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Adaptogenic Herbs: What's All the Hype About?

I love working with adaptogens during the Autumn transition.

Remember when we used to have Autumn??

Photo by Erik Witsoe

What ever happened with that? Here in the PNW we went straight from 80 degree weather through October, to snow in November! After having a wet Spring that lasted until June, it's clear nature is struggling with handling transitions smoothly lately.

Photo by Ian Schneider

Guess what that means... It's okay if you are too! This time of year can be so challenging for regulating our moods.

Autumn is the time when I start thinking about all the stressful self imposed or societally "deadlines"... Holidays. Family. Goals I set for the year...

On top of that, the days are now shorter, it's dark out, and seasonal affective disorder and depression starts looming its ugly head.

That's where ADAPTOGENS come in to play.

Adaptogens are herbs that help our bodies and minds manage the stress response.

Photo by Annie Spratt

Now, that doesn't mean they BLOCK the stress response or delete the things in our life that are stressful... But adaptogens have shown to smooth out the highs and lows that come along with stress. Over time we can see a normalization of stress hormones and a generally decreased predisposition to stress.

Are adaptogens a new discovery?

Well, the term "adaptogen" is relatively new, but the plants have been worked with (especially in many parts of Asia) for ages. The term adaptogen was coined in 1964 by soviet scientists who were seeking out plants that could produce an increase in physical performance and resistance to stress. These qualities were highly sought after beginning in WWII and after, in attempts to improve stamina and vitality, especially of Russian soldiers and athletes.

They ended up performing thousands of studies and clinical trials on several plants with a long history of traditional use in the area. These plants showed the ability to increase the body’s general capacity to withstand stressful situations, therefore guarding against diseases that are caused by over-stress.

Hmm can't imagine why they'd want that! Could it be they were concerned for the health and wellbeing of their soldiers and athletes? Or was it more likely nationalism and the military industrial complex...

Photo by Emma Simpson

The ultimate goal with these herbs is typically to:

1. Reduce stress reactions during the initial alarm phase of the stress response 2. Prevent or delay exhaustion 3. Provide some protection against long term stress. Adaptogens are not known for blocking the stress response, but rather smoothing out the highs and lows that come along with it. Over time we can see a normalization of stress hormones and a generally decreased predisposition to stress.

Three qualities that contribute to a plant being considered adaptogenic are:

  1. Showing non-specific activity. It increases the body’s overall ability to resist any physically, chemically, or biologically harmful agents (not just certain ones)

  2. Having a normalizing influence It can increase or decrease the function of a system, organ, or process that is over or under active as needed, bringing it to a more ideal level no matter the original state.

  3. Being innocuous It doesn’t cause harm or influence normal body functions more than is required to return balance.