Herbal Wisdom: 8 Benefits of Adaptogens

Herbal Wisdom: 8 Benefits of Adaptogens

Herbalists use the term adaptogen to describe herbs that help the body adapt to stress, improve stamina, and increase resilience. Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They will also strengthen a weakened immune system reducing the chances of you catching the common cold or flu bug. Adaptogens have been used by athletes to increase stamina and reduce recovery time after strenuous exercise. Many adaptogens improve mental focus and clarity. Some adapotgens have an affinity for specific body systems, including the cardiovascular system and the male and female and reproductive systems. Historically, adaptogens were used to increase longevity and promote healthy aging.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

People have been enjoying the therapeutic benefits of adaptogenic herbs for eons. Much of our understanding of these potent plants comes to us from the ancient wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Resting on the shoulders of this ancient wisdom, modern science and clinical research has helped us better understand how these plants work to increase stamina and improve health.

Though research is ongoing, we do know that adaptogenic herbs are loaded with a complex range of phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds found in plants), including compounds known as terpenes, polyphenols, and polysaccharides. They act throughout the body to promote balance and have a pronounced effect on the body’s central stress response system known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). Of these phytochemicals, terpenes have a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands which help the body respond to stress, and also show anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating and liver protectant properties. Many of the polyphenol compounds have antioxidant properties which combat aging and age-related degenerative conditions. Polysaccharide-containing adaptogens stimulate the immune system, improve resistance to disease, and increase energy and vitality.

8 Benefits of Adaptogens + Why We Should All Be Taking Them

In our complex, fast paced world most people will benefit from the use of adaptogens. These are the eight reasons we should all be taking herbal adaptogens every day.

Stress Relief

Acute and chronic stress can wreak havoc on our lives and on our bodies. Stress may show up in common symptoms like anxiety, irritability and insomnia while it drives illness and diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure and obesity. Cortisol, sometimes referred to as the “stress hormone” is often elevated, leading to immune suppression, rapid aging, and increased deposits of inflammatory belly fat. When cortisol becomes depleted and unavailable in normal amounts to moderate stress, the lack of cortisol allows inflammation to go unchecked.

While diet and lifestyle modifications are critical in reducing stress, herbal adaptogens can play an important role. Adaptogens help normalize excess cortisol levels and assist the body in maintaining a balanced stress response. If you work long hours or feel tense and stressed trying to juggle home, family, and work demands, adaptogens are an excellent way to support your body and a good way to start your day. Some of the best adaptogens for the complexities and stress of modern life are Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Eleuthero, Maca, Panax and American Ginseng, and Rhodiola. If you tend to feel anxious and worried when you’re experiencing stress, Ashwagandha may be an especially good choice. Unlike many adaptogens like Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola, that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It can also be used to promote more restful sleep, especially when stress and worry make sleep a challenge.

Increased Energy & Enhanced Athletic Performance

Stimulating adaptogens are the best choice for individuals who want more energy without the draining effects of caffeine. Herbal adaptogens are also helpful in individuals whose lack of energy is driven by chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal fatigue (a reduction in adrenal gland function). For chronic fatigue and adrenal support, consider adaptogens like Panax and American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Holy Basil or Rhodiola.

Adaptogens can also be used to enhance athletic performance and have enjoyed a long history of use by Olympic athletes. Specifically, adaptogens have been shown to increase endurance and strength, help build muscle mass, improve the use of fuel by the muscles during physical activity, and shorten recovery time. For enhanced physical performance choose adaptogens like Panax Ginseng, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, and Rhodiola.

Immune Strength

Healthy functioning of the immune system is critical to our health, resistance to infection, and defense against certain diseases. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s ability to do its job and increases our susceptibility to disease. Frequent colds and flus may be an indication that the immune system is depleted and that herbal adaptogens are in order. Adaptogens act to stimulate the immune system, increasing resistance to many viral, bacterial and fungal infections. To strengthen immunity, choose adaptogens like Astragalus, Panax or American Ginseng, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Reishi, Rhodiola, and Schisandra.

Research on Eleuthero shows that regular use may reduce the incidence of colds and other common infectious diseases, and for athletes, prevent the immune-depletion caused by excessive training. Astragalus root is a good choice for people who are run-down and need an overall immune boost. Used for long term strengthening of the immune system, its antimicrobial activity may improve resistance to colds, flus, and bronchitis. In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is said to strengthen the Lung qi, which is a protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external forces.

