When it comes to health and wellness, adaptogens are among nature’s most powerful substances. Adaptogens are a small and special category of herbs that protect us from stress of all types while providing an outstanding array of other health benefits.
These unique plants are able to survive and even thrive in the coldest, harshest, and most stressful conditions on earth. And when consumed, scientists have discovered that adaptogen herbs pass on their amazing ability to adapt to stress to both humans and animals.1
Today, there is only a small group of plants that are classified as true adaptogens. What makes them different from other plant foods, and even from most superfoods, is that they contain a wide range of multifaceted compounds that are nutritionally superior to the typical vitamins, minerals, and most other substances found in healing herbs.
From Ancient Chinese Healers to Viking Warriors and Siberian Hunters
Adaptogens have actually been used for thousands of years in both traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic healing traditions. Folk healers and peoples from Russia, Japan, Korea, and Europe have also long been known to use adaptogen herbs to create healing tonics and medicines.2
- Various Asian cultures have used adaptogens to both heal and prevent diseases, to improve mental acuity, and to promote physical strength and stamina.2 They valued adaptogens for their powerful anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, anti-depression and anti-aging 2
- The Vikings used adaptogens to help them survive in extremely stressful conditions. Viking warriors used adaptogens to reduce stress and increase their energy and endurance before going into fierce battles or embarking on long, difficult journeys by sea or land.
- Siberian hunters used adaptogens for all-day energy and stamina before going on long, dangerous hunts in extremely harsh weather.3
Today, modern science has discovered that adaptogen herbs contain substances that support the immune system, protect against stress, inflammation, and fatigue; reduce anxiety and depression; and even slow down aging.2
Re-Discovery of Adaptogens in Modern Times
Even though used by ancient peoples for thousands of years, adaptogens went through a phase of rediscovery during the Cold War. This happened when Soviet scientists in the mid-twentieth century began to conduct studies trying to find natural substances or “tonics” that could enhance the mental and physical performance of their soldiers, athletes, astronauts and elite military units.3
Over the span of several decades, thousands of research studies were conducted by over 1,200 Russian scientists who verified that adaptogens do indeed increase human performance.2,3 This ground-breaking research was kept top-secret for decades because the USSR didn’t want the rest of the world to find out about these discoveries which gave the Soviet Union an advantage over competing countries on the world stage.
The Soviets gave adaptogens to their Olympic athletes, astronauts, political officers, scientists, doctors, elite military, world-famous Bolshoi ballet dancers, and even to their World Champion chess players because of their amazing ability to reduce stress and strengthen immunity coupled with incredible physical and mental performance-boosting properties. 3 Many Soviet accomplishments during the Cold War (such as their outstanding and unprecedented performance in the 1980 Olympic Games) have been at least partially credited to their use of adaptogen herbs.
The 8 Powerful Primary Adaptogens
Today, the use of adaptogens has come full circle. Backed by evidence of their use for thousands of years and by thousands of scientific studies that have shed light on their power and effectiveness, we now know that adaptogens are “the real deal.” With all the extraordinary benefits these herbs offer, adaptogens truly belong in a daily wellness plan to improve and protect both your physical and mental health.
Each adaptogen has important and unique properties. Here is a very brief description of just a few of the benefits specific adaptogens provide.
Eleuthero — Used by the hardiest societies throughout history, not only to prevent colds flu, and infections, eleuthero was also commonly used to increase energy, strength, stamina and vitality.3 The research shows that eleuthero has therapeutic value and provides various physical and mental health benefits, including: protecting your body from all types of stressors, improving memory and cognition, and increasing physical performance. Studies have shown that eleuthero is especially helpful in protecting the body’s systems against physical stress from excessive workload, high levels of exercise, muscle loss, heat, cold, and even radiation.3
Rhodiola Rosea — This amazing adaptogen herb is cherished for a wide variety of benefits such as improving physical performance, mental health, promoting cardiovascular health, and enhancing memory and clear thinking. Rhodiola has undergone extensive clinical trials and has been found to have mood-boosting effects and to reduce both anxiety and depression.9 Further, researchers found the herb has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, increases immunity and is cardioprotective — having the ability to normalize the heart rate immediately after intense exercise. Rhodiola was one of the herbs widely used by Soviet athletes and cosmonauts to reduce stress and increase energy and stamina.3,10
Ashwagandha — The premier anti-aging and rejuvenating herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is widely used as an anti-aging herb; to calm the mind and body; boost mood; and promote sleep.12,13 Researchers found that ashwagandha has significant anti-stress adaptogenic activity, confirming its clinical use in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used to treat illnesses such as: asthma, bronchitis, psoriasis, and dementia.14 And as one of the elite herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has also been known to promote physical and mental health by increasing your resistance to diseases and environmental stressors.
