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Adaptogens: The Elite of Herbal Remedies?


Certain substances used for medicinal purposes have holistic benefits, which aid the organism without presenting secondary effects.

The Russian scientist Nikolai Lazarev coined the term adaptogen while researching substances that produced a “state of nonspecific resistance”, when he was trying to improve the performance of athletes and soldiers. Adaptogens or adaptogenic substances, compounds, herbs or practices refer to the pharmacological concept whereby administration results in stabilization of physiological processes and promotion of homeostasis, an example being by decreased cellular sensitivity to stress. The first adaptogen classified by Lazarev was Eleuthero or Siberian Ginseng.

Later on, in 1969, pharmacologists Brekham and Dardymov traced a map of pharmaceutical properties which adaptogens should possess:

  1. The substance is not toxic for whoever is receiving it.
  2. An adaptogen has a “non-specific” activity and acts by increasing the resistance of a given organism to a wide range of biological, chemical and physical factors.
  3. These substances tend to regulate or normalize organ functions and those of systems within the organism.

This definition survived the passing of time.

Nowadays adaptogens must also have antioxidant properties and amphoteric ones as well, and additionally be capable of reacting as an acid or base and normalize the function of an organ. On top of this, they must also help modulate the body’s systems and maintain homeostasis.

Plates of roots and capsule pills.

Research by Alexander Pansossian suggests that adaptogens work primarily through an axis made up by the hypothalamus, the pituitary and suprarenal glands, modulating our response to stress (environmental, physical or emotional). Its biochemical wide- spectrum nature makes it have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiolytic and antidepressant effects.

Among the select group of plants that comply with all the characteristics that allows them to be considered adaptogens are:

The root of American Ginseng, Asian Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, the root of Ashwagandha (used in Ayurveda), Cordyceps fungus (used in Chinese medicine), Dang Shen root, Rhodiola root (used by Russian athletes), liquorice root (or Chinese liquorice), Wu Wei Zi berries and seeds and Rhaponticum root (used for fatigue in Russia).

There are many other roots that we might consider adaptogens in the future, especially those found in the Amazon, that have not been properly studied yet but that now constitute the herbal “dream team” of the upcoming years. Since it does not resemble a panacea or “pharmakon”, those who employ these remedies will be able to feel reassured and calm in terms of their secondary effects, since they do not tend to have negative interactions with other substances.

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