markers and increasing insulin sensitivity. Also, it has shown anti-tumor activity; may be useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis; and, may support weight management among individuals with chronic stress.
Based on the studies cited in this section, take ashwagandha as the dry extract in 300 mg capsules 1 or 2x daily.4
Ashwagandha: More Benefits
4 I chose to feature ashwagandha for three reasons:
1) It has a long history of effective use in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia as a rasayana or tonic;
2) Because it doesn’t take a long time to mature, it is a low-medium priced supplement; and
3) Most importantly, I recommended it several months ago to Gurumantra Khalsa, my husband and the publisher of Nutrition News. Taking 2 caps a day has been very calming for him and has also reduced his appetite. ~Siri
The 3 S’s Of Adaptogens: Stress, Stamina, Strength
In this section, we cover four more adaptogens: Panax ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, holy basil, and astragalus.
Hundreds of studies confirm the disastrous effects of chronic stress. Elson M. Haas, MD, puts stressors into these categories: physical (intense physical activity, including birth and extreme weather); chemical (pollution and drug/alcohol use); mental (long hours, perfectionism); emotional (betrayal, frustration); nutritional (deficiencies, excesses); trauma (injury, surgery); psycho-spiritual (relationship pressures, general state of happiness); child rearing; family changes; work demands and life changes (adolescence, aging, loss).
Unexpectedly, even good things trigger our stress response. These include engagements, weddings, births, new homes or cars, awards and recognition, praises and raise. Yes, and winning the lottery!
Because of their ability to restore balance (homeostasis), improved stamina and increased strength could be considered happy by-products of adding adaptogens to our regular supplement regimen. Let’s take a closer look….
Adaptogens & Adrenal Fatigue
Talk about a natural fit! Adaptogens with their ability to take the edge off stress are perfect go-to supplements for people with adrenal fatigue.
Although unrecognized by the medical community, adrenal fatigue syndrome is still experienced by stressed-out ordinary people. This year alone, at least a dozen new books have been released addressing the problem.
Adrenal fatigue syndrome is based on the theory that longterm stress affects the ability of the adrenal glands to continuously produce cortisol.5
The condition is diagnosed based on a set of nonspecific symptoms, including problems sleeping, heart palpitations, low libido, blood pressure inconsistency, and anxiety. Weight gain or the inability to lose weight may also be present.
Natural Products Insider recently featured an article about adaptogens and adrenal fatigue syndrome.
Four of the herbs we discuss are recommended: ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, holy basil/tulsi, and Panax ginseng. Also included are licorice (for its ability to curtail enzyme activity that can interfere with cortisol); Eleuthero ginseng (helps increase cortisol), and Schisandra (protects the adrenal cortex).
Adaptogens & Adrenal Fatigue
5 This is not Addison’s disease, in which the adrenal glands dysfunction due to injury or pituitary malfunction.
Panax (Asian) ginseng is the gold standard of adaptogens. Now, science reinforces ginseng’s reputation. Ginseng has the ability to improve calmness and working memory, to reduce stress and help with stress-induced disorders, improve brain function in Alzheimer’s patients, address erectile dysfunction,6 control blood sugar, and mitigate cancer.
In animal studies, ginseng shows promise in the recovery of cognitive function in Alzheimer’s7 and the normalization of behaviors related to autism spectrum disorder. Among its other benefits, a 2016 study shows ginseng’s potential as a therapy for inflammatory bowel disease.
6 Meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials resulted in “suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction” say theauthors who call for more rigorous research.
7 This study was conducted using a product made with American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius,much of which is exported to Asia.
Identified by the Russians as an adaptogen in 1969, for many years rhodiola was unknown here because literature about it was written in Slavic and Scandinavian languages.
Used to alleviate depression and fatigue, rhodiola has been shown to improve serotonin levels and repair injured neurons. The active constituent of rhodiola is salidroside, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
In a 2016 paper (titled ”Pause Menopause….”), the authors reviewed evidence supporting the role of Rhodiola rosea in preventing and treating “estrogen decline and menopause-related health risks”.
They suggested investigating the herb as it relates to menopausal fatigue, stress, depression, cognitive decline, memory impairment, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Known for its anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties, Astragalus membranaceus is a familiar ingredient in many immune-enhancing formulas. Extensive research using this Chinese herb concerns its antidiabetic effects. Surprisingly, the herb is active in type 1 diabetes. In the study cited, astragalus was found to protect pancreatic beta cells from autoimmune destruction.8
Astragalus is likewise useful in type 2 diabetes. Saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, its main constituents, act together to normalize blood sugar levels. In addition, astragalus protects the mitochondria (power houses of the cells) with potent antioxidant action. This also gives the herb anti-aging properties
8 Insulin is produced in the pancreas by the Islets of Langerhans. Subsequently, the beta cells store and release the sugar normalizing hormone.
Ocimum sanctum is also known by the Sanskrit tulsi, “The Incomparable One”. Like ashwagandha, it is an Ayurvedic herb with thousands of years of use. By definition, the herb fights stress; it also normalizes blood sugar levels.
The essential oils found in holy basil play an important part in it’s healing properties. A recent discovery is the antimicrobial effects of these oils. This is useful for the treatment of acne and skin infections when applied topically. In addition, when used in a mouthwash, the antimicrobial effects discourage periodontal disease.
Siri Says: “Smash Stress!”
This is the name of Joe Robinson’s anti-stress campaign. In his eye-opening article (quoted on our cover), he calls our attention to the relationship between stress and illness, and to the tremendous money being spent on heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, etc.
Joe calls these diseases “the symptoms of stress”. He points to stress as their root cause and takes the position that without addressing stress, we are condemned to experience the symptoms.
Joe has launched a grassroots campaign. His goal is to make stress screening and accessible stress management parts of the preventive services of the Affordable Care Act. He visions a campaign against stress much the same as the campaign against tobacco.
If you are interested in knowing more about Joe’s campaign or in signing his petition, go to