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|Herbal Adaptogens Fitting into the Modern Age |
In the case of eleuthero, all three of these criteria have been eminently
fulfilled. Regarding its history of use, eleuthero has been known in China
for thousands of years, where it has traditionally been used to counteract
general debility and weakness by promoting vital energy. More recently,
in Russia millions of people take eleuthero daily, among them mountain climbers,
sailors, and factory workers who all use eleuthero to increase adaptability
and endurance and to reduce the frequency of illness. The Russian olympic
team uses eleuthero, especially weight-lifters and runners, and an eleuthero
extract was used to help cosmonauts adapt to the radically different living
conditions of outer space. Personally, in the last decade I have taken eleuthero
extract once for a 9-month period and several times for shorter periods,
and I have always noticed a decided increase in endurance and performance.
Regarding modern scientific research and clinical results, eleuthero is
one of the rare herbal medicines that has been extensively tested on humans
in clinical trials. Eleuthero's adaptogenic and other protective and strengthening
properties have been studied and confirmed with thousands of human volunteers.
We can still learn much more about eleuthero, but already researchers have
defined some of the ways in which eleuthero affects the body biochemically,
and have also identified certain active constituents, which are natural
plant steroids called eleutherosides.
The American researcher, Norman Farnsworth, collected and translated many
of the original Russian studies on eleuthero (much of it done in the '60s
and '70s), and published these in Economic and Medicinal Plant Research,
vol. 1 (by Academic Press, Orlando, FL). While many of these studies were
not performed with the strictest methods of scientific control (that is,
they were not double-blind studies), their results do offer interesting
insights into how adaptogens work on large populations of everyday working
people, and what benefits they might offer. Representative results of these
studies are cited in Table 1. Eleuthero's major physiological effects can
be summarized as follows:
1. Protects against environmental pollutants and radiation
2. Normalizes body temperature, thus treating hypothermia
3. Regulates blood-sugar levels
4. Protects the liver and enhances its ability to break down and get rid
of drugs in the body
5. Increases the body's ability to resist infection
6. Supports optimum adrenal function
Also, and perhaps most importantly, is eleuthero's anti-fatigue effect.
It has a highly beneficial influence on endurance and the capacity to work,
increasing the ability of the body's cells to utilize phosphorus-containing
energy molecules and dispose of lactic acid and other byproducts of metabolism
(the sore muscles from a heavy workout result from a buildup of lactic acid).
This anti-fatigue effect is especially important for athletes, both professionals
and "weekend warriors."
Finally, for infertile men, eleuthero has shown the ability to increase
semen output and reproductive capability. For those interested in taking
eleuthero, the original research used a liquid extract (also called a tincture),
which contains about 35% ethanol. Based on this research, I recommend three
basic dose levels:
1. For long-term maintenance where not under much stress or are not in a
training program, take one dropperful of the liquid extract upon rising
(if you put the drops in a cup of warm water or tea, most of the alcohol
2. To increase performance in sports activities, on the job, or at school,
take one dropperful in the same manner upon rising and take a second dropperful
again in the evening about an hour after dinner.
3. For times of extra stress or dramatic changes (such as changes in jobs
or living situations), take three droppersful of the extract, either two
in the morning and one in the evening, or one in the morning, at noon, and
at night. Every ten days, take a two-day break with no eleuthero, then repeat
the cycle. You can do this for up to nine months, or longer if needed.
Table 1: Studies with Normal Volunteers
- The number and speed of radiogram receptions for radiotelegraphic operators
was increased with daily doses of 1 1/2 droppersful (60 drops) of a liquid
extract of eleuthero over a one-month period.
- Skiers taking a single dose of eleuthero extract (3 droppersful) before
a race experienced increased resistance to the harmful effects of the cold
and increased physical endurance, especially if the skier was not fully
- Workers in a publishing house who had jobs involving physical labor
showed enhanced cardiovascular output, ability to work, and improved appetite--without
hypertension. However, the extract was not recommended for people with blood
pressure over 180/90 mm Hg.
- Proofreaders were more effective in their work after taking 1 1/2 droppersful
of eleuthero extract daily for 30 days.
- Sailors who took eleuthero extract while on long sea voyages showed
improved work capability and normalization of body functions in high-temperature
- One thousand factory workers in a city of the polar region who took
3 droppersful of eleuthero extract daily showed 50% reduction in general
sickness and 40% reduction in the number of lost work days.
- Among truck drivers who took eleuthero extract in tea for six years,
the total number of people contracting influenza dropped from 41.8% to 2.7%
during that period, and the number of work days lost to influenza per year
dropped from 286 per 100 workers to 11.
- Other studies showing that eleuthero dramatically reduced the number
of sick days due to influenza among thousands of different kinds of workers
- Further studies show that eleuthero extract, when taken on a regular
basis, can improve visual acuity, color perception, and hearing acuity,
can increase the efficiency of people whose jobs require attention and cause
nervous tension, and can improve physical and mental working capacity under
unfavorable climatic conditions (i.e., too hot, too cold, high altitude,
- Forty-five volunteers with heart disease showed enhanced feelings of
well-being, fewer chest pains, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
and improved ECG readings after six to eight courses (25 days each) of eleuthero
extract (1 to 1 1/2 droppersful at a time, 3 times daily before meals).In
a second study on 65 patients with cardiovascular disease, with the same
dose as above, improvements were noted by some after the first course (25-35
- Several studies involving patients with diabetes showed that in some
cases eleuthero extract is effective in lowering serum glucose levels.