If you are taking adaptogens to enhance immune strength and do get a cold or flu, Traditional Chinese Medicine principles dictate suspending use of the adaptogenic herbs during an acute viral or bacterial infection typically associated with a cold or flu.

Healthy Aging & Longevity

Rich in antioxidants that combat age-related degenerative conditions, the daily use of adaptogens is a therapeutic routine for anyone wanting to live with energy and vitality. In parts of the world where herbal medicine is practiced by everyone, adaptogens are used daily, without any symptom of disease and long before the signs of aging. Astragalus and Panax Ginseng are two adaptogens used to promote and long, healthy life.

Modern scientific research has shown that Astragalus, long used in Chinese medicine as an adaptogen to promote longevity, works at the level of human DNA to combat aging. Astragalus contains compounds that boost production of an enzyme, telomerase, that plays a critical role in cellular health and anti-aging at the level of our DNA, the genetic material that contains the instructions all organisms need to develop, live, and reproduce. Specifically, telomerase controls the short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which ensure accurate cell division and replication. Telomeres are sometimes likened to the plastic tips that protect the ends of shoelaces to prevent them from unraveling. As telomeres shorten, errors in cell replication accumulate, causing a wide range of age-related conditions including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease including stroke and vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

Panax Ginseng, another highly esteemed adaptogen in Chinese medicine is another excellent daily adaptogen. One of the most heavily researched herbs, Ginseng’s legendary status as a longevity tonic has been validated by modern scientific research and clinical studies. Like Astragalus, Ginseng is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Considered the most stimulating of adaptogens, Panax ginseng can be used at any age to promote stamina and endurance, and improve cognitive function and memory. Panax Ginseng helps relieve adrenal burnout and exhaustion and reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress. For more about herbs for healthy aging, visit this blog, 7 Herbs for Your Holistic Aging Practice.

Better Sleep

While it might seem paradoxical that herbs to increase energy and enhance athletic performance can improve sleep, adaptogenic plant’s ability to balance the nervous system and reduce the effects of stress also improves sleep. Stress, accompanying anxiety, and elevated cortisol levels can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. Adaptogens that balance excess cortisol and calm the nervous system are best for stress-related sleep problems. Ashwagandha before bedtime is especially useful where stress and anxiety go together to make sleep difficult. Eleuthero is also a good choice to improve sleep quality or nighttime wakefulness. American Ginseng is a good choice for sleep problems related to chronic fatigue syndrome. For other natural approaches to better sleep, visit this blog, 5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep.

Brain Health, Memory, Focus & Concentration

Adaptogens can support brain health and improve memory, focus, and concentration for people of all ages. Elevated cortisol and its inflammatory effects have a direct impact on brain health and appear to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Stress and mental fatigue also impact our ability to focus and learn.

For brain health, improved memory, mental clarity, better concentration and focus consider adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Schisandra. Rhodiola has been subjected to more than 180 published pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies. A stimulating adaptogen, Rhodiola promotes brain function and memory and is used to relieve mental fatigue, reduce depressive syndromes, and ameliorate memory loss and cognitive dysfunction from a variety of causes, including brain injuries. It has been shown to have a positive effect on parts of the brain responsible for memory, perception and information processing, especially in healthy individuals working long hours in fields requiring complex analysis and critical decision-making.

Schisandra is a unique adaptogen with calming and stimulating properties. It calms the mind at the same time as it enhances reflexes, work performance and mental clarity. This combination is especially effective for individuals seeking relief from nervous tensions and anxiety who still need a high level of mental clarity and focus in their work. For other herbs for brain health and mental clarity that combine well with adapotgens see Brain Supplies: 5 Herbs to Remember.

Enhanced Mood and Relief for Anxiety & Depression

Stress-relieving adaptogens like Schisandra help elevate mood and relieve anxiety. Ashwagandha is another good choice to consider especially when stress, anxiety, or elevated cortisol levels disrupt sleep. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid. Ashwagandha can also be helpful for mild to moderate depression as are Ginseng, Holy Basil, Maca, Rhodiola, and Schisandra. For more about other herbs that combine well with herbal adaptogens to calm the nervous system, see Natural Relief: 7 Safe and Effective Herbs for Anxiety.

