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Adaptogens: The Best Overall Herbs

by Prashanti de Jager

It is widely agreed that the best herbs to use for overall wellness are the anti-stress immunocompetence enhancing adaptogens, according to experts from around the world, throughout time and across all traditions and lineages. Though the concept is thousands of years old, western bioscience also has recently discovered adaptogens, known in Ayurveda as the rasayanas and in traditional Chinese medicine as the Superior Herbs.

In 1947, while working on a molecular compound found to stimulate nonspecific resistance of organisms, the Russian scientist Lazarev coined the word "adaptogen.1" He basically defines "adaptogen" as an agent which allows an organism to counteract any adverse physical, chemical or biological stressor by generating non specific resistance and thus becoming "adapted" to a diversity demands imposed on it.2 This definition was fine tuned two decades later at the dawn of "adaptogen awareness."

An adaptogen3:

  1. Produces a nonspecific response; for instance, an increase in the power of resistance against multiple (physical, chemical or biological) stressors
  2. Has a normalizing influence, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. (This is the principle of a medicinal substance that is “two-directional”)
  3. Is innocuous and does not influence normal body functions more than required.

While the paper declaring the above definition was being published, scientists in India, especially Dr Narendra Singh of the King George Medical College in Lucknow, were confirming what thousands of years of traditional Ayurvedic Medicine4 told them: Ashwagandha and Tulsi specifically are two of the premier adaptogens known, and that the Rasayanas of Ayurveda in general are all adaptogens5.

Amongst the most researched and esteemed anti-stress immuno-enhancing adaptogens are:

  • Amalaki (Emblica officinalis)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia)
  • Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)
  • Long Pepper (Piper longum)
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
  • Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
  • Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)

Note how many of these are grown organically and biodynamically or responsibly wild-crafted by ORGANIC INDIA, which is just one facet of our overall True Wellness theme.

Ashwagandha: A Gold Standard Adaptogen

There is no scarcity of evidence in traditional or western bioscience to indicate that Ashwagandha is a potent anti-stress6 adaptogen7. In fact, in many tests of adaptogens it is Ashwagandha that is used as the standard of adaptogenic activity.

Indeed, it is one thing for an herb or substance to be tested for a given activity. This means that there is a likelihood that the substance will have the activity but it is not certain. It is an entirely different matter when an herb or substance is used as a standard measurement of a given activity. An herb used as a control or standard has been proven without a shadow of doubt that it has the activity. There is no doubt at all that Ashwagandha is a potent anti-stress adaptogen and thus is used as a standard of measurement.8

Ashwagandha, which literally means “the earthy strength of a stallion,” is one of the best herbs to support deep groundedness and the kind of calm that arises naturally from an experienced sense of enduring strength.

Tulsi: The Most Useful Adaptogen

Because it so deeply supports healthy metabolism from the stomach and liver to the cell and mind, and because healthy metabolism is key to health in general, Tulsi is certainly amongst the most overall useful adaptogens, a gem amongst gems. One can take Tulsi in a wide variety of forms as well, from a garnish, to a whole herb Tulsi capsule, to my favorite - Tulsi Gotu Kola Tea, which combines two epic adaptogens in the form of a cup of tea, itself an anti-stress empowering medicine.

In one of the seminal studies on adaptogens, physical endurance and all parameters of healthy stress response were significantly increased more via the use of Tulsi9than for other more widely known adaptogens, such as Ginseng and Eleuthero.

Amalaki: Shining through the Three Stages of Stress

Amalaki literally means “the one that makes you so pure that you shine.” It is one of the most used herbs in the world as it is part of many formulas such as Triphala, and also is consumed by millions daily with their meals as a delicious and digestive condiment.

The general aim of adaptogen therapy lies in their ability to reduce stressful agitation reactions during the alarm phase of the stress response, support the physiological rallying during the resistance phase of stress response, and prevent or at least delay the state of fatigue during the final stage of stress response, (exhaustion), and in doing so, provide a certain level of protection against long-term stress and eventual exhaustion and systemic decay.10

Amalaki supports us at all three stages of stress reactions and is shown in tests to clearly be an anti-stress immunomodulating adaptogen11  that also supports us in emotional and cognitive wellness.12 

What is more, Amla, as it is also called, is one of the world's best herbs to support a healthy balance between the aggressive factors of digestion; the acids and enzymes, and the protective factors of digestion; the mucus, structural cells and alkalinity in general. This support of the homeostasis of all levels of physiology, even at the levels of the histones within the chromatins within the nucleus within the cell, is why the use of adaptogens is such a great practice.

Brahmi: The Herb of Vivifying Clear Creativity

Brahmi, a collective term for the herbs Centella (Gotu Kola) and Bacopa, literally means the “Divine Goddess of Harmonious Creativity” as it is so excellent at supporting the cognitive health necessary for creativity in all realms of our life.

One of the reasons that Brahmi is so famous is that Gotu Kola is one of the main herbs that the renowned Chinese herbalist and yogi, Li Ching-Yuen (1677-1933) used to create his incredible longevity of 256 years. I know that sounds hyperbolic, however his lifetime is thoroughly documented. So we can use Li Ching-Yuen as an inspiration to expand our limited concepts of life, as in the end it is our mind that controls our life, and our concepts and belief systems that control our mind. This of course, the expansion of limited concepts and mindpower, is exactly the point of why we should consume adaptogens that enhance cognitive power, longevity and possibility.

