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


The Essentials of Essential Oils

now_esstentialoils2Essential oils have recently received a lot of attention.  Their popularity has exploded in the past couple of years and with good reason. Essential oils do a lot more than smell good!  The healing properties of essential oils are not new, there is recorded history of their use dating back 5000 years in Egyptian culture.  They have historically been used around the world for their anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. (Thats a lot of antis!) The recipes and remedies created from essential oils are plentiful.  From pain management to stress relief these little bottles have been known to do it all, but what exactly are essential oils? How safe are they? How do you pick a good one? Read on for the Essentials of Essential Oils

Essential Oil Basics

Essential oils are the naturally occurring, volatile oils obtained from plants. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it contains the “essence of” the plant’s fragrance—the characteristic fragrance of the plant from which it is derived. These oils can be obtained by a number of processes, often by cold pressed or steam distillation however, solvent extraction, absolute oil extraction and resin tapping are also used.

At The Granary we sell only high quality essential oils by Now Foods.  Many are pure, containing no added carrier oils or solvents.  Some are diluted with pure carrier oils and are clearly labeled as so. There is no grading system for essential oils, claims such as “therapeutic grade” or “food grade” are nothing more than sly marketing techniques used by some companies. These terms are not standardized and mean whatever the supplier using them wants them to mean. An essential oil is either pure or it is not.

These pure oils are “neat”, meaning they have not been processed, diluted or manipulated in any way with solvents or other additives. Although a particular species of plant harvested and distilled for its essential oil during a particular growing season in a specific region may produce a fragrance that differs from the same species grown in a different region, many of the main chemical markers and physical specifications may be very similar.



Essential Oil Quality

With the many different essential oils to choose from and the many brands, both in our stores and over the internet, choosing a high-quality essential oil can seem a daunting task. As a consumer, what should you look for to help guide your choice?

The first thing to look for to determine essential oil authenticity is that each oil is identified with the plant’s scientific or botanical name, and in appropriate cases, the chemotype. A chemotype is when the same plant, e.g. rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), will have a different chemical profile based on where it is grown. Only some plants have chemotypes. Country of plant origin, extraction process used, and either a distillation or expiration date are also important.

Any essential oil business that cares about selling only pure essential oils will have their oils tested with at least two tests, usually run simultaneously, the gas chromatography and mass spectrometry tests, or GC/MS.  Responsible essential oil vendors will run these tests on every batch of oil they receive from a distiller. Every batch of essential oils from Now are tested with infrared spectroscopy,  gas chromatography, refractive index and specific gravity.  All test results and Material Safety Data Sheets for individual oils can be found on the Now Website .

It is important to remember where essential oils come from whenever you purchase a bottle. It takes 250 pounds of rose blossoms to produce 30ml of rose oil, which explains the very high cost of rose absolute. Other oils are easier to produce, but every oil requires a large amount of plant matter to produce a small amount of oil. This means that good quality essential oils will never be cheap. This does not mean that more expensive oils will always be better than less expensive ones, but the old adage, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” definitely applies here.

Do not be fooled by discount retailers, big box stores, state fair or bazaar vendors, and others who offer essential oils at very low prices or charge the same price for all of their oils. The comforting thought when investing in true, pure essential oils is that since the oils are so highly concentrated and so little is required for most applications, even an expensive oil like rose otto can end up being cost effective in the long run.

Essential Oil Safety

Good quality Essential Oils (EOs) are highly concentrated and should be handled with care. EOs are intended for aromatherapy use. Be sure to consult a trained professional or another reputable resource for recommended dilutions before using EOs for any purpose other than aromatherapy. Infants, children, and pets may be highly sensitive to EOs, even when used as directed in a diffuser. Always diffuse essential oils in well-ventilated areas, especially in the presence of children, pregnant/nursing women, pets, or individuals with respiratory or other medical conditions.

Some EOs can be highly irritating to the skin and direct skin contact with EOs should be avoided. Do not use any undiluted EO directly on the skin – especially the skin of infants, children or pets – unless directed by a healthcare practitioner. EO’s are processed through the body and can have harmful effects on the liver and kidneys. It is not recommended to ingest pure essential oils of any type.

Although our EOs are pure and produced without chemical additives, due to strict regulatory requirements, pure EOs sold for aromatherapy cannot be labeled as food grade or bear instructions for topical or internal use.