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adaptogen, herbal adaptogens, adaptogens, rhodiola, siberian ginseng, rhodiola rosea, depression, anxiety, stress



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Adaptogenic herbs


large proportion of all illness (perhaps 70-80%) is believed to occur because of stress - because the level is too high, and/or too long-term. High-stress modern living is probably the main factor causing chronic disease. Fortunately Mother Nature has an answer to this challenge - a unique class of herbal products called "adaptogens". Adaptogens have the most broad-spectrum healing properties of any herbal medicines, but their unique value is that they specifically relieve stress.

How do you feel?
The main effects of adaptogens are an increased availability of energy during the day, a reduction of stress feelings, increased endurance, greater mental alertness, and deep and restful sleep. Also, adaptogens significantly accelerate the recovery process after illness.
I know from personal experience how powerful they are. I was ill for many years, and became weaker and weaker, despite trying a variety of medicines and supplements. I went through so much mental and physical trauma that I thought I was going to die. Doctors could not diagnose my illness, but eventually I found it was an autoimmune disorder, with too many symptoms to name. One day I discovered adaptogens and, after some trial and error, I found they worked better than anything else I had tried; and they increased the effectiveness of other supplements as well. I decided to search the literature to find out more about this amazing class of herbal products.

According to modern science adaptogens are natural plant products that increase the body's ability to cope with internal and external stress factors, and normalize the functions of the organism. They help maintain the stable internal environment inside the organism known as homeostasis. An important characteristic is that they are safe, possessing few known side-effects.

Rhodiola Rosea Leuzea Schisandra Rhodiola Rosea

Rhaponticum Carthamoides

Shitake Mushroom

Schisandra chinensis

Adaptogens were discovered in 1947 by the Russian scientist Dr. Nicolai Lazarev, who in fact coined the name "adaptogen". Dr. Lazarev was also the mentor of Dr. Israel I. Brekhman, who conducted extensive research on adaptogenic herbs. Dr. Israel I. Brekhman's first major focus was the now well-known Panax Ginseng, also called Korean or Chinese Ginseng. This worked, but unfortunately it has a few drawbacks that have since become evident. It sometimes has side-effects such as causing over-excitement or constipation, and when taken it can be too heating and stimulating to some people. Dr. Israel I. Brekhman soon moved on to other herbs and became recognized as the world's leading expert on adaptogens. Since then more than a thousand experimental and clinical studies on adaptogens have been done – most of them in Russia and Germany. Most of these studies have shown the outstanding stress-protective and immune-system enhancing capacities of adaptogens.

You may be familiar with the names of what are now called "first-generation" adaptogens: Panax Ginseng, American Ginseng, and Japanese Ginseng. But in this article I want to tell you about adaptogens of the "second generation". The most promising adaptogenic herbs today are probably Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng), Rhodiola rosea (Golden root) and Rhaponticum carthamoides (Leuzeae).

But before describing these three invaluable herbs, let's say a few words about stress itself.

The three phases of stress progression
1) Alarm phase – When some new stress factor strikes the organism it causes a sudden release of internal stress-hormones – corticosteroids and catheholamines. If the stress is very intense it can damage the regulatory systems of the organism permanently and at once (for example in case of exposure to high levels of nuclear radiation); but if you are lucky, or if you are taking adaptogens, you will smoothly progress further to the "adaptation phase".
2) Adaptation phase – If the stress factor continues (for example, in sport it might be heavy athletic training) our body learns to tolerate the stressful stimulus – "adapt" - and increases its resistance to the stress factor. The "adaptation phase" is usually a safe period. The more we can stay in the "adaptation phase", the better.
3) Finally, the exhaustion phase appears, when the organism fails to fight stress any more and simply gives up. In this "exhaustion phase", disease symptoms rapidly appear and get worse.

Diseases associated with stress may appear in the first "alarm phase", but they mainly appear in the third "exhaustion phase" when the organism cannot fight stress any more. This third phase usually develops after a period of months or years. Everything depends on the duration of the "adaptation phase". Sometimes the organism may be lucky and escape this third phase altogether, provided that it can keep the stress under control. We can help to achieve this by taking adaptogens; they can help us to stay in the "adaptation phase" for as long as possible.