- People with both hypotension and hypertension showed normalization of
blood pressure after courses of eleuthero extract. Several other studies
support these findings.
- Fifty-eight people with psychological imbalances and symptoms such as
extreme exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, decreased work capacity, and
a general state of anxiety, showed improvement after taking 2 droppersful
of eleuthero extract, once in the morning and once in the evening, for four
weeks. The patients felt that sound sleep and an increase in their sense
of well-being were the most important benefits of the treatment.
- Five more studies with nearly 160 neurotic patients showed that eleuthero
extract (as little as 1 dropperful a day) can be of benefit as indicated
above. Some of the studies lasted for ten years.
Can Women Take Ginseng?
The old adage that women should not take ginseng is mostly untrue. It is
true that processed red Korean or Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng)
is quite stimulating and is often used in energy and sports formulas, but
not more so for women than for men. Whether this kind of ginseng will have
an adverse effect on a person, when taken in large amounts, depends more
upon one's constitutional type than sex. Although it must be noted that
Panax ginseng has proven to have a mild estrogen-promoting activity
in some women--and thus would be contraindicated where estrogen is already
excessive, as may be the case with PMS or breast cancer--eleuthero is not
estrogen-promoting. Eleuthero is considered to be neutral in energy, and
can therefore be taken safely by both sexes and by many constitutional types.
Schizandra berries (Schizandra chinensis)
In the American horticultural trade, schizandra is called magnolia vine,
and indeed, botanically it is closely related to the familiar magnolia tree.
In China, the small red fruits of schizandra are considered to balance all
bodily systems because they have all of the five different flavors Chinese
herbalists use to classify medicinal herbs: sour, salty, bitter, sweet,
and acrid. Thus schizandra has been an important ingredient in traditional
Chinese tonic formulas since antiquity.
In the West, schizandra is often combined with eleuthero in adaptogenic
formulas, and has been extensively studied in this form in both Sweden and
Russia. It is also often included in commercial anti-stress, weight-loss,
and sports formulas in this country. Scientific studies have supported these
uses of schizandra, and have clarified the herb's liver-protecting and strengthening
capabilities. The liver is a vital "adaptogenic" organ, because
it helps regulate blood sugar and hormone levels, and because it is the
main detoxifying organ of the body.
Schizandra can be taken as a tea (added to eleuthero with a little licorice
and ginger), or it can be purchased in a wide variety of commercial preparations,
such as tinctures and powdered extracts in tablet form.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms are one of the most revered of the adaptogens. There
are stories of people in Japan traveling for hundreds of miles on foot to
pick them in the hopes of curing their cancer or other incurable disease.
The list of benefits observed in laboratory and clinic experiments reads
like a panacea wish-list. Reishi has shown a wide range of adaptogenic properties,
including blood sugar regulation, immune support, anti-cancer properties,
ability to oxygenate the blood efficiently, speeded regeneration of the
liver, a sedative and calming effect, free-radical protective effect, radiation
protective effect, reduction in sensitivity to allergens, anti-hypertensive
effect, and it lowers cholesterol.
Ken Jones and Terry Willard, in their book Reishi Mushroom, Herb of Spiritual
Potency and Medical Wonder, quote clinical studies in China with 90
coronary heart disease patients in seven different hospitals who were given
oral preparations of reishi over a four-month period. Although these studies
were uncontrolled (most Chinese studies are), the results suggest that reishi
has adaptogenic properties. Reishi relieved feelings of weariness in about
78% of the patients, feelings of cold extremities in 74%, and insomnia in
78%. In China, reishi is often added to herbal medicine combinations that
lower serum cholesterol and normalize blood pressure.
In one well-designed Japanese study, 53 patients with hypertension were
given 1.44 gms of the concentrate for 6 months. Blood pressure dropped from
156/103 to 137/93 in the group with genetically-based (essential) hypertension.
My own experience with this medicinal mushroom is that it can be of immediate
value for strengthening people who are recovering from chronic illness,
especially where there is general weakness. Children seem to respond quickly
to reishi. The following soup, modeled after a traditional formula, has
shown excellent results if taken for a week or two, or up to six months.
Wei Chi (Protective Vitality) Soup
1 ounce of reishi (dried),
3 ounces of fresh shiitake (or 1 oz dried),
1 ounce astragalus (optional)
for 30 minutes in 6 quarts of water.
1/4 cup of organic barley and a variety of sliced or chopped organic vegetables
(celery, beets, carrots, etc.)
Simmer for another 30 minutes, adding a quarter cup of sea vegetables (nori, wakame), or to taste.
About The Author
Christopher Hobbs is a fourth generation herbalist and botanist with over 30 years experience with herbs. Founder of Native Herb Custom Extracts (now Rainbow Light Custom Extracts) and the Institute for Natural Products Research. Christopher writes and lectures internationally on herbal medicine. He is a consultant to the herb industry and is currently practicing and working on a......more
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