Cancer Prevention

Adaptogens’ stress-relieving, immune-strengthening, and anti-oxidant properties all help prevent cancer. While there are many factors that lead to the develop of abnormal, cancerous cells and the growth of cancerous tumors, stress is a contributing factor. Adaptogens ability to alleviate the effects of stress to prevent cancer offer yet another reason to incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your daily routine. Adaptogens’ ability to strengthen the immune system also helps the body defend against cancer. The body’s immune system can clean up abnormal cells before they become cancerous and form malignant tumors. Oxidative damage to cell DNA can also lead to cancer causing cell mutations. The antioxidant power of adaptogens helps inhibit this type of damage. Adaptogens with stress-relieving, immune enhancing, and antioxidant properties include Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Holy Basil, Schisandra, and Rhodiola. Many of these herbs are also used to support individuals undergoing radiation and chemotherapy to treat cancer. Astragalus, for example, is also used to counter the immunosuppressive effects of chemotherapy treatment and possesses tumor inhibiting activity.

If you are new to the wonderous world of adaptogens, it all may seem too good to be true. But, humans have continued to use adaptogens for thousands of years, because they work!

There is a wide array of adaptogens to choose from with similar and different properties. They can be combined for a synergistic effect or used alone. To choose, consider your own body, how you respond to stress, and your family-history-driven health risks. Of course, you can always ask an herbalist or another herbal practitioner to help you choose. As always, use common sense (more is not necessarily better) and consult with your healthcare practitioner if you are being treated for a medical condition.

Do you have questions about adaptogens or how to use them? Leave them in the comments below.

Wishing you health and vitality,
suzanne

References
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston, D and Maimes, S, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Beneficial Effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on Psychological Symptoms and Measures of Sexual dysfunction in Postmenopausal Women are Not Related to Estrogen or Androgen Content. Brooks NA, et al., Menopause, 2008 Nov-Dec, 15:1157-62.

A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Boone, Kerry, 2003.

Comparison of the pharmacological effects of Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium, Chen CF, Chiou WF, et al., Acta Pharmacol Sin, 2008, 29(9): 1103-1108.

A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women, Dording C, Schettler P, Dalton E, et al. Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine, 2015; Article ID 949036.

Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer, Ornish D, Lin J, Chan J, et al., The Lancet Oncology, 2013, 14(11): 1112-1120.

Effects of Panax ginseng extract on exercise-induced oxidative stress, Kim SH, Park KS, et al., J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2005, 45(2): 178-82.

Effect of Rhodiola Rosea extract on Ovarian Function, Proceedings of the Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1970 Sept 15-16; 46-48.

Effects of Red Ginseng Supplementation on Menopausal Symptoms and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women: A Double-blind Randomized Controlled Trial, Young Kim S., et al. Menopause 2012; 19(4) 461-466.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed., Murray M, Pizzorno J, Atria, 2012.

Functional assessment of Pharmacological Telomerase Activators in Human T Cells, Molgora, B, Bateman, E, Sweeney, G, at al., Cells 2013, 2(1): 57-66

Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth, 2d Ed., Tilgner, Sharon, Wise Acres, LLC, Pleasant Hill, Oregon, 2009.

A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Taking herbs is not just something to do when you’re sick. Taken regularly, herbs can enhance well-being, increase energy and vitality, and reduce the risk of age-related conditions. These three herbal anti-aging tonic recipes are all formulated to support radiant health, and contain herbs to strengthen the body and improve resistance to stress and disease. They differ in their concentration of herbs for overall health, cardiovascular function, and brain health.

Herbal tonics are defined in various ways. The American Botanical Council defines tonics as herbs that “increase strength and tone.” Herbalist David Winston, in his book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, describes tonic herbs as those that enhance energy and well-being, alleviate conditions of weakness in the body, and can be taken every day, usually without side effects. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one of the most ancient and highly evolved systems of herbal medicine, deserves much of the credit for our knowledge of these highly specialized herbs and for laying the foundation for modern pharmacological and clinical research to understand how they work. In TCM, herbal tonics are said to aid in the attainment of a long life, balance mind and emotions, and have broad and profound health-promoting actions. They have no negative side effects when used appropriately and can therefore be taken over a long period of time yielding cumulative long-term benefits. They must also be readily digestible and taste good enough to be consumed easily.

Herbal tonics may sound like some sort of remedy from a bygone era, but their efficacy is validated by modern science. You can read more about many of the herbs in these recipes in this post, 7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice.

