I understand that many of you reading my blog may think that my main area of expertise is in the metaphysical/philosophical realm. I’ve definitely covered some topics that would lend themselves to that arena, such as Law of Attraction work, Ho’oponopono, and even Love. Except for those who know me in my personal life, you may be surprised to read that although I am a deep thinker at the forefront of the new thought movement, I have also been involved in the fitness industry for almost 20 years now.
That’s two decades of knowledge regarding nutrition, exercise, and supplementation sciences. I’ve been a trainer to a few top level competitive athletes, and have competed myself in 10 bodybuilding competitions. As we approach the summer, and I return to my exercise routines, I would like to include more and more fitness related blog posts into my site.
I thought a good introductory post would be one that was a little bit fitness and a little bit based in meditative sciences. I am talking about adaptogenic herbs and their ability to help a body overcome stress and stress related issues.
For the scope of this article, stress doesn’t necessarily mean being stressed out, it’s the environmental stress placed on our bodies from environmental concerns. These can be pollution, inflammation caused by either disease or hard training, pesticides, or even just being exposed to sick people on a daily basis. So now let’s talk about herbal supplementation…
Where did these herbs come from?
Although it may seem to be, the concept of adaptogenic herbs is not new. Based in Ayurvedic and holistic medicine, the benefit of these herbs have actually been confirmed for roughly 50 years. In the 1960s Russian scientists were studying the biomedical effects of various herbs. By 1984, researchers compiled in excess of 1,500 studies on adaptogenic herbs. This paved the way for further studies conducted by German and Japanese scientists, which all confirmed the herbs’ abilities to increase an organism’s adaptation to stress.
What are they?
The actual term adaptogenic was defined by a Russian pharmacologist, Lazarev, in 1947. He defined it as an agent which helps an organism to counteract any adverse effects of a chemical, biological or physical stressor by generating a nonspecific resistance.
What are the benefits?
- Increases both physical and mental performance
- Increases resistance to carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals)
- Protects cells against radiological exposure, such as chemotherapy
- As a general tonic, it also boosts general immune function which translates to protection from infections
Because the individual herbs have a tonic effect on the body, and their ability to counteract stress, many of the herbs can be used to enhance healing therapies of various conditions. Since stress has been discovered to have a causal relation to many diseases, and these herbs reduce stress as a whole, it is hard to pinpoint the specific areas that adaptogens can enhance. With that said, I have compiled a list of herbs and their focused benefits based on the available research.
Specific Herbs for Stress Reduction
In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha literally means “the smell of a horse.” It has a strong earthy scent to it. Symbolically is means the strength and stamina of a stallion, and has been used in traditional Indian medicine to help people strengthen their immune systems following injury or trauma.
The most common part of the plant used in medicine is the root, although the leaves and fruit are also used to an extent. Ashwagandha has been used holistically in the treatment of stress, fatigue, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating. Further studies have shown that is also elicits a stabilizing effect on blood sugar and can be a helpful aid to other diabetic treatments.
The recommended dosage is between 600-1000mg daily. I recommend taking it at night, because it can have a sedative effect in some people.
One of the most popular adaptogenic herbs behind panax ginseng, Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) has been traditionally used to combat both physical and mental fatigue. Studies have shown that there are limited but noticeable improvements in the perception of exertion in subjects who have been physically exhausted and supplemented with Rhodiola.
In terms of mental fatigue, it has shown a dramatic ability to increase the user’s awareness and concentration levels, acting as a mild stimulant similar to caffeine but on a different biological level.
Animal studies have shown that Rhodiola Rosea has a strong serotonergic (increases serotonin) effect, and has also been shown to increase the lifespan of subjects up to 20%. Although human studies have not been done, this is incredibly promising and quite amazing!
Recommended dosage is between 300-700 mg. After 700mg it has a bell curve effect and loses therapeutic efficacy.
- Panax Ginseng
The big daddy herb of adaptogens, Panax Ginseng is often referred to as ‘the true ginseng’. Not to be confused with America, Siberian or Panax pseudo ginseng, true panax ginseng comes from Korea, northeast China and far eastern Siberia.
Often taken by mouth, ginseng is a true adaptogen in that it has a true tonic effect on the body seeming to make whatever you’re doing work better. It has been shown to increase immune function, increase all cognitive functions (even in Alzheimer’s patients), improve physical stamina and expedite healing from exercise trauma. It is also used as a general antidepressant and anxiolytic (fights anxiety) and chronic fatigue syndrome. It has shown promise as an adjunct to various cancer treatments, and as a sexual stimulant in women! Talk about one potent herb!
In terms of dosing, Panax Ginseng is taken in doses of 200-400mg daily. I recommend 400mg taken in two doses, but it important to make sure the product you use is standardized for 2-3% total ginsenosides. This is the potency shown to have the most effect.
- Holy Basil
Known officially as Ocimum sanctum, it is a member of the mint family. Although related to sweet basil (the kind we use in cooking), holy basil has a much richer and deeper history. Although fairly new to the US, it has been grown and used in traditional Indian medicine for over 3000 years.
Proven to be a powerful antioxidant with demonstrative antibacterial, antifungal and antiinflammatory properties, like most adaptogens it’s uses are incredibly diverse. From the common cold to modern studies using oil derivatives to slow cancer rates, it seems to have the typical tonic effect of the powerful adaptogens above, working on the body as a whole to stimulate homogenesis on a cellular level.
Some specific uses for holy basil have been to lower blood sugar in type-2 diabetics; lower cholesterol levels and protect the heart against acute and chronic stress; fight staph infections and ringworm when applied topically to area; prevent and heal acid reflux and ulcers; has an aspirin like effect on joint inflammation; improve cognitive brain function as an anti-dementia remedy.
An interesting side effect in high dosages of Holy Basil is an increase in testosterone production in men, but at the cost of fertility. It’s one of the few compounds that act as a sexual aid, while also acting as an anti-fertility. This is due, possibly, to the high levels of Ursolic acid present in holy basil.
Recommended dosing is based on weight and looks like this:
1,000-2,200 mg for a 150lb person or under, with 5,500 mg for test. boosting.
1,500-3,000mg for 150-200lb person, with 7,300mg for test. boosting
1,800-3,600mg for a 250+lb person, with 1 gram for test. boosting.
Now, this is hardly a full list of adaptogenic herbs, and is really just a mere overview of the few mentioned. It is important, however, to realize that while western medicine and big pharma have made incredible advances in science and biomedical research, centuries of holistic and spiritual practices have been doing the same thing in other cultures and countries.
I for one, am glad that these alternative practices are becoming more and more mainstream, and while I am not advocating one over the other, I do feel it’s important that we as a people have the right to make our own choices based on our beliefs.