Natural herb products that supplement the body's ability to deal with stressors such as anxiety, fatigue, or trauma are called adaptogens. Although herbs identified as adaptogens may have their origin in various medicinal traditions, the concept of using an herb as an adaptogen has its origin in Western herbalism.
Adaptogens are not one small type or predetermined mixture of herbs, but a variety of plants that may be used alone or in combination with one another. It is thought that these whole herbs, when used alone or in combination, promote the balancing of the endocrine (hormone) system and boost the immune system. In this way, the herbs are thought to promote homeostasis, or a state of balance and stability, in the body.
Most adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in various traditions of Asian medical practices, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The herbs that are used in contemporary Western herbalism are known to perform a variety of functions within these Asian healing systems. These functions include rasayanas (herbs or preparations that encourage health and longevity) in Ayurveda and qi tonics (herbs or preparations that correct imbalances of energy) in traditional Chinese medicine. Rasayanas and qi tonics are not the names of herbs or a specific herbal formula. Instead, they are categories of the type of action that the herb performs in the body.
In the 1940s, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev defined adaptogens in a way that made sense to Western systems of herbalism and medicine. Lazarev coined the term "adaptogen" to mean an agent that raises the body's ability to resist stress by countering undesired stressors, whether physical, chemical, emotional, or biological.
Today, adaptogens are administered by integrative practitioners and herbalists to patients facing difficult emotional or physical circumstances in order to prevent overtaxing of the body's energetic resources. Adaptogens are also used in sports medicine and sold on the internet to supposedly counter conditions such as aging and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Many articles on adaptogens have been published in peer reviewed medical journals. However, these articles tend to focus on a specific action of a particular chemical or herb, rather than on a whole herb or combination of herbs.
Intrigued by their long history of use in various systems of herbal medicine, researchers have recently turned to adaptogens as a possible treatment for patients experiencing high levels of emotional and physical stress.
Beta-sitosterol, cucurbitacins, dammarane triterpene saponins, flavan glycosides, flavonoids, glucopyranosides, hydroxylated fatty acids, lignans, octadecadienoic acid, oxylipins, phenylpropanes, phytoecdysteroids, phytosterols, prenylated flavonoids, schizandrin, sesamin, syringaresinol, triterpenoid saponins, turkesterone.