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Applications of adaptogens


(Michael Hrenka) #1

I’ve finished reading the book Adaptogens Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes. It’s mainly about adaptogens, special herbs that have the following qualities (definition of the orginal Russian researcher who coined the term "adaptogen):

  1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
  2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body – an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
  3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

In addition to that:

Adaptogens also may have amphoteric effects. An amphoteric is a substance that normalizes functions of an organ or system within the body. Think of amphoterics as “health food for an organ.”

Adaptogens mostly act on the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system (the hormone system).

All adaptogens have antistress qualities that provide stabilizing effects on the neuroendocrine system, especially the HPA axis. All adaptogens help to modulate and enhance the immune system. All adaptogens provide antioxidant nutrients.

The adaptogens that Russians researched most extensively are:

  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Rhaponticum
  • Shisandra

Those adaptogens, plus the adaptogen licorice, become so popular that they started being used by many Olympian athletes, in Russia, the USA, and other nations.

The ability of adaptogens to increase resilience against stress is also important for immunity:

Any type of stress has a harmful effect on the ability to maintain optimal levels of natural killer cell activity. A severely stressful event can be associated with up to a 50 percent reduction of NK-cell activity.

The book isn’t particularly scientific. Insights from modern studies are combined with traditional knowledge from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s not easily possible to entangle the sources of information that this book relies upon. That’s why the following lists are to be taken with a grain of salt. Cases in which there seems to be stronger emphasis on the usefulness for certain conditions are bold in the following, while conflicting information is denoted by placing the adaptogen in (parentheses). For completeness I’ve also included more exotic adaptogens, typically not used in the Western world, which typically have a Chinese name. Feel free to ignore those.

Some preliminary notes about names:

  • Asian ginseng is often sold as red Korean ginseng. That’s a good form of Asian ginseng.
  • Eleuthero is also called Siberian ginseng
  • Holy basil is also called “tulsi”
  • What’s called “jiaogulan” here, is more often called “gynostemma”

The following is a list of conditions for which specific adaptogens are often used advantageously – according to the book

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

  • eleuthero
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Adrenal fatigue / Addison’s disease

  • American ginseng
  • ashwaganda
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Aging?

  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • jiaogulan
  • lycium
  • he shou wu
  • reishi
  • rhodiola
  • shilajit

Anxiety

  • ashwagandha
  • jiaogulan
  • reishi
  • shisandra

Asthma

  • amla
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • prince seng
  • reishi
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Autoimmune diseases

  • American ginseng
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • gudichi
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • shilajit
  • licorice

Bacterial infections

  • astragalus
  • (eleuthero increases effectiveness of mycin-class antibiotics)
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • shatavari

Beta-endorphin deficiency

  • Rhodiola

Cancer

  • American ginseng
  • amla
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • guduchi
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shatavari (breast cancer)
  • shilajit

Cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy) side effects

  • American ginseng
  • amla
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • guduchi
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • lycium
  • prince seng
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Central Nervous System Overstimulation

  • ashwagandha
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • jiaogulan
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Central Nervous System Understimulation

  • Asian ginseng
  • rhaponticum
  • shisandra
  • shilajit

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

  • astragalus
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • licorice
  • prince seng
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shatavari

Depression

  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • holy basil
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Diabetes

  • American ginseng
  • amla
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • guduchi
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shilajit

Endothelial problems (e.g. cold hands and feet, elevated blood pressure, varicose veins, artherosclerosis)

  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • lycium
  • reishi
  • shisandra
  • shilajit

Eye problems

  • amla
  • eleuthero
  • lycium
  • shisandra

Fatigue

  • American ginseng
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shatavari

Fibromyalgia

  • ashwagandha
  • rhodiola

Fungal infections

  • ashwagandha
  • astragalus

Gut Dysbiosis

  • lycium

Hypothyroidism

  • ashwagandha
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • rhodiola

Inflammation in general and arthritis in particular

  • amla
  • ashwaganda
  • Asian ginsgeng
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • guduchi
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shilajit

Immune system weakness (general)

  • Asian ginseng
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • lycium
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shartavari

Liver damage

  • amla
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • guduchi
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan
  • licorice
  • lycium
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • shisandra

Male fertility issues

  • American ginseng
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • he shou wu
  • lycium
  • rhodiola
  • rhaponticum
  • shatavari
  • shilajit

