The term “adaptogen” was coined by Nikolai Vasiyevich Lazarev back in 1947, who worked in toxicology and pharmacology.
While most things identified in nature or as drugs help increase or decrease certain functions within the body, adaptogens are non-specific remedies “that increase resistance to a broad spectrum of harmful factors (stressors) of different physical, chemical and biological natures”.
A more recent definition has also been used: “new class of metabolic regulators (of a natural origin) which increase the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental factors and to avoid damage from such factors.”
More specifically adaptogens were found to decrease sensitivity to stressors, resulting in stress protection, which led to a longer phase of resistance. Basically, they helped the body to function at a better state of homeostasis.
For an herb to be considered an adaptogen it has to meet three criteria. These were defined in 1969 by Brekhman and Dardymov. I’ve reworded them to make it easier to memorize with the 3 N’s.
- Nontoxic – It must be suitable for consumption by everyone even at large doses.
- Non-Specific – The benefits can’t just target one “problem” in the body.
- Normalizing – Regardless of what the cause may be or where in the body, an adaptogen will support getting better increasing or decreasing functions as needed.
One of the hypothesized reasons for adaptogen’s effects is that they work on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the Sympathoadrenal System (SAS). They help to regulate the connected nervous, endocrine, immune and other systems in the body.
More recent research points to adaptogens working at the cellular level. A cell within the human body (and all living things) can be in one of four states:
- Balance (homeostasis)
- Functioning under stressful conditions (threatened homeostasis)
- The state of adaptation to stress (homeostasis with a higher level of equilibrium)
- Apoptosis (dying)
The adaptogens activate stress-induced self-defense mechanisms in the cell, which cause them to adapt. Researchers likened them to a stress vaccine, but we’re not big on vaccines so a different, more applicable analogy is useful. Adaptogens help cells much like a muscle being exercised. Thus, they become better able to handle the other stressors that occur.
Thus, if they can help your cells to handle stress better, they can function better, and produce less collateral damage like in free radicals. This may be brought on by the activation of heat shock proteins which protect mitochondria from damage.
This will help with certain types of cell damage, but my guess is that more research will show more details and how adaptogens may mean less cell aging in all seven forms.
What has been discovered so far is that adaptogenic compounds in plants are made of either complex phenols or triterpenoids. Examples of these are:
These compounds have been found to have different actions.
From Wikipedia “The mechanism of action of adaptogens has been hard to rationalize.” The only reason it is hard for Western science is because they’re trapped in a paradigm where of “one drug, one function”. For best effects of adaptogens, you do not want an isolated compound but the whole plant or a whole plant extract. This preserves the “intelligence” of the plant with its many active constituents. This is why some studies point to a stimulating effect on the immune systems with Cordyceps while others show modulation.
Western science desires to know the effects of everything, but the human body and natural substances have proven to be a lot more complicated than we may grasp. This leaves room for the wisdom of ancient cultures regarding herbs as well as your own experience in using them, rather than only looking at double blind studies and research.
Ginseng is the most well known adaptogenic herb in the world. (Note that these adaptogenic effects only come to be in mature ginsengs, though most of the products on the market are inferior, young ginsengs.) But ginseng is far from the only one. Some others include Rhodiola, Codonopsis, eleuthero, schizandra, ashwagandha, holy basil or tulsi, cordyceps, maral root, gynostemma, shilajit and more.
As you can see from this list there are adaptogens in all different herbal systems and cultures. The Ayurvedic system uses the term rasayana to described the adaptogenic effects of promoting physical and mental health, extending longevity and improving the defense of the body.
The effects of adaptogens have been fairly well studied in both animal and human models. In Russia over 1500 studies were published in the 60’s to the 80’s on the effects of adaptogens.
A combination of Rhodiola, Eleuthero and Schisandra was found to increase the lifespan of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, in a dose-dependent manner. That means the more they had of the adaptogens the longer life they lived. You can find a lot more of the specific research in the recommended reading below.
Except in rare cases, almost no side effects are reported with adaptogens. They do not cause dependency or addiction. They do not impair mental function as do many drugs. They’re not stimulating like stimulants. The only time they have a stimulating effect is against a background of physical or mental fatigue.
This isn’t to say that all adaptogens are the same. In general, they all help the body to adapt to stress, but the specifics of each herb in how they do that can have different effects. To get the best all-around adaptogenic effects, it is best to take several different adaptogenic herbs, like in the new Spartan Formula.
- Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes
- Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity
- Plant adaptogens III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action
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tony warren says
my name is tony warren i placed an order on 12-9-16 for pine pollen tincture oder#12903 did not get email about it when will it ship
Zane Christopher says
I apologize for that Tony. I will have the office email you tomorrow with your tracking number.
I have tried the Spartan Formula and still have 95% of a bag that I can’t use. It makes me dizzy and elevates blood pressure. I tried another companies formula for adrenal support and thyroid function and also got dizzy. Recently I have also had to avoid caffiene. I do have a history of low T, adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism. Do you have any more info that might be useful to me? I am especially curious about the sentence in the article “The only time they have a stimulating effect is against a background of physical or mental fatigue.” Thanks for any insight you can provide.
Zane Christopher says
Hi Joel. Definitely stop taking the Spartan and get a refund on it. I believe my brother was saying is the only time you get jittery like people do with coffee is because of having an already low or close to exhausted HPA. I am sure you have researched your situation considerably and I do not know the circumstances of your life so can make only broad generalizations you probably already know about. I assume you have a lot of stress in your life, either from family or work or possibly your diet too. Taking action against that stress I would think should be the priority, whether that means beginning a mediation practice, tai chi, qi gong, yoga, or just starting a breathing practice.
You have to be careful with some herbs because they will run hot and stimulate your adrenals. Just like not being able to drink coffee because that is what it does you must learn which herbs NOT to take. Instead you should be looking for yin herbs or ones that build you up. Nettle leaf tea, american ginseng, heavy doses of he shou wu are good examples. I would also recommend looking into Milky Oats for the long term as that is great at rewiring your nervous system to better deal with stressful situations. And by long-term I mean consistently for at least a year. Hope this helps some. There is a lot of information out there for rebuilding the depleted body. Let us know if we can be of more help!
hi . i’ve just took a quick read of this article . about adaptogen . and i’ts really good info … so how will the spartan formula help me in which way …like how will i benefit as a beginner ?
Zane Christopher says
Hi Anil, that is a good question. Ideally, taking Spartan would give you noticeable energy or maybe get rid of that afternoon slowdown that occurs to many of us. Other then more energy, you might notice that things that use to stress you out don’t bother you as much. Not getting sick could also be a positive side effect of the herbs. If you are working out, your workouts might seem a lot easier then they did before and/or you might be able to pump out more reps, lift heavier weight all of a sudden or your endurance is a bunch higher. Your recovery times are usually helped with this stuff which allows harder training with less down time. Your sleep could also be improved.
All this COULD happen within the first few times of taking it. For best results though, continuous daily consumption will get you the greatest results as the herbs active ingredients build up in your system.
Some actions can really be subtle though, so we always recommend being more aware of how you feel, how your body feels and how you are in different situations.
Let us know how it works out for you please and thank you!