An adaptogen is a substance that increases the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, emotional, or biological stressors and promotes normal physiologic function.
Stress and its Phases
That is, adaptogens help the body to cope better with stress, which can be defined as ‘an orchestrated set of bodily responses to any form of noxious stimulus.’
Stress is often divided into a series of stages known as the general adaptation syndrome or GAS. This theory was originally put forward by Hans Selye, who is recognised as the pioneer of stress research.
Phase 1 – the alarm stage. A generalised stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and a resultant rise in cortisol levels.
Phase 2 – the resistance stage. The body decides on the most effective and efficient pathways of defence. Increased cortisol levels from Phase 1 may not be required.
Phase 3 – the stage of exhaustion. Occurs in the face of chronic stress, and the body’s reserves (esp. the adrenal glands) are depleted. Exhaustion can lead to fatigue, immune dysfunction, and various disease states.
How Adaptogens Work
Adaptogenic remedies may act upon the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal cortex to help maintain homeostasis, to decrease the signs of prolonged stress and to delay or avoid the exhaustion stage.
Much of the early research into adaptogens was carried out by Russian scientists in the 1950s. Lazarev first used the term and his colleague, Brekhman, defined an adaptogen as a substance:
- Which can effect a non-specific increase in the resistance of an organism to noxious influences.
- Which has a normalising effect, restorative rather than curative, on irregular bodily imbalances.
- Which is harmless and has no side-effects.
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- Porth, C. (2002). Pathophysiology: Concepts of altered health states. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Oxyfresh. (2010). Adaptogens: Generators of adaptation. Retrieved from http://www.oxyfresh.com/news/ha_adaptogens.asp
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