Mitochondrial hypoactivity (contributing to fatigue)

  • eleuthero
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra

Muscle weakness

  • American ginseng
  • ashwagandha
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • eleuthero
  • (he shou wu)
  • lycium
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shisandra
  • shilajit

Natural killer cell hypofunction

  • Asian ginseng
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • jiaogulan

Osteoporosis

  • amla
  • rhaponticum
  • shilajit

Overweight

  • American ginseng
  • amla
  • Asian ginseng
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • eleuthero
  • guduchi
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • shilajit

Oxidative stress

  • holy basil
  • jiaogulan

Skin, hair, and nail conditions

  • amla (especially useful for broken bones and tooth decay)
  • astragalus
  • he shou wu
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • shisandra
  • shatavari

Sleep disturbances

  • American ginseng (especially in CFS)
  • (ashwagandha)
  • Asian ginseng
  • eleuthero
  • jiaogulan
  • rhaponticum
  • rhodiola
  • (shisandra)

Urinary issues

  • amla
  • Asian ginseng
  • astragalus
  • cordyceps
  • dang shen
  • guduchi
  • holy basil
  • he shou wu
  • licorice
  • lycium
  • reishi
  • shisandra
  • shilajit

Viral infections

  • amla
  • astragalus
  • holy basil
  • licorice
  • reishi
  • rhodiola

Some adaptogens in detail

Astragalus

The effective part of astragalus membranaceus is its root. Its main power is boosting the immune system. There is good evidence that it can increase immunity quite a bit. It’s supposed to be stronger than echinacea, while it can actually be taken long-term without serious problems (except for maybe a loss of efficacy).

Caution is necessary for:

  • Pregnant women
  • autoimmune diseases
  • when taking immune suppressing drugs
  • when combined with lithuim

#2

The mushrooms are normally not listed as adaptogens, but if you accept reishi as one you should concider Lions Mane. I made imho good experiences and there is research behind it as well, also it increases BDNF.

https://examine.com/supplements/yamabushitake/

btw, there is much interaction with many listed drugs with CYP1A2/CYP3A4 that could make the combining/stacking much more complicated than it looks like.


(Michael Hrenka) #3

Thanks. That’s certainly an interesting addition to the list. When you mention “good experiences”, what were the positive effects that you noticed?

Thank you very much for mentioning that. Yes, the interaction of many herbs with the CYPs makes their use problematic, especially when combined with important drugs. So far, I’ve seen some warnings on examine.com when it comes to such interactions. I’m not sure whether they list all likely problematic interactions, but it’s certainly a good start to research herbs and mushrooms on that site.


(Michael Hrenka) #4

Related news:

http://www.kurzweilai.net/these-six-plant-extracts-could-delay-aging


(Mike Lansing) #5

Yes, “problematic interactions” is an understatement. Rhodiola aka “Midsummer Men” and Astragalus “Yellow Leader,” though we are talking about hundreds of compounds in a TCM mixture. What is their source, an urban herb garden under the stacks? Schisandra, Bay Star Vine, is now mostly extinct in the American rhizome, and to buy Chinese Schizandra plants from a Canadian nursery, one gets sterility, not naturally-harvested seed of the American Indigene hunter-gatherer. The double paradox is that most Indigenous genomes that could bring forward critical knowledge, have been genocided. Capitalism, a very special delirium.


(Michael Hrenka) #6

I’m not taking or advocating for TCM mixtures. Taking mixtures like that makes it incredibly difficult to figure out the effects of individual herbs and compounds.

What difference does that make exactly? I assume that differences in soil composition can play a major role when it comes to the production of active compounds of the plant, but has that interaction been really researched in detail?

That’s very unfortunate since we just now enter the era in which genomic analysis becomes very affordable. Before this era, it didn’t seem to be an economically sensible strategy to preserve biodiversity. That’s the price we have to pay for insufficient foresight and dominant short-term thinking.


(Mike Lansing) #7

One can see that opportunistic economics indeed makes a difference if the plants and genomes have disappeared. Hunters and gatherers were intimate to this materialism, which is also a fractal ontology connected to language itself: to around 300 languages that were in place in the Western Hemisphere when Predator came. Thus, these natural linguistic boundaries were serving an ecological purpose, not simply a politico-sociological one.