Adaptogens for Resiliency

What are adaptogens?

If you are unsure what an adaptogenic herb is, or if you clicked on this page by mistake, start HERE for a quick overview on the three categories of herbal treatments to quickly find the solution you are looking for.

Herbal Adaptogens for Resiliency & Prevention

Herbal Adaptogens are a group of traditional herbs that are used to help your body ‘adapt’ by maintaining its normal functioning, and return to normal functioning quickly if the homeostasis of the body is disrupted.

Although I love using adaptogens all year long – the holiday season and long winters are notorious for throwing our health out of rhythm. Adaptogens can help you overcome minor disruptions in your mood, sleep, immunity, and overall sense of well being.

In the simplest terms, adaptogenic herbs can give you a boost before you even know you need one. The herbs that are work best in the wintertime are; 
Rhodiola Rosea
Panax Gingseng
Panax quinquefolius (American Gingseng)
O. sanctum (Holy Basil)

Rhodiola Rosea

This winter root has been used for centuries in the traditional medicines of Scandinavia and other northern Eurasian countries. It is written than vikings used rhodiola to enhance endurance and reduce fatigue during hard weather. In more recent history, rhodiola has been used in low doses all winter long to reduce infections. In addition to increasing overall resistance to infections (the definition of an adaptogen), rhodiola also increases mental and physical performance and endurance, reduces fatigue (even in people with diseases of chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis), increases concentration, and significantly decreases mild depression, anxiety and insomnia.
 If you have days where you seem to be missing that “omph” or motivation, trying out low dose rhodiola might help you get through this winter without the lulls in mood and energy levels. Rhodiola works especially well if you have had any history of weight gain in a short time in which your mental health also suffered, depression and chronic fatigue.
  When searching for a rhodiola supplement, look for the active ingredients rosavin or salidroside. Be sure they are standardized to 2-3% and 0.8-1% respectively. We currently do not know all of the active ingredients in rhodiola, so make sure you are getting the whole herb. The standardized percentages of the active ingredients given are the amount found naturally in rhodiola. If you find a supplement where these percentages are different, the herb has been tampered with in some way.
     In this article I have referred to “low dose” usage, meaning 100 to 150 mg per day. When taking rhodiola for the first time, start with this low dose for one to two weeks to determine how you respond. Clinical studies have used higher doses of rhodiola, from 300 to 680 mg per day to successfully treat specific problems. There were no adverse effects reported in the studies, but anecdotal evidence from the centuries of using this herb shows agitation and irritability can occur. If after one to two week, a low dose is not helping your mental and physical focus, work up to doses of 340 to 400 mg daily.

Panax Ginseng

 Automatic connections to asian medicine usually happen when the word ginseng is mentioned, however it has been Germany that has scientifically researched ginseng the most. Even in our culture, ginseng teas (unlike rhodiola, for example) are not unheard of. Due to the vast amount of information already available on ginseng, I will only give the basics here. As an adaptogen, ginseng will strengthen any weakened system in the body. It is said to help those with low levels of Chi, the vital energy force. If you are not familiar with eastern beliefs, just think of chi as the summation of how you feel; well slept, well fed, happy, calm, etc. Ginseng is a great herb for those who feel plain old burnt out. 
     Consider this; Have you, or anyone you know, suffered a symptom that could be described more as an annoyance, such as a slightly tight throat, a runny nose that never gets better, a stomach upset that seems to come and go for weeks or months at a time? In these situations, you immunity is dormant. You are generally healthy enough that you don’t usually get a full-fledged virus, but your sluggish immune system never builds up enough antibodies to fight off that pesky little symptom. If any of this sounds like you, ginseng is your premiere adaptogen of choice for the winter season.

Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng)

Panax quinquefolius has a more recent history, due to its use by native Americans in preventing and curing fevers, infections and pneumonia. Naturally found across north america, only subtle differences separate it from panax ginseng. American ginseng is considered less “stimulating” than panax ginseng. 
This form of the plant is better for people who don’t just have a dormant immune system, as described above, but have an impaired immune system. This can be due to certain medications lowering your immunity, or a highly mentally and/or physically stressful environment in conjunction with poor eating and sleeping habits. Of course it is in your best interest to straighten these areas out, but American Ginseng will be your best bet to get you through the tougher parts of winter as healthfully as possible. 

Holy Basil (Ocimum Sanctum)

 This herb is most commonly known as Tulsi, as in Tusli tea. In India, this plant is a ‘rasayana’ meaning sacred and special. Holy Basil is commonly used to treat coughs, colds, flus, headaches, earaches, and reduce asthmatic symptoms and allergies. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, which aids the body in countless ways. In smaller doses, Holy Basil helps the body cope with stressors, and enhances mental focus and clarity without stimulation. In the past, this herb has been used during meditations and yoga practices to help enlighten the mind and body.
Holy Basil has been traditionally used to enhance mood more so than the other adaptogens in this article, yet its effects on specific ailments are undeniable. If you are looking for an natural and healthy way to destress, that wont interrupt your regular routine, try any of the Tulsi tea varieties. If you are looking for a slightly stronger effect, perhaps because you are prone to some of the ailments listed above, supplemental holy basil is recommended. Doses commonly range from 400 mg to 800 mg per day, look for a brand that is standardized to 2-3% ursolic acid. Again, this is not the compound that makes holy basil work, it is just a marker to prove you are getting to whole plant with no filler ingredients. 
*Schisandra and Eleutherococcus are fall into the categories of both  preventative adaptogens and immune enhancers. To keep this article from being too lengthy, these two herbs will be covered in this post highlighting their effects on immunity. 

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