Total Vitality Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is especially useful for improving energy and vitality, and increasing resistance to disease. Astragalus and Panax Ginseng are two herbal adaptogens and oxidants that strengthen the body and promote healthy immune function. Turmeric is also an antioxidant and an important anti-inflammatory with compounds that have been shown to have therapeutic benefit in a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and cancer, to osteoarthritis and dementia. In this tonic, Milk Thistle and Burdock Root support the liver, detoxification, assimilation, and elimination. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and digestive aid that promotes circulation and adds flavor to this tonic.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Astragalus
2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
1 parts (1 ounce) Turmeric Root
1 part (1 ounce) Milk Thistle Seed
½ part (½ ounce) Burdock Root
½ part (½ ounce) Ginger

Instructions:

This tonic is best prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also know as a tincture) or as a powder blend added to your daily smoothie. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a powder, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or 2 tablespoons of the powder per day. Because most of the therapeutic compounds in Milk Thistle are not water soluble, I do not recommend preparing this tonic as a tea.

Healthy Heart Anti-Aging Tonic

 

The anti-aging tonic is formulated for people who want to improve their cardiovascular and heart health, which may include people with a close family history of cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet and lifestyle are critical, but herbal tonics are useful, too. This tonic incorporates two potent antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health. Hawthorn berries, leaf, and flower protect against heart disease, inhibit the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and help maintain healthy blood pressure. Green tea helps protect and maintain the health of blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. Green tea also has a positive impact on cholesterol levels, helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the risk of abnormal blood clots. You can find out more about the myriad health benefits of Green tea, here. Schisandra berries are an herbal adaptogen that strengthen the body promote a relaxed, focused calm. Rosemary is an excellent circulatory stimulant that also promotes brain health. Elecampane is a digestive bitter that helps kick this tonic in to high gear by improving absorption in the body.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Hawthorn Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Hawthorn Leaf & Flower
1 part (1 ounce) Green Tea
1 part (1 ounce) Schisandra Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary
1 part (1 ounce) Elecampane

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled water.

Beautiful Mind Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is focused on brain health, but with herbs like Panax Ginseng and Schisandra berries described above, it is also great for energy and overall vitality. Bacopa, Ginkgo, Gotu Kola, and Rosemary are all considered nootropics—a term that describes herbs that promote cerebral function, memory, focus, and concentration. Ginkgo and Rosemary also promote cerebral circulation.

Ingredients:

2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
2 parts (2 ounces) Schisandra
1 part (1 ounce) Bacopa
1 part (1 ounce) Ginkgo
1 part (1 ounce) Gotu Kola
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled.

I’d love to hear about other things you’re doing as part of your healthy aging routine. Is it yoga, meditation, or exercise? A healthy diet, perhaps? Please share your ideas and practices in the comments section below. If you’d like to add one of these tonics to your anti-aging routine, we are happy to blend them for you in the shop or help you formulate a tonic specific to your needs.

to a long and vibrant life,
suzanne

 

References

American Botanical Council, Terminology Page, http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Terminology, accessed 12.27.17.

Winston, D and Maimes, S, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Teegarden R., The Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Tonics Herbs, Warner Books, Inc., New York, New York, 1998.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice

7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice

 

Why take a Holistic Approach?

Whether you’re 25 or 55, it’s never too early to begin an anti-aging regime. Though creams and serums are all the rage, their approach is mostly superficial. Do you just want to look good when you’re 75 or do you want to feel good, too? A more holistic approach to aging provides support for the entire body, with specific attention to energy and vitality, brain health, and heart health. Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, herbs have an important role to play in healthy aging. Modern research has shown us that many medicinal herbs long revered for their ability to promote longevity do in fact support healthy aging. Adding some or all of these herbs for holistic anti-aging to your daily self-care routine is key.

These seven vital herbs have some things in common. All are antioxidants. Most are adaptogens, and many possess anti-inflammatory properties. Understanding these properties is important to choosing an herbal approach to anti-aging best for you. Antioxidants inhibit free-radical damage, which is responsible for aging at a cellular level. Free-radicals are also responsible for the onset of many diseases, including two major killers—heart disease and cancer. In short, antioxidants are thought to slow the aging process. In addition to a diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, using antioxidant-rich herbs is a good way to boost your antioxidant intake. Herbal adaptogens have a strengthening and energizing effect on the body, promote immune function, and help alleviate the effects of stress. When it comes to aging, adaptogens promote energy and vitality, and help ward off disease. Herbal anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation in the body, including chronic inflammation sometimes referred to as the “silent killer.” Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor in the onset of many common and deadly conditions from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to cancer and dementia. Herbs, along with diet and lifestyle, can reduce chronic inflammation and decrease the risk of these life-limiting ailments.

