Adaptogens: Nature’s Wonder Plants

Why We Recommend Them as a Natural, Everyday Support System.


Tony Tortorici

Adaptogens are a small group of my favorite plants and fungi that by natural design help our bodies resist physical, emotional or environmental stress.  Sounds too good to be true? Lucky for us, Western science backs up what Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine practitioners have been saying for centuries. 

What if I told you that there were plants and fungi available to you that are scientifically proven to 

  • Naturally increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress 
  • Promote or restore normal physiological functioning
  • Are non-toxic and can be taken everyday without risk 

The list of Adaptogens is very short and includes Chinese Ginseng (Panax Ginseng), American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius), Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera), Eleuthero (Eleuthero Senticosus), Schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis), Rhodiola Rosea), Shilajit (Asphaltum Bitumen), Maral Root (Rhaponticum Carthamoides) Cordyceps Mushroom (Cordyceps Sinensis), and Holy Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum). 

These plants help to balance the natural physiological functions in our body, helping us to reach homeostasis and have a direct effect on two of our major control systems. The first being the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal axis, which have a direct balancing effect on the hormonal systems. And the other major control or regulatory system that Adaptogens have a positive and balancing effect on is the Sympatho-adrenal System which controls endocrine function, immune function and our fight or flight response (cortisol). 

So, in layman’s terms what does this all mean? 

  • A lowered cortisol response to negative stimulation (fight or flight response).
  • An increased ability to handle both external and internal stressors by helping our body control hormonal and immune responses due to negative environmental factors
  • An increased ability to focus and process new information and a tool to cope with stress related ADD
  • Increased stamina while training athletically by stimulating adrenals and lowering cortisol response to pushing your body
  • Decreased stress for the overworked
  • Helps to restore and balance healthy sleeping patterns
  • Keeps hormone levels in check, balancing our bodies and helping with hormone related side effects like hot flashes, irritability, decreased sexual libido and adrenal fatigue.

To simplify things I personally like to break the list into two Adaptogen Sub-groups. Those that are stimulating and those that are relaxing. 

Sometimes we need an extra boost and traditional stimulants aren't cutting it. For many people coffee can be  like a tightrope act. 1 cup of coffee might be just right to hit the meeting rooms, tackle the paper you’re finishing up, or getting to the construction site. But 2 or 3 cups of coffee might spell certain doom; nervousness, agitation, cold sweats, headache, grinding teeth and of course an eventual caffeine crash that leaves you spent for the rest of the day. 

Stimulating Adaptogens are side effect free and are perfect for anyone who is working long hours, raising young children, traveling for work and dealing with jetlag, working outdoors in harsh weather or is training athletically. They increase our stamina, give us that extra energy boost when we need it most and help us push ourselves to make athletic gains in the gym. They even help our body recover faster from sleepless nights and long draining days. Stimulating adaptogens are used by busy people who are stressed out by environmental factors, and this stress is affecting their energy levels.

A couple of time and science tested stimulating Adaptogens include Chinese Panax Ginseng, American Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea and Cordyceps. Experiment with these alone or in conjunction with each other for a revitalizing energizing experience. 

If the stressors in your life are causing irritability, brain fog, anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness and melancholy or discontentedness it’s a good idea to turn to our relaxing Adaptogens. These plants are a soothing tonic to our nervous and endocrine systems. They help us cope with emotional, spiritual and existential issues. These herbs can have a drastic positive impact on sleep, cognition, anxiety response and our ability to focus. 

Some relaxing Adaptogens to try are Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, and Schisandra. Try these herbs when stress and anxiety are getting in the way of everyday healthy activities and you need help to process and cope with stressors both internal and external. You can also mix stimulating adaptogens and relaxing adaptogens for a more balanced approach to stress relief.

Adaptogens are not a cure all, and there is no medicine; pharmaceutical, herbal, homeopathic or otherwise that will mitigate the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and lack of sleep. In conjunction with exercise, healthy eating habits, a routine sleep schedule and other tools Adaptogens have the ability to help our body navigate through all of the stressors that this life can throw at us. People who take Adaptogens swear by their ability to increase stamina, energy and drive as well as destress and relax us on even our busiest days. 

What else are Adaptogens used for? During the Soviet War the USSR was researching any and all chemicals available that could give their soldiers a competitive edge against their enemies. After testing thousands of pharmaceuticals, synthetic chemicals and designer drugs for increased performance enhancement the USSR ultimately went with a plant. Their choice? Chinese Panax Ginseng. The only issue was that China and Russia were not cooperating as nations at the time and tension between the two nations meant that Russia would have to look elsewhere for an Adaptogen Supply. This is conundrum led to research into Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) which eventually became the militaries protocol for soldiers coping with stress related to battle, fatigue, unfavorable climate conditions as well as a stimulant to help soldiers march farther, work harder and stay up longer. 

Today we have a much better understanding of how Adaptogens work and their relationship to our endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Students are now using Rhodiola and Ginseng as study aids, Yoga teachers are taking Ashwagandha to help center themselves and professional bodybuilders are using Adaptogens to help their bodies recover from grueling workouts.

Adaptogens are now highly recommended for women who are in menopause and men in andropause who are dealing with hormonal swings that lead to hot flashes, restless leg, irritability depression, lethargy and  difficulty focusing. Adaptogens have the ability to help our body balance hormonally, resist environmental stressors and limit our cortisol response to fight or flight mechanisms. So whether you're a new parent who is getting up several times a night to feed and change the baby, a busy professional, an athlete or struggling with symptoms of endocrine fatigue or hormonal swings, Adaptogens might just be the thing to get your  everyday life back on track.


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