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An Adaptogen is a substance that enhances the body's ability to resist stress. The term was introduced by N.V. Lazarev, a Russian scientist in 1947 to classify substances that "increase nonspecific resistance of an organism to an adverse influence". [1]

An adaptogen should have a "normalizing" effect on the system - neither specifically stimulating nor inhibiting bodily function, but acting in a general tonifying manner. The concept is that prolonged stress to the system, such as that caused by lack of sleep, toxins or poor diet, can wear down the body's ability to defend itself - and that an adaptogen can assist in maintaining balance. It's said that adaptogens support the adrenals, an important part of the body's mechanism for responding to stress and fight-or-flight reactions. [1]

As the definition of an adaptogen is somewhat unspecific, many substances have been classed as adaptogens. Many of these have a long history of use in Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese Medicine systems. Some of the better known ones are Dang shen (Codonopsis pilosula), Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), Maca (Lepidium meyenii), Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), Agaricus subrufescens, Agaricus blazei, Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), Noni (Morinda citrifolia). [2]

Also suggested as possible adaptogens are Shilajit (Ashphaltum bitumen), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri), Amla (Emblica officinalis), Lycium (Lycium chinensis), Suma (Pfaffia paniculata), He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), Prince Seng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), Maral root (Rhaponticum carthamoides). [2]

There is still some uncertainty as to the exact components responsible for the actions of herbs claimed as adaptogens, however it has been noted that several of them contain polysaccharides, and there also appears to be a tendency for them to contain triterpenoid saponins, phytosterols, phytoecdysteroids, phenylpropanes and hydroxylated fatty acids. [2]

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