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29-05-2019

Adaptogens: natural extracts with extraordinary powers

Photographie d'une racine de ginseng

They’re being talked about more and more, and with good cause. Adaptogen plants (1) have the extraordinary ability of helping the body fight all kinds of stress: physical, mental, infection-related, metabolic (ie, associated with an organism’s chemical and biological processes) and even neuroendocrine (related to the nervous system and endocrine glands).

A plant is said to be an adaptogen when it responds to three of these forms of stress; in addition, all adaptogenic plants have properties which enable them to combat fatigue and protect the immune system.

List of adaptogenic plants

Ginseng (Panax Ginseng), from the Araliaceae family

Ginseng is the best-known and most widely-used adaptogen. Available in several forms – fresh, powder or extracts - it has multiple applications:

  • Promoting physical exertion: it improves resistance to effort, particularly during endurance tests.
  • Stimulating mental and memory function while providing greater resistance to stress.
  • Lowering levels of glycaemia (blood sugar) and lipaemia (high blood fats); however, it is not usually recommended for obese people as it can encourage fat storage in the body.
  • Improving hypotension: it is indicated for those suffering with abnormally low blood pressure.
  • Supporting the immune system, particularly in fighting viral infections; its adaptogenic properties are also used alongside chemotherapy.

And this is by no means an exhaustive list! Nonetheless, there are certain contraindications: ginseng should not be given to pregnant women, young children, obese individuals and those suffering from hypertension, diarrhoea or mastopathy (a disorder of the mammary glands).

White bryony (Bryonia Alba), from the Cucurbitaceae family

Its adaptogenic effect is related to one particular molecule, cucurbitacin R diglycoside. This confers properties that benefit diseases normally treated with corticoids: inflammation, allergies, polyarthritis, asthma, rheumatism ...

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera), from the Solanaceae family

Ashwagandha has a number of applications as a result of its stimulant and anti-stress effects. It is used in cases of physical or mental fatigue, as well as for insomnia, infections, rheumatism ...

Echinacea (from the Asteraceae family)

Echinacea stimulates the immune system in general: it is useful for preventing infections and reducing treatment duration.

Lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)

Also known as reishi, this mushroom can be used in very many situations: fatigue, pain, muscle complaints, infections, allergies, hypertension, heart failure, high cholesterol, diabetes ...

Cinchona (Cinchona Officinalis), from the Rubiaceae family

This South American plant has a long history of use in treating malaria and fever in general. It can also combat fatigue, digestive or appetite issues, and heart rate problems.

Cinchona should not be taken by pregnant women or those on anti-coagulant medication.

Other adaptogens under consideration (2)

There are other plants with adaptogenic characteristics: rhodiola (Rhodiola Crenulata), maca (Lepidium Meyenii), eleutherococcus (Acanthopanax Senticosus), and schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis)... There is clearly still much to discover about the large family of adaptogens!

References

  1. P. Goetz. Mode d’emploi du ginseng et d’autres adaptogènes. Phytothérapie. Vol 4, pp 113-116, 2004.
  2. Lian-ying Liao, Yi-Fan He, Hong Meng, Yin-mao Dong, Pei-gen Xiao. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs uses worldwide. Chinese Medicine. Vol 13, n°1, 2018.
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