Look in any vitamin department and you’ll see an array of products targeting stress relief. Typically, within this category you’re going to see products known as botanical “adaptogens.” Because botanical adaptogens are renown to help us adapt to stress, promoting homeostasis, it’s not surprising we see adaptogens represented in retail stores nationwide.
The definition of an adaptogen, first proposed by Soviet scientists in the late 1950s, is any substance that exerts effects on both sick and healthy individuals by ‘correcting’ any dysfunctions without producing unwanted side effects (1).
One of the most renown, and in fact one of the first botanicals labeled an “adaptogen” by researchers, is eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) formerly Acanthopanax senticosus. The plant is native to Asia where it has been used for thousands of years for many things including support for increasing stamina and overall health.
After all these years the research continues to emerge validating some of the plant’s traditional usages. For example, studies involving military cadets and sailors working under harsh conditions indicated they felt increased stamina and resistance to fatigue after using eleuthero (2). A placebo-controlled study also indicated that eleuthero may benefit people with chronic fatigue (2). And further research showed that a formula containing eleuthero improved exercise endurance and work performance (2).
Another favorite in the supplement aisles for many reasons is Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom. Reishi is indeed one of the most revered of the Asian mushrooms with numerous common names often reflecting it’s high regard; the “panacea polypore,” “soul mushroom,” “immortality plant,” and “king of herbs.” Traditionally it was used as a general tonifier for preserving health and promoting longevity, as well as for promoting mental well-being.
Modern pharmacological research has identified more than 100 oxygenated lanostane triterpenes in reishi’s fruiting body and mycelium, (the immature mushroom before the fruiting body is developed).
“Reishi mushroom has the broadest pharmacological activity of most all botanicals I have seen,” said Roy Upton RH, DipAyu,director of planetary herbals and president of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. “I have recommended it to hundreds of consumers and have used it extensively myself. It imparts both an energizing and calming effect which is almost immediately experiential. It is an incredible adaptogen.”
Another popular adaptogen is the Ayurvedic botanical, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). This botanical is so popular in fact it appears to be leading the charge amongst the adaptogens in retail sales growth. A recent report noted that sales of this herb in 2015 were approximately 41% higher than they were in 2014 (3).
Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used as a rejuvenating tonifier, known as a “rasayana” in Ayurveda, and like reishi mushroom, also has a very calming effect on the central nervous system. It was widely used to support vitality and to enhance reproductive function in both men and women.
And like reishi and eleuthero, the research continues to roll out in support of ashwagandha’s helpful benefits. It has been shown to increase stress resistance, improve memory-related performance, and protect against stress-induced responses such as occasional anxiety, and physiological responses to stress, according to numerous animal studies and several human studies. While well-controlled clinical studies are needed to further confirm ashwagandha’s pharmacological benefits, research does indicate that the key constituents of ashwagandha are alkaloids and steroidal lactones known as withanolides.
While nothing can take the place of a comprehensive approach to health, these botanical adaptogens can be our herbal allies during times of stress. With life, at least one thing we know; there’s going to be great times but there’s also going to be stressful times. So it’s no wonder many people are discovering the benefits of incorporating herbal adaptogens.
- Panossian, A., Wagner, H. (2005). Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytotherapy Research, 19(10), 819-838.
Davydov M, Krikorian AD. October, 2000. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr & Maxim.). (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look. J Ethnopharmacol; 72(3):345-93.
- Blumenthal, M., Glenn, L., November 29, 2006. American Botanical Council’s Herb Clip #050563-317, Botanicals Reviewed for Use in Chronic Fatigue.
- Smith, T., Kawa, K. SPINSscan Natural, 52 weeks ending December 28, 2015 as noted in HerbalGram, 2016 Issue: 111 Page: 67-73; American Botanical Council, Sales of Herbal Dietary Supplements in US Increased 7.5% in 2015 Consumers spent $6.92 billion on herbal supplements in 2015, marking the 12th consecutive year of growth.
Julie Dennis, National Science Educator for Source Naturals® and Planetary™ Herbals, has been an educational lecturer and writer in the natural products industry for over 25 years. She graduated from Dr. Michael Tierra’s School of Herbology in 1995 and was contributing editor for numerous books including “The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs,” American Botanical Council, “The Handbook of Clinically Tested Herbal Remedies,” Haworth Press, “Between Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond,” Sierra Club Books and “Dolphin Mysteries: Unlocking the Secrets of Communication,” Yale University Press.
NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product. The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.