A healthy aging approach that includes a combination of antioxidant, adaptogenic, and anti-inflammatory herbs is best and considers your body’s specific needs. Among the many herbal options discussed here, you’ll notice that some herbs are especially effective at inhibiting certain age-related conditions. Let that be your inspiration. For example, if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or certain cancers, design your herbal protocol to optimize resistance to these conditions. Finally, while the herbs on this list are generally safe for long term use, if you are on medication or being treated for a specific condition, be sure to discuss taking them with your healthcare practitioner first.

Holistic Anti-Aging Herb List

Astragalus | Astragalus membranaceus

Astragalus is a superstar in the anti-aging field. Like many of the herbs on this list, it is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Astragalus is also considered a heart and lung tonic and is used to prevent immune suppression caused by chemotherapy.

Esteemed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, Astragalus’s superstar status was cemented by modern scientific research. Among other things, this research has demonstrated that Astragalus contains compounds that boost production of an enzyme, telomerase, that plays a critical role in cellular health and anti-aging at the level of our DNA, the genetic material that contains the instructions all organisms need to develop, live, and reproduce. Specifically, telomerase controls the short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which ensure accurate cell division and replication. Telomeres are sometimes likened to the plastic tips that protect the ends of shoelaces to prevent them from unraveling. As telomeres shorten, errors in cell replication accumulate, causing a wide range of age-related conditions including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease including stroke and vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes

As part of your holistic anti-aging protocol, combine Astragalus with a plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation, and a supportive social network. Why? A 2013 pilot study published in a distinguished medical journal, The Lancet Oncology, showed that these diet and lifestyle practices may also result in longer, anti-aging telomeres.

Ginseng | Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius

One of the most heavily researched herbs, Ginseng’s legendary status as a longevity tonic has been validated by modern scientific research and clinical studies. Like Astragalus, Ginseng is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Considered the most stimulating of adpatogens, Panax ginseng can be used at any age to promote stamina and endurance and improve cognitive function and memory. Ginseng helps relieve adrenal burnout and exhaustion and reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress. Like Astragalus, it is also used to support the immune system during chemotherapy treatment. Ginseng also supports blood sugar balance and healthy cholesterol levels, helping to combat two common age and diet related conditions. Ginseng is considered a fertility and sexual tonic for both men and women, and provides relief for women experiencing menopause related symptoms. For more about Ginseng’s role in menopause visit my blog, Three Herbs to Unleash Your Feminine PowerPanax ginseng sometimes called Asian, Koran, or Chinese Ginseng is and Panax quinefolius, or American Ginseng, possess similar properties, but Panax Ginesng is considered more stimulating.  Individuals sensitive to stimulants may prefer American Ginseng.

young woman holidng a white mug filed with hot green tea wearing a blue shirt and gray cotton shortsGreen Tea | Camellia sinensis

Drinking two or three cups of organic green tea every day is a great way to practice healthy aging. Green tea helps combat a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure to osteoporosis, memory loss, and cancer. You can read more about the benefits of green tea here.

Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, green tea’s wide range of benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system make it a top choice for those who want to age well. Its ability to promote cardiovascular health is derived from important compounds known as catechins. Tea catechins exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-thrombotic, and hypo-cholesterolemic effects. In other words, these compounds in green tea help protect and maintain the health of our blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. They have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of abnormal blood clots.

Green tea also helps improve memory and parts of the brain that shrink as we age. Compounds in green tea increase a protein in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in brain health and brain growth, or neurogenesis. Research also shows that green tea enhances memory by improving connectivity within the brain and increasing brain cell production.

Like many of the other herbs for healthy aging on this list, green tea is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. While antioxidants help us maintain healthy skin as we age, their importance is more significant. Antioxidants like green tea also help protect us from cancer. When it comes to specific cancers, research shows that green tea has a positive effect on breast, cervical, prostate, and stomach cancer. Population studies suggest that green tea consumption may be one of the reasons cancer rates are lower in Japan where people typically drink about three cups of green tea per day.

