Natural adaptogens to improve Health, Strength and Performance
There are several herbal and natural alternatives to help boost energy, reduce fatigue, improve athletic or counteract stress – these herbal remedies are called “adaptogens.” The term was coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist, N.V. Lazarev, who was interested in substances that helped the body adapt to physical and emotional stress. Lazarev thought that adaptogens should:
- Produce a nonspecific (total body) response that increases resistance against harm from physical and emotional stress (disease, anxiety, etc.)
- Have a normalizing effect, improving the function of many body systems
- Be nontoxic, causing no significant side effects
Siberian ginseng, is an example of a natural adaptogen, it not only reduces stress-related hormones, a great deal of research shows that ginseng significantly improves athletic performance and relieves fatigue. Eleuthero is a shrub that grows to more than 6 feet tall in China and Russia, often called Siberian ginseng, improves stamina and enhances immune function, University of Iowa researchers gave 76 people suffering chronic fatigue either a placebo or eleuthero. After two months, the eleuthero group reported significantly more energy. A review of several studies by researchers at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, concluded that the herb improved stamina.
Found in arctic areas of Europe and Asia, rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Rhodiola has been proven to increase stamina. Belgian researchers gave 24 people either a placebo or rhodiola (200 milligrams). The herb group experienced a significant increase in stamina. Rhodiola also reduces stress. According to a comprehensive review publishedin HerbalGram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, it reduces levels of stress-related hormones, and boosts levels of the body’s own feel-good compounds, endorphins.
Furthermore, rhodiola strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system. A Chinese animal study showed that it lowered blood pressure and slowed heart rate, while Russian studies found that it normalizes heart rhythm and prevents stress-induced heart damage. It also improves blood flow through the brain, which helps prevent stroke.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is called “Indian ginseng,” because its effects are similar to Panax ginseng. Several Indian animal studies showed ashwagandha improves stamina and reduced the damage caused by various stressors. It stimulates the immune system and has powerful antioxidant action. Antioxidants reduce risk of cancer and heart disease. Indian animal studies show intriguing cancer-preventive action.
Indian researchers also gave ashwagandha to diabetics with high cholesterol. A month later, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were significantly lower. Finally, the herb has some antidepressant action. Side effects are rare in recommended amounts, but large doses may cause stomach distress, diarrhea and vomiting. Pregnant and nursing women should not use it.
When using a commercial product, follow the directions specified on the package. Adaptogens are meant to be taken as tonics, that is, over the long haul for the good of the whole body. For maximum benefit, adaptogens are often taken for at least three months, and while most people can take them daily without side effects, this isn’t true for everyone. If you experience any unusual symptoms while taking adaptogens, discontinue use or consult a knowledgeable health professional. To treat a specific condition, it’s also wise to consult an herbal professional.