The A-B-Cs of Herbal Medicine: Adapt, Build and Calm with Adaptogenic Herbs

The category of herbs referred to as adaptogens are said to stabilize and regulate physiological processes that promote homeostasis. The term adaptogen, was coined in the late 1940s by Russian scientist, Dr. NikolaiLazarev, following research done on Eleuthero root (Siberian ginseng). In 1968, scientists Brekhman and Dardimov formally defined adaptogens as plants that have three characteristics.

First, they are nontoxic, supporting safe, long-term consumption. Second, they produce a nonspecific biological response that improves the body’s ability to resist multiple forms of stress, including physical, chemical and biological stressors. Third, they have a normalizing influence; adaptogens help to bring the system back into balance – adapt, build, calm.

Today, scientific research into adaptogens is specific to the following four areas:

(a) phytochemistry: isolating and identifying the structure of active constituents of adaptogenic plants;
(b) biochemistry and molecular biology: mechanisms of stress-protective activity of adaptogens; molecular and cellular levels;
(c) experimental and clinical pharmacology: efficacy and safety of adaptogens in stress-related disorders (animals and humans)
(d) development of herbal preparations/products that have well established medicinal use in evidence-based medicine.

Some studies have indicated that certain adaptogenic substances can activate the protective mechanisms of cells (key stress mediators), which is linked to an increase in survival rate. (pubmed 10.3390/ph3010188)

Research suggests that adaptogens relieve stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands, specifically affecting the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). HPA Axis: When the brain perceives danger (stress), it signals the hypothalamus to release the hormone Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), stimulating the pituitary gland to release Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal cortex where it stimulates the release of cortisol and other glucocorticoid hormones. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine (adrenaline).

When cortisol levels rise in the blood, they inhibit the release of CRH and ACTH from the hypothalamus and pituitary, shutting down the stress response. The continued, long-term activation of this stress response results in excessive cortisol levels that lead to a cascade of hormonal imbalances affecting cognitive, emotional and mental health function, a reduction in energy and stamina, reproductive hormone production and the possibility of a complete immune breakdown. Adaptogens control the stress response by reducing the continued activity of the HPA axis.

Active Compounds: Adaptogens are typically either complex phenolics or tetracyclic triterpenoids/ steroids. Phenolic compounds include phenylpropanoids and phenylethane derivatives, such as salidroside (rhodioloside), rosavin, syringin, triandrin, tyrosol, lignans, eleutherosid E and schisandrin B. They are structurally similar to the catecholamines, the mediators involved in the activation of the stress response in the early stages of stress exposure. Tetracyclic triterpenoids, such as cucurbitacin R diglucoside, ginsenosides and phytosterol-glycosides (eleutheroside A, sitoindosides, daucosterol) structurally resemble the corticosteroids that act as stress hormones involved in the inactivation of the stress response.

The monoterpene glucoside, rosiridin, which is isolated from Rhodiola rosea, was found to inhibit monoamine oxidases A and B in vitro implying its potential beneficial effect in depression and senile dementia.

Rhodiola and Eleuthero contain high amounts of phenols, particularly phenolpropane and phenolethane derivatives, and as mentioned these
compounds are structurally related to catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine) playing a role in the optimal function of mood, emotions and regulating the fight or flight response. These adaptogens demonstrate a single dose response in the body. Alternatively,

Panax Ginseng and plants that contain tetracyclic triterpenes, structurally similar to corticosteroids, support a healthy stress
response after an ongoing daily dosing of one week or more. As corticosteroids are involved in a wide range of physiological processes that include the stress response, the immune response, and the regulation of inflammation, the active components in these plants play a key role in the HPA axis – mediated regulation of the immune and neuroendocrine systems. In other words, these constituents support the optimal function of the entire endocrine and neurological systems.

Over the past seventy-five years, science suggests that the regular use of adaptogens has an all-encompassing effect in overall health; supporting cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, energy enhancement and improved athletic performance, mood and mental health, and overall hormonal regulation. Some adaptogens have hepatoprotective (liver protection) effects, while others can enhance eyesight, improve sleep, aid digestion and improve respiratory function.

The NOW® herbal product line has multiple adaptogenic options that include single ingredient options such as Rhodiola, Relora, Panax and
Siberian Ginseng just to name a few, as well as adaptogenic formulas such as our Liver Detoxifier and Super Cortisol Support. We conduct over 97 different quality assurance tests to ensure identity, purity, potency, and safety. We screen for a wide array of contaminants and adulterants, including heavy metals, pesticides, agricultural chemicals, steroids, pharmaceutical traces, various pathogens and microbes, and much more, requiring our suppliers to adhere to strict specifications. Quality ingredients that reflect effective doses, are the cornerstones of our business at NOW Foods.

Written by: Marva Ward CNP and Educator for Now Foods