“The fast pace of life in modern times contributes to an increase in the production and sustained release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Chronic activation of these stress hormones can cause deterioration of vital organs […] One of the best and most powerful ways to lower excess cortisol levels, bring the body into a state of metabolic harmony and reduce the damaging effects of stress is to use adaptogens” (Pawar & Shivakumar, 2012, p. 481).
Balance, equilibrium or homeostasis all fall under the umbrella of creating harmony. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of our day to day lives, that can serve up some major impact. Homo Sapiens appear to thrive on chaos. We continuously experience blissful behavioural highs and subsequent lows. Nonetheless, the question we must ask ourselves is: just how far can we push it until we burn out into a blazing couch potato and Netflix week long flame of glory? So how do we perform at our optimal potential while maintaining overall health?
The wealth of information on adaptogens is ever growing, and it is no wonder! As one of the most withstanding forms of herbal therapy, far before conventional westernized medicine was ever introduced, adaptogen use goes back thousands of years (Winston & Maimes, 2007). Adaptogen research is as broad as the effect these compounds can have on the mind and body.
Adaptogens are used for several reasons:
- To enhance the effectiveness of certain medications;
- To reduce the side-effects of certain medications;
- And most notably, to reduce stress (Winston & Maimes, 2007).
Stress has been revealed to be a rampant contributor to disease and illness due to modernized fast-paced lifestyles. It is now believed that stress may contribute to as much as 75% of illness and disease (Pawar & Shivakumar, 2012).
According to Pawar and Shivakumar (2012) “stress has been postulated to be involved in the etiopathogenesis of a diverse variety of diseases ranging from psychiatric disorder such as anxiety and depression, immunosuppression, endocrine disorders including diabetes mellitus, male sexual dysfunction, cognitive dysfunctions, peptic ulcer, hypertension and ulcerative colitis (p. 480).
Canadian pioneer in stress research, Hans Seyle, revealed the results that stress has on an otherwise healthy organism. He proposed the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) in which three stages occur in response to a stressor: alarm phase (shock and anxiety), resistance (adaptation up to exhaustion aka adrenal maladaptation, and finally homeostasis (the organism sets a regulatory biological point) (Pawar & Shivakumar, 2012).
The definition of what constitutes an adaptogen was created by Brekhman and Dardymov in 1969 and follows with four requisites:
- Adaptogens must reduce stress-induced harm;
- Adaptogens must create a stimulatory effect on the sympathetic nervous system, in which as a result, produces increased cognitive and working performance;
- The abovementioned stimulatory effect must not deplete the body of resources and create an exhaustive state, as conventional stimulants do;
- Adaptogens must not disturb the body from normal regulatory functioning, yet instead revert the body back to a state of biological balance (Pawar & Shivakumar, 2012).
Brekhman, I. I., & Dardymov, I. V. (1969). New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. Annual review of pharmacology, 9(1), 419-430.
Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
Pawar, V. S., & Shivakumar, H. (2012). A current status of adaptogens: natural remedy to stress. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease, 2, S480-S490.