Schisandra — The schisandra berry has been known for centuries to fight fatigue, increase stamina and provide sustained energy. For generations, Siberian hunters chewed schisandra seeds and berries to give them the stamina to hunt for an entire day without eating any other food.21,22,23 Researchers have reported schisandra’s ability to increase physical working capacity and to provide a stress-protective effect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors while increasing endurance, accuracy of movement, and mental performance.25
Panax Ginseng — Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, Ginseng is classified as one of the most highly prized herbs because of its capability to nourish and revitalize both mind and body. According to traditional healers, ginseng was said to support the five visceral organs, calm the nerves, tranquilize the mind, and support the lungs, spleen, and stomach. Scientists discovered that ginseng enhances cognitive performance, particularly short-term memory.2 Additionally, researchers discovered that supplementing with ginseng can have a significant impact on older people’s cognition.3 Ginseng has been used for generations to treat a wide variety of ailments, including pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic fatigue, asthma, chronic stress, depression, and autoimmune diseases of the lungs and GI tract.3
Rhaponticum — Rhaponticum is known to be especially useful when it comes to delaying the signs and symptoms of aging. It may help to reverse low testosterone, balance hormones, and reduce the effects of mental or physical fatigue by revitalizing the blood and organs. Rhaponticum nourishes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid axis (HPAT), the endocrine hub, and improves recovery from illness.3,16 Researchers have found that rhaponticum may help protect the brain after a stroke, and may help to protect the cardiovascular system by reducing heart attack risk.19,20
Shatavari — The roots of this lovely plant have been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine for anti-aging, rejuvenation, and numerous health-giving properties. Research shows that shatavari increases testosterone in men, and supports women’s reproductive health through every stage of their lives. For women, the Shatavari root has been used for centuries to support a healthy menstrual cycle, manage PMS, and ease the transition into menopause.2 The herb is known to balance the entire body, and scientists are now studying numerous other benefits of shatavari including supporting a healthy stress response, boosting the immune system and supporting healthy digestion.
Shilajit — Shilajit is a unique “herbo-mineral” that flows from the high mountain rocks of the Himalayas in the heat of summer. Probably because of its very high vitamin, mineral and fulvic acid content, Shilajit has been cherished for generations for its amazing health properties such as: improving brain function, providing cardiovascular protection, reducing stress and anxiety, managing symptoms of chronic fatigue, and promoting anti-aging. Modern medicine has proven shilajit’s ability to increase testosterone in men, improve heart health, and aid in fighting obesity.35,36,37,38
Maximum Effects by Combining Adaptogens
Extensive research by Soviet scientists who studied various adaptogens for over four decades in the 20th century showed that when adaptogens are combined together, they are more effective than each adaptogen used alone. For this reason, it is usually recommended that you combine several adaptogens in order to realize the highest level of benefits from them.
If you’re interested in a supplement for women that contains all 8 of the primary adaptogens described above, please go here.
- Panossian A, Wikman G. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals. 2010;3(1):188-224. doi:10.3390/ph3010188
- Alexander George Panossian, Wagener H. Adaptogens. A Review of their History, Biological Activity, and Clinical Benefits. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236462312_Adaptogens_A_Review_of_their_History_Biological_Activity_and_Clinical_Benefits. Published May 2011. Accessed July 11, 2020.
- 3. Adaptogens in Medicinal Herbalism, Donald Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG)
- 4. Before Steroids, Russians Secretly Studied Herbs. Nationalgeographic.com. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/food/the-plate/2016/08/long-before-doping-scandals–russians-were-studying-performance-/. Published August 19, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2020.
- 5. Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, Chernikov MV, Wikman G. Comparative controlled study ofAndrographis paniculata fixed combination, Kan Jang® and an Echinacea preparation as adjuvant, in the treatment of uncomplicated respiratory disease in children. Phytotherapy Research. 2004;18(1):47-53. doi:10.1002/ptr.1359
- Lee YJ, Chung H-Y, Kwak H-K, Yoon S. The effects of A. senticosus supplementation on serum lipid profiles, biomarkers of oxidative stress, and lymphocyte DNA damage in postmenopausal women. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 2008;375(1):44-48. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2008.07.097
- HARTZ AJ, BENTLER S, NOYES R, et al. Randomized controlled trial of Siberian Ginseng for chronic fatigue. Psychological Medicine. 2004;34(1):51-61. doi:10.1017/s0033291703008791
- V. J. Kupin, “”Eleutherococcus and other biologically active modifiers in oncology,”” in Bioactive Compounds, ed. Todorov and Zaikov, 22–27.