Three promising "second-generation" adaptogens.
1. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng)

This herb actually has as many beneficial properties as common Ginseng, but without being as stimulating. This herb has become very popular in Russia and in the U.S.A. It has been extensively researched and tested on humans, and has proved to be very effective and safe. Eleutherococcus shrubs grow up to 9 feet tall; they have rough-edged arrays of leaves, and small white flowers which give dark blue fruit. Siberian Ginseng contains seven active substances, referred to as eleutheroside A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Total eleutheroside content of the root is up to 2%. Certified potency Siberian Ginseng extract is standardized for a minimum content of eleutheroside B of 300 mcg, and eleutheroside D - 400 mcg per 100 mg (One tablet may typically contain 100mg – 250mg of extract). These active ingredients are specific to Eleuthero and are not present in the Panax species (American, Chinese, Korean or Japanese Ginseng). Eleutherococcus has numerous clinically-proven beneficial properties, such as relief of insomnia, various types of neuroses, hypertension, hypotension, acute pyelonephritis (kidney problems), chronic bronchitis, and even of cancer. In numerous clinical trials it has been shown that Siberian Ginseng can increase the ability of humans to withstand many adverse physical conditions such as extra workload, motion, noise, or heat. It increases mental alertness and work output, improves the quality of work produced under stressful conditions, and improves athletic performance.

Taking adaptogens,
you will be able to cope with stress better
The initial "alarm phase" will smoothly progress to the "adaptation phase". Adaptogens can help you to stay in the safe "adaptation phase" for a much longer time or even permanently, so preventing your organism from proceeding further to the extremely dangerous "exhaustion phase".

2. Rhodiola rosea (Golden root)
This is a perennial plant with red, pink, or yellowish flowers. It is no biological relation of the "common" rose, but due to its similar fragrance it has been used as a substitute for Attar of Roses. One of the greatest things Rhodiola does is enhance mental and physical performance. Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen herb, it reduces corrisol levels and improves the mood. It has been widely used by Russian athletes to increase energy. Rhodiola is cardio-protective, normalizing the heart-rate immediately after intense exercise. It improves nervous system and mental functions such as memory by increasing blood-supply to the muscles and brain, and also increases protein synthesis, (1,2,3). Rhodiola rosea has extraordinary pharmacological properties as an anti-mutagen and anti-depressive agent. In this respect Rhodiola rosea is much more powerful than other adaptogens. In one study done by O.M. Duhan and colleagues, the anti-mutagenic activity of Panax Ginseng and of Rhodiola rosea were compared (4). It appeared that the extracts of Rhodiola rosea have the higher capacity to counteract gene mutations induced by various mutagens (up to about 90% inhibition in some cases). The anti-depressive and anti-stress activity of Golden root is higher than that of St. John's Wort, Ginkgo biloba and Panax Ginseng. In one clinical trial 150 individuals suffered from depression took Rhodiola rosea extracts for a period of one month. At the end of that period two-thirds of them had full remission of clinical manifestations of depression, and had become more active and more sociable. Daytime weakness and general weakness disappeared. Furthermore, Rhodiola rosea is four times less toxic than Panax ginseng. The main active components that are responsible for the extraordinary potency of Rhodiola rosea are rosavin, salidroside, rosin, and rosarin. Quality Rhodiola rosea extract should contain at least 2% rosavin and 0.8% salidroside. More information here.

Rhodiola rosea and immunity

Rhodiola enhances fitness and well-being under stressful conditions. Rhodiola rosea stimulates the immune system in two ways: FIRST - by specific direct stimulation of immune defence (stimulates one of the most important type of immune cells - Natural Killer Cells, NK-Cells seek and destroy the infected cells on our bodies). Rhodiola rosea normalises the immune system by improving T-cell immunity (6) Rhodiola has been shown to increase the body's resistance to toxins that may accumulate during infection development. SECOND - by making a person less susceptible to stress. Scientists found out that stress suppresses immunity and destroys our resistance to various forms of bacterial or virus attack. Due to the natural killer cell's effect on tumours Rhodiola rosea may enhance B cell immunity by preventing the suppression of B cell immunity, which can occur during stress. Being under stress, a great portion of the body's energy is expended for nothing. When we are chronically exposed to stress that continually robs energy from other systems. The general effect is a lowered immune response and decreased health.

