What an Adaptogen Is/Is Not

The word 'Adaptogen' is becoming more and more popular these days, and with its popularity the term is incorrectly overused. Many people are using the term adaptogen very generally to tout products, thereby confusing the consumer.  I prefer to stick to the classic definition, as invented by the Russian Scientists in 1950.  

Adaptogens are defined as substances that enhance the “state of non-specific resistance” in stress, a physiological condition that is linked with various disorders of the neuroendocrine-immune system. Studies have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity. In addition, a number of clinical trials demonstrate that adaptogens exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental capacity in the face of stress and fatigue.

The Russians coined the word adaptogen after studying Korean Ginseng. The Russians studied this herb, looking to learn how the Korean soldiers performed so well under such dificult circumstances, and they discovered all of the roots abilities to enhance functioning under stress, and normalize body functions that are either too high, or too low.  This is called double direction activity, or bi polar activity.   An adaptogen is a BRM, biological response modifier.  So any stressor that throws the system off balance, which normally results in a negative effect, is quite successfully normalized, so the subject can adapt better to extreme cold, heat, stress, lack of sleep, radiation, sun, excessive emotions like fear, etc.  Different adaptogenic substances can have different normalizing effects, in different areas of the body.  The best adaptogens have the broadest effects.  Rhodiola, Reishi, Chaga, HeShouWu, Cordyceps, Holy Basil, Gynostemma, Asian panax and American ginseng,  Eluthero, or Siberian Ginseng, Schizandra, Pine Pollen and Ashwaganda are the best and most comprehensive adaptogens. 

Some of the ways the word adaptogen has been misused is with substances that have specific effects, like Fish Oil, Pearl Powder, Chlorella, and Aloe. For instance, you can say that Fish Oil, or DHA oil, is an adaptogen to the brain and central nervous system only.  It helps the brain and nerves when under stress, but not the adrenals.  Substances like fish oil have been called an adaptogen, because it has a protective effect under stress to the nerves.  If you want to go beyond the definition of the adaptogen, you could say chlorella is an nutrient and detox adaptogen, because it both supplies minerals as food, yet helps to eliminate, or chelate toxin minerals like heavy metals. Pearl powder for example is a wonderful substance for skin health and calming the mind, but beyond the calming effects, there is nothing about it that would classify it as an adaptogen. Companies and businesses are stealing the term adaptogen, because it makes the product sound more effective, when in reality it is not as comprehensive as they make it seem.

Each adaptogen, has its own dose and delivery, in order to get the desired results.  That requires experience.  You have to take the right dose of a true adaptogenic herb, to feel it, and have the experience, to know what it does.  That is much more valuable than trendy definitions, and words.  One of the main, life preserving things that true adaptogens do, is protect vital systems of the body under extreme prolonged stress.  They make you more resilient, so you can face life's challenges with a strong and adaptable body. 

Let us maintain the sanctity of these incredible herbal medicines by calling them what they are and not assigning a potent definition to substances that do not meet the requirements of the definition.