Despite current popularity, adaptogens have been used in Eastern medicine for hundreds of years. The term adaptogen is derived from the Greek word “adapto”, which translates to “adjust”. In the late 1940s, Dr. Nicholas Lazarev created one of the first clinical definitions for the term. He defined adaptogens as, “substances that allow the body to counter adverse physical, chemical, or biological stressors by raising nonspecific resistance toward such stress, thus allowing the organism to “adapt” to the stressful circumstances” (1). In the 1960s, researchers Breckham and Darymov expanded upon the definition with the idea that adaptogens induce a normalizing effect. Simply put, adaptogens are herbal substances that provide preventative effects against stressors; thus, they function to maintain internal balance. These herbal substances can provide therapeutic benefits targeted towards the central nervous and immune system. While research continuously produces positive results, the exact mechanisms behind the benefit is not quite understood.
The human body is constantly working towards a state of equilibrium, or homeostasis. Internal and external stimuli, known as stressors, initiate a physiological response to bring our systems back into balance. These responses are coordinated through our nervous system, and affect every other system within the body, such as the endocrine, immune and metabolic systems. When the body cannot create an adaptive response, it initiates a domino effect of internal stress and inflammation. One research article points toward stress related disorders as a leading cause of illness. Researchers concluded external stress can translate into internal oxidative stress.
Today we will be filtering the broad spectrum of adaptogens to focus on the medicinal qualities of mushrooms – reishi, chaga and cordyceps.
“Queen mushroom of immortality & spiritual potency”
For nearly 2,000 years, reishi, also known as lingzhi, has been used as a medicinal mushroom. Li Shin-Zhen wrote about the therapeutic properties in the Supplmenet to Classic of Materia Medica, between 502-536 AD! Shin-Zhen detailed the ability of reishi to enhance vital energy, strengthen cardiac function, increase memory and provide anti-aging effects. Historically, only the wealthy could afford reishi, as wild cultivation was rare. Reishi is now grown in Japan, China and the United States.
Although the majority of reishi’s weight is water, the bioactive molecules provide immense pharmaceutical benefits. These bioactive compounds include terpenoids, steroids, phenols, nucleotides, amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. When it comes to reishi, the term powerful is seemingly appropriate. Reishi has been used for anti-aging, enhancing the immune system, controlling hypertension and hyperlipidemia, combating viral infections, managing inflammatory disease, reducing stress, supporting kidney and liver disease and playing a role in treatment of HIV/AIDS. Reishi also provides hormone balancing effects as well as aids in fighting fatigue and insomnia. According to Traditional Chinese medicine, reishi protects the shen: our consciousness, heart and soul. (2)
“King of Plants” and “Diamond of the Forest”
Similar to reishi, chaga’s use dates back hundreds of years when the Siberians would utilize chaga in soups or beverages. The Siberians believed in its medicinal quality to enhance longevity and increase stamina. This parasitic fungus grows symbiotically on birch trees in cold weather climates, such as Siberia, northern Canada, Alaska and certain parts of the United States. One chaga mushroom is roughly 10 inches in diameter and weighs nearly 30 pounds.
Chaga’s healing properties span across GI function, immune health, skin conditions, energy regulation, metabolic and liver function, and cancer prevention and treatment. Though it remains unclear, chaga contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants in any food. It is rich in zinc, B vitamins, digestive enzymes and minerals. Chaga also contains high levels of super-oxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant. This antioxidant neutralizes free radicals and reduces oxidative damage to cells, which would otherwise contribute to aging and inflammation.
“Elixir of Life”
Since the 15th century, cordyceps have been revered in Chinese and Tibetan medicine. Cordyceps are primarily grown on catepillars in the high mountainous regions of China. However, this funghi can easily reproduce in other habits. Mountain Rose Herbs mills their cordyceps powder from mycelial biomass grown on organic oats.
The noticeable theme among these medicinal mushrooms is their broad spectrum therapeutic effect. Cordyceps have been used in the treatment of respiratory diseases, kidney disorders, sexual dysfunction and liver conditions. It elicits immune function, increases hormone efficacy and enhances stamina. In one study, a treatment group was given capsules containing cordyceps for three months to treat moderate to severe asthma. After three months, their lung function significantly increased, while inflammatory markers steadily declined.
Long gone are the days of linear medical interventions, that can pose numerous risk and side effects. Although there is a time and a place for Western medicine, the consumer perspective has shifted. Consumers are becoming more aware of traditional therapeutic means, such as mindfulness and herbal supplementation. Adaptogens are gaining more traction in research and even greater attention in holistic health care approaches. Current findings suggest repeated adaptogen administration for maximum health benefits. If you are interested in adding adaptogens to your wellness routine, we highly recommend working with a trained practitioner to determine what best suits your needs.
There are a few brands/products we recommend, as they source and create the highest quality supplements.
Anima Mundi's Adaptogenic Powder
Farmacopia's Reishi Roast
Root & Bones' Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps Powders
In Good Health,