3. Rhaponticum carthamoides (Leuzeae)
Leuzea is a perennial herb of the Compositae family, which grows mainly in mountain regions in Siberia, Altai, and Western Sayani. Its height is approximately 2-3 feet, and its single-headed flowers are purple. Rhaponticum derives its traditional name Maral Root from the famous Mongolian, Dzhamtsyn, who spoke about a plant that imparted strength to the maral deer who fed on it.
Rhaponticum is an old folk medicine for fatigue. It has been traditionally used as a stimulant, for overcoming impotence, and to assist convalescence from long illness. Russian and Eastern researchers have found that Rhaponticum has a beneficial effect on memory and learning, and can help break addictive behaviors. It increases working capacity in tired skeletal muscles, relieves neurosis, and benefits anabolic and adaptogenic processes (5). It enhances speed, strength, and functioning of the muscle system. Rhaponticum carthamoides has been used by Eastern Bloc athletes as a natural anabolic, adaptogen, and bio-stimulant. An important compound in Rhaponticum carthamoides is Ecdisterone.

Rhodiola Radience
By Yerevan S. Yacoubian
Rhodiola is a Russian herb
And virtuous perennial
It's good medicine for the disturbed
For problems both physical and mental

Also referred to as Arctic Root,
Rhodiola is adaptogenic
It makes a person calm and alert
A tonic that's non-toxic

Rhodiola Rosea is used by athletes
So they recover quickly
Enabling them to run the streets
With great efficiency
Many fellows take Rhodiola
To keep their equipment above par
But some get mad when their spermatazoa
Travel very far

Tests have shown this herb to be
Protective of the heart
Changes were made significantly
When taking Rhodiola extract

Rhodiola helps immunity
In addition to the nervous system
It has anti-aging properties
And urges repair mechanisms
Rhodiola minimizes stress
The Eskimos would agree
It lets you learn in the process
Of reaching your work capacity

If you should have a tumor
Rhodiola can help get rid of it
While also improving on the liver
Which is proven by experiments

Hopefully you can remember all this
But take Rhodiola to be sure
The number of things you recall will increase
Overall making you much happier

Pharmacological activity – quality matters!
There are many products on the market that contain Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola rosea or Rhaponticum carthamoides. But unfortunately these products often have only limited, or even no biological activity. Common reasons for these deficiencies are incorrect species of plant, wrong climatic region, harvesting at the wrong season, over-drying, or use of an inferior extraction method. The manufacturing process is a key factor in the preparation of a high quality adaptogenic extract, as is the selection of high quality raw materials using proper assay methods.

Adaptogens and sport
Adaptogens help you cope with stress-related situations so you can train harder, recover more quickly, and achieve more of your body's full performance potential. Leuzeae has a marked anabolic effect, and aids the body in the synthesis of muscle protein. Its extract, when included in the diet, has a pronounced tonic effect and has abilities to protect the bodily system from environmental stress. It may help the body to re-build damaged muscle tissue. Adaptogens such as Leuzeae are often prescribed to elite athletes by sports physicians in order to replenish the depleted mental and structural reserves exhausted during hard training. After taking Rhaponticum carthamoides extract an increase in muscle component and a decrease in fat tissue have been observed in scientific studies (5).

Adaptogens are now slowly but surely becoming more widely accepted. In today's culture of hustling and bustling, with chaos coming from every direction, I do not think we can afford to ignore nature's medicine any longer. It is in our interest to take advantage of these powerful herbs if we want to survive the demands modern life imposes on us. One does not have to be a professor or scientist to research herbs and educate oneself on how they work. The motivation depends on how much one desires to improve one's quality of life. Since life is so short, my advice is: don't wait until you have a day off, maybe next week. Why not take adaptogens as soon as possible, so your week will be more productive?

By Yerevan S. Yacoubian

Selected References:
1 Maslova L.V. et al. (1994) "The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in stress" Eksp Klin Farmakol 57(6): 61-63
2. Germano, C. et al. "Arctic root. The powerful new ginseng alternative" Kensington Publ.Corp. 1999
3. Petkov, V.D. et. al. (1986) "Effects of alcohol aqueous extract from Rhodiola rosea L. roots on learning and memory" Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg 12(1): 3-16
4. Duhan, O.M. et al. (1999) "The antimutagenic activity of biomass extracts from the cultured cells of medicinal plants in the Ames test" Tsitol Genet Nov-Dec 33(6):19-25
5. Gadzhieva, R.M. et al. (1995) "A comparative study of the anabolic action of ecdysten, leveton and Prime Plus, preparations of plant origin" Eksp Klin Farmakol Sep-Oct 58(5): 46