While popular use of the term adaptogen is relatively recent, the use of Ayurvedic adaptogens traces back thousands of years.
In this article, we’ll look at the origins and benefits of adaptogens as well as six Ayurvedic adaptogens for sleep, energy, stress, depression and weight loss. Here’s a breakdown by subheading.
What Are Adaptogens?
Benefits Of Adaptogens
6 Ayurvedic Adaptogens For Sleep, Energy, Stress, Depression + Weight Loss
The term “adaptogen” was coined by the Russian scientist, Israel Brekhman, in the early 1960’s.
It was part of a larger context of a theory of stress proposed by endocrinologist Hans Selye. It was known as “general adaptation syndrome.”
Selye’s theory asserts that stress triggers a three-stage response in the body.
First is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system for a fight or flight reaction. The second stage is adaptation to the stressor. Third, there is exhaustion if the stressor persists.
Adaptogens are considered to be tonics which counter the effects of this chain reaction.
They help restore the body’s natural healing abilities, thus improving your ability to both manage current stress and recover from the wounds of past stressors.
READ MORE: 10 Powerful Tools To Reduce Anxiety (Vata In The Mind)
In herbal medicine, adaptogens are classified as natural substances which are broad in their field of action. They help the body-mind adapt to stressors and have stabilizing effects on physiological systems and processes.
In this way, adaptogens are believed to promote homeostasis and assist in building psychological and physiological resistance to stress and fatigue.
Here are some of the many health benefits of adaptogens.
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Below is an exploration of some of the most well-recognized herbs of the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia. These are now being lauded by modern scientists as well as western herbalists for their adaptogenic properties.
READ MORE: Why Ayurveda Says You Should Take Ashwagandha With Milk
Rasa: Bitter, astringent, sweet
Doshas: V- P+/- K-
Also known as Indian ginseng, or winter cherry (withania somnifera-radix), Ashwagandha is perhaps the most widely recognized Ayurvedic adaptogen.
It is traditionally classified as a rasayana which increases strength, sexual capacity and ojas, promotes sleep, increases sperm production, and prevents wasting diseases.
Biomedically, it is considered to be an anti-inflammatory, tonic, immunomodulator, aphrodisiac, nervine and mild sedative. It is especially recommended for Vata induced emaciation or debility, anemia, and muscle wasting conditions.
It can support weakened immune systems as well as bolster energy levels and mental health by nourishing majja dhatu. Ashwagandha is also indicated in conditions of shukra and artava dhatu as a tonic for the reproductive system.
A 2015 study in the Internal Society of Sports Nutrition showed that Ashwagandha can increase blood testosterone levels, improve muscle strength and minimize muscle damage induced by excessive exercise.
READ MORE: Ashwagandha Thyroid Benefits: Everything You Need To Know
Doshas: V= P = K=
Bala (sida cordifolia-radix) means strength, alluding to both the quality of the roots and the quality which they impart.
Bala is a nervine, analgesic, antifungal, antispasmodic, demulcent and tonic. It has an affinity to the nervous and reproductive tissues as well as the circulatory and respiratory systems.
Bala strengthens the heart muscle and can manage palpitations and irregularities. It can help to rebuild strength in a depleted nervous system and build energy levels in chronic fatigue.
Bala is also indicated in neuralgia, sciatica and neurosis.
READ MORE: Ashwagandha Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects + More
Rasa: Bitter, sweet
Doshas: V= P = K=
Also known as Bacopa (bacopa monniera-folium), Brahmi is named after the shakti of Brahman, the force of creation and universal consciousness. This is due to its action on the mind and nervous system as a medhya (nervine).
It calms Vata dosha, aids in the management of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and is a rasayana for the nervous system. It also promotes energy, sleep and strength of body and mind.
It has been classified as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, sedative and nervine.
Brahmi is most well known for its capacity to improve memory and concentration by enhancing the functioning of sadhaka Pitta in the brain.
A 2003 study from the CDRI in India shows that Brahmi significantly reversed acute-stress-induced changes in spleen weight, adrenal gland weight and plasma glucose in rats.
Another study from the Banaras Hindu University Institute of Medical Sciences expressed the impact of various rasayana herbs (including brahmi) in the regeneration of neural tissue and enhancing memory.
READ MORE: How Golden Milk Benefits Memory
Rasa: Bitter, sweet
Doshas: V- P- K+
Safed Musali (asparagus adscendens-Radix) and Shatavari are both members of the Asparagus genus. They are both considered tonics for the reproductive and nervous systems.
Safed Musali is a particularly useful adaptogen for women, nourishing the mother and fetus during pregnancy, replenishing prana and ojas postpartum, and improving the quality and quantity of breast milk.
Safed Musali is also known as jivaniya, meaning “vivifying” or “that which prolongs life.”
READ MORE: Why New Moms Need Ayurvedic Postpartum Care
Rasa: Bitter, sweet
Doshas: V- P- K+
Shatavari is commonly translated as “the woman who has a hundred husbands,” pointing to the herb’s tonic and rejuvenative action on the female reproductive system.
Shatavari (asparagus racemosus-radix) is also an aphrodisiac which promotes fertility, menstrual health, lactation and prevents miscarriages.
In men, Shatavari is known to increase sperm quality and quantity.
Shatavari also works on the nervous system, and can reduce Vata disorders such as pain, spasms and insomnia. It is demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and is recognized as an immunomodulator.
A 2018 study from Banaras Hindu University explores the possible benefits of Shatavari in the impact of stress on disorders of the female reproductive system.
The study proposed that Shatavari could improve complications including PCOS, hormone imbalance, follicular development and oocyte health by increasing antioxidants and minimizing oxidative stress.
READ MORE: 29 Marma Points For Pain Relief
Rasa: Bitter, pungent
Doshas: V- P+ K-
Holy Basil (ocimum sanctum-folium) is a sacred plant in Ayurvedic medicine and Vedic culture.
Tulsi is worshiped as a manifestation of Devi and is revered for its sattvic nature and ability to enhance spiritual clarity. Medically, tulsi is well known for its action on rasa and rakta dhatus, particularly in its capacity to alleviate fevers and skin conditions.
Tulsi is also dipana, meaning that it kindles agni and supports metabolism. It is classified as medas dhatu agni which suggests that it could be effective in reducing blood sugar, cholesterol and aid in weight loss and management.
Furthermore, tulsi has an affinity for the heart and can improve circulation, especially when there is congestion from accumulated Kapha and Vata dosha.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Natural Remedies shows that tulsi significantly reduced blood sugar, lipids and blood pressure in subjects with elevated blood sugar, triglyceride and blood pressure levels compared to their baseline levels and the control group.
READ MORE: Can Ashwagandha And Tulsi Be Taken Together?
Frawley, David & Lad, Vasant. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press. 1986.
Pole. S. Ayurvedic Medicine. Churchill Livingston. 2006.
“Neuronutrient impact of Ayurvedic Rasayana therapy in brain aging.” 2008, Singh RH, Narsimhamurthy K, Singh G.
“Adaptogenic effect of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi).” 2003, Rai D, Bhatia G, Palit G, Pal R, Singh S, Singh HK.
“Impact of stress on female reproductive health disorders: Possible beneficial effects of shatavari(Asparagus racemosus).” 2018. Pandey AK, Gupta A, Tiwari M, Prasad S, Pandey AN, Yadav PK, Sharma A, Sahu K Asrafuzzaman S, Vengayil DT, Shrivastav TG, Chaube SK.
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