Adaptogens Reduce Physical and Mental Stress


Adaptogens are plant based compounds that help you adapt to stress in your environment and reduce damage from that stress. They are found in a variety of plants. Among those found effective in animal and human trials are:

Rhodiola rosea photo

Rhodiola rosea photo by peganum

  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Panax Ginseng
  • Holy Basil
  • Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) (Withania somnifera)
  • Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus or Siberian ginseng)
  • Schisandra (Schisandra chinesis)
  • Astragalus root
  • Licorice root
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
  • Cordycep mushrooms
  • Rubus coreanus (Korean black raspberry)
  • Pseudosasa japonica (Arrow Bamboo)
  • Anoectochilus formosanus (genus of orchid)
  • Camellia sinensis (evergreen shrub)
  • Allium sativum (species of onion)

Your body’s reaction and adaptation to stress typically goes through three stages:

  1. The alarm reaction when stress is detected
  2. Adaptation / Resistance as the body takes measures to counter the stress
  3. Exhaustion when the body can no longer cope adequately

Plant adaptogens can increase the ability of the body to cope with and adapt to various environmental sources of stress without experiencing exhaustion. The role of the adaptogen is to moderate the response so the coping with stress can go on for longer periods of time.

The following timeline shows typical coping scenarios. Without adaptogens the stress response is higher, using more resources, and eventually become exhausted. The response with adaptogens shows a milder response that lasts longer and can continue to cope with the stress.

Some stress is useful to life (like resistance exercises to build muscle). And most of the time our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration return to normal when the stress subsides. But, prolonged stress that causes responsive exhaustion can lead to diseases including hypertension, strokes, and heart disease.

The adaptogens themselves acts as a challenger to the system helping your body made adaptive changes. Because your body is more used to the challenge of stress, it does not overreact to new stressful stimulation.

Overall, adaptogens reduce damage from stress, improve the body’s physical and mental ability, reduce depletion of the body’s resources and have a normalizing influence.

What Adaptogens Do for Your Body

This moderation of the body’s response to stress helps prevent fatigue and allows you to better deal with stress. This has proved helpful in a number of areas, including:

  • Decreases in the number of mistakes in mental tasks
  • Ability learn faster and remember more
  • Increasing your capacity for mental and physical work
  • Decrease in exhaustion related errors
  • Increase in physical and mental performance
  • Increased strength and physical capacity
  • Reduced shortness of breath
  • Ability to run faster
  • Elevated feeling of vigor
  • Less muscle tension after exertion
  • Improved endurance in extended exercise

It seems obvious that adaptogens would be used in settings requiring physical stamina and mental alertness. And, indeed, they were first investigated for athletes and for advantage during war. They have since been explored for lengthy space missions and for general all-around health.

While these results seem like they could be produced by stimulants like caffeine, ephedrine, fenfluramine, or phentermine, adaptogens are very different. Caffeine and other stimulants can disrupt sleep and may produce withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when discontinued. Such symptoms are typically not present when adaptogen use is stopped.

Some of the most studied adoptagens in human studies and their results are as follows:

  • Rhodiola rosea
    • Reduced Mental fatigue: improve attention as a cognitive function
    • Reduced fatigue after single and repeated administration
    • Reduced exhaustion: anti-fatigue effect in physical,
      emotional, and mental tasks
    • Improve mental performance after single dose administration
  • Rhodioloside
    • Improve mental performance after single dose administration
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus
    • Anti-fatigue effect in moderate fatigue after two months of treatment
    • Moderates mental stress induced blood pressure and heart rate
    • Improves concentration and memory after repeated administration
  • Schisandra chinensis
    • Increases endurance and mental performance in both single does and repeated administration
    • Reduces symptoms of abnormal weakness including fatigue and weakness
  • Panax ginseng
    • Anti-fatigue effect
    • Improves cognitive performance in Alzheime patients
    • Improve ability to perform mental arithmetic after repeated administration
    • Improves thinking or learning concentration after single dose or repeated administration

What Causes Your Fatigue?

Some estimate that about 20% of Americans suffer from tiredness, fatigue or exhaustion to the degree that it interferes with daily life. While temporary fatigue after a vigorous workout is normal, chronic fatigue or sleepiness lasting several months may be an indicator of an underlying cause. The stress causing such chronic fatigue may be in the external environment or may be the result of disease or certain drugs like beta blockers or even chemotherapy or radiation for cancer.

Adaptogens used in a multi-dose mode primarily work along the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. Secretions of these organs are the primary way your body reacts to repeated stress and helps you adapt to that stress. Single dose use of adaptogens are believed to work primarily with the sympatho–adrenal-system (SAS) to provide rapid response to occasional stress. Both ways of taking adaptogens involve the adrenals.

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