You may be asking: What is an adaptogen?
Definition of ADAPTOGEN: 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 functioning.
The history of herbs as medicine is ancient. The earliest written records date back 5000 years. As a part of my program at IHN, we were introduced to the powers of herbs. Herbal medicine is a vast and fascinating area of study, and we were only given a course in the basics. I visited my teacher’s home and was amazed by her expansive garden of medicinal herbs. Her dispensary looked a bit like a mad scientist’s workshop, with bottles, beakers, test tubes and vials of all sorts. We learned a lot about the actions of herbs: anti-microbial, demulcents, emetic, diuretic, anti-spasmodic…. and many more. One herbal action that gets a lot of attention is the adaptogenic action.
Adaptogens help your body to adapt to the stress that it faces on a daily basis. They are tonics for the adrenal glands – the endocrine glands that are responsible for (among many other things) our stress response hormones. Our long term stress response as well as our “fight or flight” stress response keeps our adrenals working overtime, pumping out cortisol and other hormones. They work at the cellular level to help normalize and harmonize the body’s various functions and stimulate the recovery processes needed to adapt to all types of stress in our lives.
Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwaganda, Siberian Ginseng (also known as eleuthero), Rhodiola, Holy Basil and Astragalus are some of the medicinal plants that have been proven to be effective at helping the body cope with stress.
I tend to be a stress-ball, mulling over worst case scenarios, worrying about just about everything, and the burden of these stresses no doubt impacts my health. There are days (many, unfortunately) that I feel as though my head is going to explode when my kids are acting up, being overly loud, being generally tough to deal with. In the car there are times when I need to actually pull over because the stress just feels too overwhelming. I’ve been known to pop in a pair of earplugs, just because the noise level makes it hard for me to think straight. I’m a prime example of a person that could use an adaptogen.
Ok, so now I’m going to back up to my walk about 5 days ago. I got home thinking that I should really use the bottle of “Stress” by Orange Naturals that is sitting in my cupboard. This is an adaptogenic tincture made up of Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola, Ashwaganda and Linden. One of the problems with attending nutrition school, is that you acquire a large cupboard of supplements that tend to be exciting for about a week, then get replaced by the newest exciting thing that you are learning about. I decided I would commit to taking the tincture three times as day as recommended on the bottle, for at least three weeks. I figured it would take a while to kick in.
On Saturday night (four days after starting the tincture) we all went to the drive in. On the way there, our darling daughters were on fire. They were hyper excited, screaming, singing, making non sensical noises that on any other day would result in me pulling over and threatening to turn the car around. I heard it, I really did… every word, rude sound, and guffaw. It didn’t even dawn on me until Chris said “OK, this HAS to be making you crazy!” The thing is, it wasn’t making me crazy! It was background noise and I didn’t feel it the way I normally would. My body didn’t react to this common stressor in my life. I was amazed. The next morning brought more of the same… the all too familiar wars getting dressed, doing those morning routines that most 4 and 5 year olds seem to forget every morning. Again, I was totally in it and aware, but my body didn’t feel that ache, my head didn’t feel like it was expanding in anger. Later in the day my 5 year old had a total meltdown about something that was really trivial. This type of situation is usually a huge test of my patience but it was so easy to just roll with it and react from a place of love versus losing my cool.
I can’t attribute this change to anything but the adaptogen. No doubt the exercise is also a contributor, however the walking has been a routine for almost a month now. I am amazed. Maybe I shouldn’t be so amazed, because any other herbal remedy that I have tried has always worked so well. I guess what amazed me the most was comparing the FEELING in my body of the stress response that is all too familiar to me, versus the observance of the stress and feeling so in control. It was so liberating!
If your body feels the impact of stress, whether it be from something you are dealing with currently, or from a lifetime of being a stress-ball like me, an adaptogen can really help. Go to your local health food store and talk to them about your needs (even better, call me!). There are lots of good brand options and different formats to suit your lifestyle. This one is working for me, but I know that St. Francis also has amazing quality products as well for adrenal support and adapting to stress.