In India, for 8000 years Brahmi has been used as an adaptogen that is truly age-defying, as it assists in the regeneration of nerve tissue supporting memory and mental acuity. This is just one reason why Tulsi Gotu Kola Tea is my favorite, especially when taken to help swallow down capsules of the Brahmi-Gotu Kola Formula or the Joy! Formula. The combination of Tulsi and Brahmi is simply such a wellness enhancer, as excellent as it is tried and true.

Adaptogens for the Mind

We spoke of adaptogens for the mind being so very important. The following paragraphs are almost verbatim from the abstract of an article on adaptogens and rasayanas by Dr Singh of BHU, one of the most respected doctors at one of the most respected schools in India. In the article, published in the Biogerontology Journal, he clearly shows the connection between Centella and special mind/brain adaptogens called medhya rasayanas. In this International peer-reviewed scientific journal he states:

"Ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine in the world, its antiquity going back to the Vedas. It adapts a unique holistic approach to the entire science of life, health and cure. The areas of special consideration in Ayurveda are geriatrics, rejuvenation, nutrition, immunology, genetics and higher consciousness.

The Ayurvedic texts describe a set of rejuvenative measures to impart biological sustenance to the bodily tissues. These remedies are called rasayana which are claimed to act as micronutrients. Some of these rasayanas are organ and tissue specific. Those specific to brain tissue are called medhya rasayana. Such rasayanas retard brain aging and help in regeneration of neural tissues besides producing antistress, adaptogenic and memory enhancing effect.

In addition to the long tradition of textual and experience-based evidence for their efficacy, certain recent studies conducted on these traditional remedies on scientific parameters have shown promising results which have been reviewed in this paper for providing lead for further studies. The most popular and potent medhya rasayanas are Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Mandukaparni (Centella asiatica) and Sankhapushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis)."13

Does this list of herbs look familiar? He is basically describing the Joy! Formula, which was created for ORGANIC INDIA by the Ayurvedic expert Dr. John Douillard. Indeed adaptogens that are specific to the mind are a wonderful gift to give ourselves and all those around us, especially in these times of such epic stressors in our lives, and all the more around the most stressful time of the year, the Holidays!

Wishing you Happy Holidays and a long life filled with Love and Wisdom,

In Gratitude,

Prashanti

References

  1. Lazarev, N.V. 1947. 7th All Union Congress Of Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacology 579. Medgiz, Moscow. Quoted from Brekhman, I.I., Dardymov, I.V., 1969. New Substances of plant origin which increase non specific resistance. Annual Review of Pharmacology 9, 419–430.
  2. Lazarev, N.V., 1958. Pharmacology Toxicology 21, 81–86. Quoted from Brekhman, I.I., Dardymov, I.V., 1969. New Substances of plant origin which increase non specific resistance. Annual Review of Pharmacology 9, 419–430.
  3. Brekhman, I. I., and Dardymov I. V. (1969). New substances of plant origin which increase non-specific resistance. Ann. Rev. Pharmacol. 9, 419±430.
  4. Srivastava, K. K.;Adaptogens in high mountains; Indian Journal of Natural Products 11 (SPEC. NUMBER) : 13-19 1995
  5. Singh, B.; Chandan, B. K.; Gupta, D. KFurther studies on adaptogenic activity of withanolide-free hydrosolubel fraction from the roots of Withania somnifera DUN.; .; Indian Journal of Pharmacology 34 (2) : 152 April 2002
  6. Saksena A K; Singh S P; Dixit K S; Singh N; Seth K; Seth P K; Gupta G P; Effect Of Withania-Somnifera And Panax-Ginseng On Dopaminergic Receptors In Rat Brain During Stress; Planta Medica 55 (1) : 95 1989
  7. Gupta O P; Singh B; Atal C K; Pharmacological Investigations Of Withania-Somnifera Ashwagandha As An Adaptogen; Indian Journal Of Pharmacy 39 (6) : 163 1977
  8. Singh, B.; Gupta, D. K.; Chandan, B. K.; Adaptogenic activity of a glyco-peptido-lipid fraction from the alcoholic extract of Trichopus zeylanicus Gaertn; Phytomedicine (Jena) 8 (4) : 283-291 July, 2001
  9. Bhargava, K.P., Singh, N., 1981. Antistress activity of Ocimum sanctum Linn. Indian Journal of Medical Research 73, 443–451.
  10. Wagner H, Norr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomedicine 1994;1:63– 78.
  11. Rege NN, Thatte UM, Dahanukar SA. Adaptogenic properties of six rasayana herbs used in ayurvedic medicine. Phytotherapy Res 1999; 13:275–91.
  12. Muruganandam, A. V.; Kumar, Vikas; Bhattacharya, S. K.; Effect of poly herbal formulation, EuMil, on chronic stress-induced homeostatic perturbations in rats; Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 40 (10) : 1151-1160 October, 2002
  13. Singh RH, Narsimhamurthy K, Singh G.; Neuronutrient impact of Ayurvedic Rasayana therapy in brain aging.; Biogerontology. 2008 Dec;9(6):369-74. Epub 2008 Oct 18.