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What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a category of herbs that help the human body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes and restore balance. They support an increase in the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors and promote normal physiological function. They have a history of centuries of use and reference in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, many being noted in Shennong’s Materia Medica, believed to have been written between 200 and 250 CE.

Adaptogens must meet three criteria:

  1. They are nontoxic (they are not harmful). They must cause minimal side effects on physical and mental health, and be nonaddictive.
  2. They produce a nonspecific defense response to stress. This implies the power of resistance or adaptation - the building of “adaptive energy” to keep the body balanced when affected by stressors.
  3. They have a normalizing influence on the body. Some researchers say that adaptogens enhance the body’s natural bipolar homeostatic balancing capacity, helping return stressed physiological systems to normal, regardless of the direction. They are capable of either toning down the activity of hyper functioning systems or strengthening the activity of hypo functioning systems. Asian Ginseng is an example of an adaptogen that has demonstrated the potential to induce bidirectionality, containing active ingredients (ginsenosides) that can stimulate the nervous systems (Rg1) and that can calm it (Rb1).

In addition to the above, many adaptogens have antioxidant properties and are hepatoprotective (liver protecting), cardioprotective (heart protecting), and / or anti-inflammatory.

When understanding and looking to define “adaptogens”, there are many different prospectives to consider. Below is a table summarizing the different perspectives views of adaptogens, from the book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes.

A key value we hold around consuming adaptogens for support is as normal immune and body function is strengthened, vitality is increased, and with increased vitality, a deeper level of healing can be undertaken. For example, if someone is always struggling with chronic fatigue, it is very difficult to want to sit and meditate, do healing and release work, etc. If that person can be supported into a state of balance through a healthy diet, active lifestyle, and adaptogen support, they can then begin looking into the “why” of their chronic fatigue, or other ills. To us, getting to the deeper layers of life, pains, patterns, and healing is the focus, and incorporating adaptogens into a healthy lifestyle is a way to support going into those deeper layers.

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