- Steve Gibson, GIBSON RESEARCH CORPORATION. GRC | Invalid Request Blocked. www.grc.com. https://www.grc.com/health/research/Rhodiola/The%20effects%20of%20Rhodiola%20rosea%20extract%20on%205-HT%20level. Accessed July 11, 2020.
- Germano, Ramazanov, and Bernal Suarez,, Arctic Root (Rhodiola Rosea)””; Darbinyan, Kteyan, Panossian, et al., “”Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue””; Petkov, Yonkov, Mosharoff, et al., “”Effects of alcohol aqueous extract from Rhodiola rosea””; and Shevtsov, Zholus, Shervarly, et al., “”A randomized trial of two different doses.””
- Maslova, Kondrat’Kondrat’ ev, Maslov, and Lishmanov, “”The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity.””
- L. C. Mishra, B. B. Singh, and S. Dagenais, “”Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): A review,”” Alternative Medicine Review 5(4) (2000): 334–46.
- C. Tohda, T. Kuboyama, K. Komatsu, and A. Vanella, “”Indian medicinal plants as antiradicals and DNA cleavage protectors,”” Phytomedicine 8(2) (2001): 125–32; and R. Mohan, H. J. Hammers, P. Bar-gagna-Mohan, et al., “”Withaferin A is a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis,”” Angiogenesis 7(2) (2004): 115–22.
- L. D. Kapoor, CRC Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1990), 337–38.
- Michael Tierra, “”Ashwagandha: Wonder herb of India,”” East West School of Planetary Herbology, www.planetherbs.com/specific-herbs/ashwagandha-wonder-herb-of-india.html (accessed February 24, 2020).
- 16. A. Panossian and G. Wikman, “”Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress-protective activity,”” Pharmaceuticals 3(1) (2010): 188–224.
- M. A. Gerasyuta and T. N. Koval, “”The experience of prolonged use of Leuzea carthamoides extract for the purposes of preservation and increase of mental and physical work capacity,”” in New Data on Eleutherococcus and Other Adaptogens: Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on Eleutherococcus (Hamburg, 1980), 135–38 (Vladivostok: Far East Scientific Center of the Academy of Science of the USSR, 1981).
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- Effect of Rhaponticum carthamoides extract on structural and metabolic parameters of erythrocytes in rats with cerebral ischemia – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10517-008-0202-7
- Kokoska L, Janovska D. Chemistry and pharmacology of Rhaponticum carthamoides: A review. Phytochemistry. 2009;70(7):842-855. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.04.008
- A. Panossian and G. Wikman, “”Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail: An overview of Russian research and uses in medicine,”” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 118(2) (2008): 183–212.
- Ghosal, Lal, Singh, et al., “”The need for formulation of shilajit by its isolated active constituents.””
- Chang, Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica.
- Study: supplementation with schisandra maintains your muscle mass as you age: https://www.ergo-log.com/supplementation-with-schisandra-muscle-mass-as-you-age.html
- Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: an overview of Russian research and uses in medicine.: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024
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- Huang, The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs.
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- Bhaumik, Chattopadhyay, and Ghosal, “”Effect of shilajit on mouse peritoneal macrophages.”
- Lho SK, Kim TH, Kwak KP, et al. Effects of lifetime cumulative ginseng intake on cognitive function in late life. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy. 2018;10(1). doi:10.1186/s13195-018-0380-0
- 32. Hong C-E, Lyu S-Y. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Korean Red Ginseng Extract in Human Keratinocytes. Immune Network. 2011;11(1):42. doi:10.4110/in.2011.11.1.42
- Jang D-J, Lee MS, Shin B-C, Lee Y-C, Ernst E. Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction: a systematic review. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2008;66(4):444-450. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2008.03236.x
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- Pandit S, Biswas S, Jana U, De RK, Mukhopadhyay SC, Biswas TK. Clinical evaluation of purified Shilajit on testosterone levels in healthy volunteers. Andrologia. 2015;48(5):570-575. doi:10.1111/and.12482
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- Das A, Datta S, Rhea B, et al. The Human Skeletal Muscle Transcriptome in Response to Oral Shilajit Supplementation. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2016;19(7):701-709. doi:10.1089/jmf.2016.0010