A recent investigative review of adaptogenic research sheds new light on the intriguing herbs that have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, but are still being fully understood by modern science.
Some of the actions of adaptogens are fairly well known, especially for stress, focus, concentration, and energy support. But newer studies are also finding that adaptogens may be exactly the right types of herbs for bolstering immune resistance, too.
For example, adaptogens are almost a “stress vaccine”; they stimulate the body and mind’s responses to stress by activating those very factors that would be switched on during stressful situations. That might sound counterintuitive, but it actually helps strengthen the mental and physical “muscles” that deal with stress, by regulating the mind/body response to stressors that drain energy and deplete focus and concentration.
Adaptogens protect from threats to the immune system and may mitigate symptoms through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. Any stress reduction or “normalizing” of the body’s systems also makes it more resilient to physical attacks from bacteria and viruses.
Interestingly, adaptogens can be quite effective at low dosages for stress and other age-related conditions. And while any of them can be beneficial when working individually, the studies show that in combination, the synergistic effects of herbs including ashwagandha and rhodiola, andrographis and ashwagandha, or Korean red ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha can go far beyond what any of them can do separately.
Panossian AG, Efferth T, Shikov AN, et al. Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress‐ and aging‐related Diseases. Med Res Rev. 2020;1–74.
Adaptogens comprise a category of herbal medicinal and nutritional products promoting adaptability, resilience, and survival of living organisms in stress. The aim of this review was to summarize the growing knowledge about common adaptogenic plants used in various traditional medical systems (TMS) and conventional medicine and to provide a modern rationale for their use in the treatment of stress‐induced and aging-related disorders. Adaptogens have pharmacologically pleiotropic effects on the neuroendocrine-immune system, which explain their traditional use for the treatment of a wide range of conditions. They exhibit a biphasic dose-effect response: at low doses they function as mild stress-mimetics, which activate the adaptive stress-response signaling pathways to cope with severe stress. That is in line with their traditional use for preventing premature aging and to maintain good health and vitality. However, the potential of adaptogens remains poorly explored. Treatment of stress and aging‐related diseases require novel approaches. Some combinations of adaptogenic plants provide unique effects due to their synergistic interactions in organisms not obtainable by any ingredient independently. Further progress in this field needs to focus on discovering new combinations of adaptogens based on traditional medical concepts. Robust and rigorous approaches including network pharmacology and systems pharmacology could help in analyzing potential synergistic effects and, more broadly, future uses of adaptogens. In conclusion, the evolution of the adaptogenic concept has led back to basics of TMS and a new level of understanding of holistic approach. It provides a rationale for their use in stress-induced and aging related diseases.