Drinking green tea may also offer significant protection against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone” and is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures and falls. This danger is significant given that fractures due to osteoporosis are associated with premature death in people 45 and older and hip fracture in the elderly increases the risk of dying within one or two years. Women are most at risk for osteoporosis after menopause. Tea catechins as well as vitamin K1 in green tea may account for this protective effect. Vitamin K1 assists the transport of calcium through the body, improves bone density, reduces bone loss, and decreases the risk of fractures.

a clear glass serving jar on a wooden table filled with dried hawthorn leaf and flower with a silver metal serving scoop on top of jarHawthorn | Crataegus spp.

The dark red berries of the Hawthorn tree are sometimes referred to as “food for the heart.” They are used along with the leaves and flowers of Hawthorn as a cardiovascular tonic, hypotensive, and antioxidant. Hawthorn is particularly rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, in particular a group of flavonoids known as proanthocyanidins. These powerful antioxidants are responsible for the dark red and blue colors found in blueberries, blackberries, and of course, Hawthorn berries and are especially useful in protecting against heart disease. Hawthorn has also been shown to inhibit the build up of plague in the arteries and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is considered a nervous system relaxant and is used energetically to open and protect the heart, and for recovery from grief, loss, and sadness.

Milk Thistle | Silybum marianum

Milk Thistle seed is another potent antioxidant, but possesses a unique ability to protect the liver and enhance detoxification. The fact is, we live in a toxic world. From heavy metals in our air and drinking water, to chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides in our food, our bodies–especially the liver–can become overwhelmed and damaged by this toxic load. Warning signals may include skin problems, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Heavy metal toxicity is also associated with impaired brain function, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, among other things. Milk Thistle, used regularly and in conjunction with periodic cleansing, improves liver function and helps eliminate this toxic load.

Rhodiola | Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola has been used for centuries in northern Europe and Russia, where it has been subjected to more than 180 published pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies. As these studies have been translated into other languages, Rhodiola has gained popularity with practitioners across North America and elsewhere. Rhodiola is an antioxidant and adaptogen that promotes memory and brain function and has also been shown to possess anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties. As a stimulating adaptogen, Rhodiola is used to relieve mental and physical fatigue, increase endurance, and decrease recovery time after intense exercise. It also helps reduce depressive syndromes and ameliorate memory loss and cognitive dysfunction from a variety of causes, including brain injuries. It has been shown to have a positive effect on parts of the brain responsible for memory, perception and information processing, especially in healthy individuals working long hours in fields requiring complex analysis and critical decision making.

hand sifting turmeric powder into large glass bowl on a wooden backgroundTurmeric | Curcuma longa

This spicy member of the ginger family has been used as a culinary spice for thousands of years. However, in modern times its well-deserved reputation as a potent anti-inflammatory has outpaced its reputation in the kitchen. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Turmeric is also an oxidant that contains compounds showing therapeutic potential in a wide range of conditions commonly associated with aging including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical studies show that compounds in Turmeric may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of many types of cancer, including breast, colon, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, lung, leukemia, lymphoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancers.

Curcumin, one of over 24 unique anti-inflammatory compounds in Turmeric is being studied for its ability to block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the plaque characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease that forms in the brain and obstructs cerebral function. Parts of India where people eat Turmeric at almost every meal have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Among people 70-79 years old, the rate is less than one-quarter the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Epidemiologists hypothesize that the daily ingestion of Turmeric as part of the Indian diet may be partly responsible for this result.

As for its role in cardiovascular health, in addition to its effects as an anti-inflammatory, Turmeric acts as a blood thinner, reducing blood platelet aggregation, which is linked to an increased risk for atherosclerosis and stroke. It also helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels (elevated cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease) and is considered cardioprotective.

We all hear the cultural drum beat that seems to value youthful appearance over a more holistic approach to aging. Herbs can help us look more youthful (more about that here), but I encourage you to look beyond the surface. I hope this list of herbs for holistic anti-aging inspires you to focus on the things that will help you maintain vibrant energy, a healthy heart, and an active mind. Have you discovered ways to navigate the cultural miasma of aging with grace or grit? Are you proactive when it comes to your approach to anti-aging? I’d love to hear your insights, wisdom, or worries in the comments section below.

Blessings,

suzanne

 

 

References:

Winston, D and Maimes, S, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Molgora, B, Bateman, E, Sweeney, G, at al., Functional assessment of Pharmacological Telomerase Activators in Human T Cells. Cells 2013, 2(1): 57-66

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