By Nancy Smorch

By definition, an adaptogen is “a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological function.”

So basically, it helps your body respond to stressors and helps normalize physiological functions.

They are called adaptogens because they “adapt” their function according to what your body needs at the time you take it – they are similar to a thermostat, in that when the temperature is too high, the thermostat will set off the function that allows the system to cool the house. When it is too low, the thermostat will set in motion the action to raise the temperature.

I had heard about essential oils having adaptogenic properties, and have used lavender essential oil in such a way. There have been mornings that I have been a little groggy and tired, and I will put some lavender on and it awakens and invigorates me. Then there have been times that I have been a little scattered or high strung and I’ve wanted to center myself and calm down a bit, and I will put lavender on, and it does the trick.

Well, as a follow up to the blog post earlier on stress and adrenals, I’ve been looking into adaptogens a bit more. I went to my bookshelves and I found this book: “Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief,” by David Winston and Steven Maimes. It gives a great overview of what adaptogens are as well as gets into the individual adaptogens and what they have been used for in Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine, as well as modern day applications. It also talks about combining adaptogens for better results, and using adaptogens in food, and even using adaptogens in animals.

I also like how the book has a section on various ailments and which adaptogens are used for each ailment. For example, the following adaptogens have been noted to help with sleep problems: American ginseng, ashwagandha, eleuthero, jiaogulan, rhaponticum, rhodiola, and schisandra.

Of particular interest to me was the herb and adaptogen, ashwagandha. It enhances endocrine function and helps to re-regulate thyroid and adrenal glands. It is also used for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, and nervous exhaustion, along with helping with some auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (and even osteoarthritis in animals). It has also shown to relieve some perimenopausal symptoms like muscle pain and cloudy thinking.

Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in other cultures. Fortunately, more information is seeping into Western culture about them. We can learn a lot from the practices in other cultures, and even if modern medicine doesn’t fully catch on, it’s worth doing your own research and seeing for yourself if adaptogens are something that may help you and your health.