Ask Dr. Meletis, N.D.

Nurturing your Body During Turbulent Times

It is officially time to help your body “adapt” with adaptogens

It's amazing how resilient and adaptable human beings are. And even as we are challenged in this ever-changing world, we're managing to redefine “normal” and collectively support each other in new ways. The silver lining is that many of us are experiencing a collective exhale as are forced to slow down and just “be” rather than “do” to maintain important separation. This is a great time to take stock of our diet and lifestyle and learn new habits such as meditation, which is supportive to our nervous system. Your entire physiology will thank you for adding in any mind-body practices at this time.

Now, more than ever, I am reminding my patients to faithfully keep taking their adaptogen herbs. With so much worry and stress lately, the opportunity to thrive is diminished and most of my patients are, sadly, relegated to “survival mode.”

What’s a body to do? History offers the answer. Indigenous peoples around the world have looked to nature for some millennia to nourish their bodies in times of need. Imagine, for a moment, what a “native healer” would have recommended 1,000 years ago for villagers experiencing stress; the answer invariably would have included adaptogenic botanicals.

Why are adaptogens so important?

An adaptogen helps balance the body’s natural defense system when exposed to stress. When the body is repeatedly fending off the ravages of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, there is a ripple effect causing potential short-term and/or long-term impacts on one’s health. These can include:

  • Anxiousness and worry
  • Altered sleep
  • Weakened immune system function
  • Fatigue
  • Hormone changes (including sex hormones)
  • Changes in thyroid performance
  • Upset stomach and indigestion
  • Weight and metabolic challenges

What adaptogen is right for me?

When helping my patients select the “right” adaptogen for their body’s needs, I guide them based on the scientific research and traditional use of each herb. Below is a short list of herb-specific qualities that may be helpful for you and your healthcare provider to discuss as related to the best fit for your body. Remember, we were all born uniquely “us,” and our life journey has, without question, been equally unique relative to stressors, health challenges and life in general. Let’s take a closer look at my top five favorite adaptogens (not including Licorice, Cordyceps and a few others containing specific phytonutrient support).

Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea and other Rhodiola species have been extensively researched and offer a unique level of support for both mental and physical stress-induced fatigue. It has been reported that the Russian military, athletes and citizens have harnessed the benefits of Rhodiola. It grows in the arid parts of the Artic and high mountain regions of Siberia as a plant that has had to learn to adapt to harsher terrains and environmental stressors.

Rhodiola is rich in active constituents including, but not limited to, salisdroside. This may be one of the reasons patients around the world use it as a “go to” in their stress and anxiety management wellness program. I personally choose Rhodiola for my patients that are wired, tired and struggling to keep themselves in balance; frequently accompanied by feeling emotionally vulnerable.

Here are some of the popular uses of Rhodiola:
(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)*

  • Occasional anxiousness
  • Melancholy
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Adrenal support
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Longevity
  • Memory support
  • Circulatory health support
  • Stamina

Astragalus

Astragalus membranaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for a millennium to help bolster the immune system and ward off the ravages of stress.

I frequently select Astragalus for my patients to support a healthy immune system and to address seasonal challenges when stress becomes excessive.*

Here are some of the popular uses of Astragalus:
(7, 8, 9, 10)*

  • Generalized stress
  • Immune support
  • Inflammation response support post-exercise
  • Heart health-supportive
  • Support healthy blood sugar metabolism

Ashwagandha

Withania somnifera is a revered herb in the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana (restorative tonic). It is traditionally used as a nerve tonic and has been studied extensively for a wide variety of other benefits as well. I use it in my practice for general adrenal support, and specifically for patients looking to balance their adrenal/thyroid system. Think of it like a warm blanket for the nervous system.

Here are some of the popular uses of Ashwagandha:
(11, 12, 13, 14, 15)*

  • Overall stress support
  • Occasional anxiousness
  • Inflammation response post-exercise
  • Thyroid/adrenal support
  • Body weight management support due to chronic stress
  • Stamina

Holy Basil

Ocimum sanctum, also known as Tulsi, was highly revered in a 2014 medical research paper aptly entitled: “Tulsi — Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons” (16). I share the enthusiasm of the researchers that Holy Basil should be liberated from the kitchen spice rack and incorporated more freely into one’s wellness program.

Here are some of the popular uses of Holy Basil:
(16, 17, 18, 19)*

  • Physical and mental stress
  • Heart health support
  • Occasional anxiousness
  • Melancholy
  • Immune system support
  • Supportive to inflammation response post-exercise
  • Cognitive support

American Ginseng

American Ginseng, known in Latin as Panax quinquefolius, confers a strong adaptogenic ability to help nourish the body during times of stress. I often recommend it for those with weakened overall vitality, and that need a meaningful lift in their energy and sense of well-being. Remember, too, it is always essential to start low and go slow with all herbs, supplements and medications as guided by your medical team; much like in the case of ginseng, where it can make “sensitive” individuals feel a surge of energy.

Here are some of the popular uses of American Ginseng:
(20, 21, 22, 23)*

  • Fatigue
  • Adrenal support
  • Healthy blood sugar metabolism
  • Heart health-supportive
  • Stress induced mental strain
  • Energetic stimulation

Summary:

I have encouraged over 80 percent of my patients to incorporate one or more adaptogenic botanicals into their wellness program routinely. The reality is, stress is heavy on all of us now and there does not appear to be any reprieve soon. Clinical research is clear that unchecked stress accelerates health challenges. We must learn from the generations that have discovered these adaptogenic herbs and employ them in our modern existence, which burdens us like never before.

Peace and Abundant Blessings,

Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D.

 

References:

1. PLoS One. 2013; 8(5): e63886.

2. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015; 15: 198.

3. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012; 12: 70.

4. Am J Chin Med. 2017 Aug 22:1-16.

5. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017

6. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):770-83

7. Am J Chin Med. 2017 Aug 22:1-11.

8. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Jun 13;17(1):310.

9. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 654643.

10. Chin J Integr Med. 2014 Oct;20(10):787-91.

11. Biogerontology. 2017 Aug;18(4):601-614.

12. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan;22(1):96-106.

13. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.

14. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec 1; 20(12): 901–908.

15. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.

16. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 251–259.

17. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Mar;10(3):ZC53-6.

18. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2016 Mar-Apr;20(2):145-50

19. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:239508

20. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Sep;107(Pt A):362-372

21. Eur J Nutr. 2017 Jul 7 [Epub ahead of print]

22. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Sep;95(9):1046-1057.

23. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 May 10;65(18):3684-3692.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

About Dr. Meletis, N.D.

Chris Meletis, N.D., has more than 25 years of experience practicing natural medicine. Based in Portland, Oregon, he shares his vast knowledge with fellow healthcare providers and his patients, and generously give to those in need. A lecturer and author, Dr. Meletis as written over a dozen books and hundreds of national articles. He was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 2003 by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and was inducted into the National University of Natural Medicine Hall of Fame in 2018.

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