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Adaptogens: Ancient Remedies for Modern Stress – Unlocking Vitality and Resilience

Posted by Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa on January 08, 2024

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In the fast-paced world we navigate today, stress has become an unwelcome companion, affecting our overall well-being and health. While the sources of stress have evolved from the primitive threats our ancestors faced, our bodies still respond with the same ancient "fight or flight" mechanism. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to various health issues, from elevated cholesterol to digestive ulcers. In this blog, we delve into the fascinating realm of adaptogens, nature's stress busters. Originating from the holistic healing system of Ayurveda, these tonic herbs have the power to prevent stress-induced damage and promote overall health. Join us as we explore the properties of key adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Licorice, Holy Basil, Turmeric, Brahmi, and Amla, unlocking the secrets to vitality and resilience that might just be the missing link to the energy you've been longing for.

Adaptogens, the Stress Busters

Adaptogenic herbs help prevent the damage from stress and therefore prevent disease. Often called “tonic” herbs, these remedies are now defined by specific criteria.

Adaptogens demonstrate a nonspecific enhancement of the body's resistance to stress. First introduced in 1947, the term was further refined in 1958 by Israel I. Brekhman, a Russian medical doctor, and his colleague I.V. Dardymov. They said that an adaptogen "must be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism, it must have a nonspecific action, and it usually has a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state."

The modern herbal understanding is that adaptogenic herbs are nontoxic, safe plants that exert a generalized, normalizing, balancing influence on the body—they help they body to cope with stress and enhance immunity.

Meet the Equalizers

Ayurveda, the ancient holistic healing system of India, the sister science of yoga, is well supplied with tonic, building herbs. The main goal of health care in Ayurveda is long-term balance and prevention, so this method excels at the use of adaptogenic herbs.

Ashwaganda root (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha, often dubbed "Indian ginseng," serves as a prominent adaptogen in Ayurveda, acting as a tonic and sedative. Despite its unrelated nature to true ginsengs, studies highlight its superiority as an antistress adaptogen, surpassing even ginseng in efficacy. Revered as a "rasayana" in Ayurveda, translating to a powerful rejuvenative, Ashwagandha earns its name, meaning "like a horse," symbolizing its premier status as a sexual tonic. Beyond its role in sexual health, Ayurvedic herbalism leverages Ashwagandha for various ailments, including general debility, exhaustion, memory loss, and insomnia, considering it a grounding herb that nurtures metabolic processes. Recent research supports its cognitive enhancement, offering promise in Alzheimer's treatment, while immunomodulatory properties aid anxiety and psychological complaints. With anti-oxidant activity in the brain, Ashwagandha manifests a spectrum of benefits, from antistress to anti-aging.

A recommended dose is approximately a gram per day, suitable for long-term use as a rejuvenator, with larger quantities safely employed for short-term relief in Ayurveda. 

Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus)

As ashwaganda is the main tonic for men in Ayurveda, so shatavari (“hundred husbands”—you get the idea) claims that role for women. This relative of the vegetable asparagus is said in Ayurveda to rejuvenate the female organs and the blood, and to build the body.

Historically, shatavari is used to strengthen the immune system, increase milk and sexual secretions, and as an aphrodisiac. It is considered to increase intellect, digestion, and physical strength.

The dose is 1 gram of powdered herb per day, long term, often cooked in milk.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Rich in both saponins and flavonoids, licorice root is anti-inflammatory. The structure of the saponins resembles adrenal hormones. This herb also enhances immune system functioning. Additionally, licorice is a potent liver herb, assisting the liver’s role in hormone balance. 

Licorice (“yashtimadhu”, the sweet stick) is used in Ayurveda to improve eyesight, strength, sexual potency, and libido. Licorice is considered, as adaptogens generally do, to enhance the effects of other herbs in a formula, so it is widely used.

The dose is about 500 mg per day.

Holy Basil leaf (Ocimum sanctum)

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, holds a revered place in South Asian folk medicine, cultivated near temples and homes for its believed purification properties. Unlike the common culinary basil, Tulsi boasts larger, pungent leaves with a bitter taste. Recognized for its anti-inflammatory nature, recent studies confirm its adaptogenic benefits, traditionally revered for stress protection. Emerging research highlights Tulsi's potential in treating diabetes, showcasing a significant 17.6% reduction in blood sugar in placebo-controlled studies.

With its antioxidant-rich profile and clinical effects, Tulsi is traditionally consumed as a tea, with a recommended daily dose of 3 tsp. of dry herb brewed into water. 

Turmeric root (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric, a botanical with a long history of use in Ayurveda, has adaptogen-like properties. Although adaptogens typically act on the endocrine system, turmeric’s effects do not seem to be by this route. Perhaps its benefits are better termed “protective.”

The active principles, "curcuminoids," are recognized for broad range of activity and safety. In addition to strong antioxidant properties, these compounds are strongly anti-inflammatory, as well as broadly immune enhancing and detoxifying. Turmeric contains powerful free radical scavengers.

Turmeric is very safe, and is widely used in food, so modest doses are fine to use. Amounts of as little as 1 gram per day have been shown to have clinical effects.

Brahmi (Bacopa monniera)

Brahmi, an ancient Ayurvedic herb, boasts a rich history in medicine, addressing nerve diseases and enhancing memory for countless centuries. Recognized as a nervine tonic, diuretic, and sedative, its cardiotonic effects stem from the presence of hersaponin, one of four isolated saponins. Widely utilized in treating asthma, anxiety, epilepsy, and various stress-related conditions, Brahmi shows particular promise in addressing cognitive and behavioral disorders. Recent experiments indicate significant improvement in individuals with mental retardation, especially in hyperkinetic behavior.

For optimal benefits, a recommended daily dose involves two grams of the whole herb, taken twice a day with warm water. 

Amla fruit (Emblica officinalis)

Amla, a renowned Ayurvedic herb, stands as a cornerstone in the Indian pharmacopoeia, celebrated for its unparalleled rejuvenative properties and rich vitamin C content. Recognized as a frontline anti-inflammatory herb, Amla effectively addresses various inflammatory conditions, from hemorrhoids to gastritis and colitis, with recent scientific studies validating its potent anti-inflammatory action. Esteemed as a prime herb for ocular health and preventing premature gray hair, Amla is the key ingredient in the renowned Ayurvedic rejuvenative jam, "chyavanprash."

For long-term relief from chronic inflammation, capsules with 1-2 grams of Amla daily serve as a slow-acting yet powerful remedy.

From the powerful Ashwagandha to the nurturing Shatavari, the anti-inflammatory Licorice, the revered Holy Basil, the protective Turmeric, the cognitive-enhancing Brahmi, and the rejuvenating Amla, these adaptogenic herbs are not merely a modest introduction but the key to unlocking vitality and resilience. As we embrace the holistic approach of Ayurveda, we discover a diverse arsenal of tools, offering potent stamina boosters and stress-alleviating tonics. In the pursuit of balance and well-being, these ancient remedies may just be the missing link to the energy and vitality you've been longing for. Let the wisdom of the ages guide you towards a harmonious life in a modern world filled with stress.

Learn more and sign up for an Herbalism course today.

Topics: Functional Nutrition, Integrative Healthcare, Herbalism

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