Our world is rapidly becoming smaller, while our problems seem to be looming larger. Every day we are faced with the reality that living in a global community exposes us to threats we never imagined 20 years ago. The irony is that the more nations that develop a prosperous economy – which is good for everyone – the more intertwined we all become; so as we share prosperity, we share increased risk.
Since 2000, we have seen an alarming increase in cyclical outbreaks of viral disease, including SARS, MERS, Ebola, H1N1 (Swine Flu). As we battle COVID-19, we bring to the fight a sober recognition that it isn’t the first worldwide viral outbreak…and it won’t be the last.
In this context, supporting a healthy and well-functioning immune system is of paramount importance. Obviously, taking care of yourself on a daily basis is the most important commitment you can make. Eat healthy, fresh, organic food. A good way to think about your food is, “If it has a label on it, it isn’t food.” This won’t stop any of us from grabbing a bag of granola or a box of pasta, but read the labels of what you eat. If there are ingredients in it you can’t pronounce, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Drink lots of water, and despite the fact that cold water can be refreshing – and is the better choice after exercise, for example – room temperature water is easier on your system, aids in digestion, and actually hydrates your body better than cold water. Exercise regularly, and exercise enough to build and maintain muscle. Muscles are the “engine” of your body. Good muscle mass improves posture, balance, revs your metabolism, and makes you feel powerful and youthful. And at the end of a day of eating, drinking, and exercising…SLEEP! A good night’s sleep is still “the best medicine”…as your mother used to say.
These are things we should all be committed to on an ongoing basis, and they will do much to improve your overall health. But is there anything else we can do that is proven to support immune function, improve our response to exercise, reduce the negative effects of stress on our health, increase our energy, focus, and ability to recover from exertion more quickly? The answer is yes.
Adaptogens are herbs which many people believe have a long history in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Actually, some do, but the bulk of information we have on adaptogens is relatively current and has been gathered through scientific research since the 20th century. The term was first coined in 1957 by research scientist Dr. Nikolay Lazarev to describe the overall harmonizing and balancing action of these unique herbs. Working off the idea that ability to adapt is a condition of life, substances which support the body’s innate adaptive response to a stress or challenge were called “adaptogens”. There are three functional characteristics all adaptogens must exhibit to be categorized as adaptogens.
- Non-toxic for most people in normal doses
- Have a normalizing or “balancing” effect, e.g., working to re-establish homeostasis when stress or exertion has overtaxed the person’s system
- Provide a non-specific state of heightened resistance to strengthen the person’s response to any stressor or challenge, whether physical, environmental, or emotional.
At the same time as Dr. Lazarev’s research, Dr. Israel Brehkman was doing ground-breaking research in identifying adaptogens and measuring their positive effects on mood, mental focus, immune function, muscle mass, exercise tolerance, and recovery. While most of the initial research was in the area of athletic support, the broader idea of stress and its negative effects on the body was gaining interest in the scientific community. In 1956, Dr. Hans Selye, had published his most well-known book, “The Stress of Life.” This important work expanded the scientific community’s understanding of stress and its extraordinarily harmful effects on the body – exactly as adaptogens were being seriously investigated.
If all this had happened in the US, we might have heard of the remarkable benefits of adaptogens sooner, but most of the research was being conducted in Russia, Asia, and Europe. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s, early 1990’s, that adaptogens began to be available in the United States. It took several more decades for Americans to become comfortable with the idea of herbs that would work only when necessary and in numerous ways, adjusting the body’s response to stress regardless of the direction of change. We are used to taking specific things, whether drugs or nutritionals, to do specific things. Convincing the American consumer that these herbs were non-toxic and acted like “cellular chaperones”, silently following metabolic functions, only offering support when stress created an imbalance, was no easy task.
Today the American consumer is more informed about nutritional support than ever before. Curiosity about adaptogens and their wide range of benefits – most notably stress protection and immune support – is growing significantly. Naturally supporting our immune system to meet the threats that can arise from any corner of the world, at any time, is not just reasonable, it is the wise thing to do.
Where to start?
Find an adaptogenic formula from a trusted company. Adaptogens are expensive and knowing whether the product has the active phyto-compounds necessary for its stated benefits is critical. What testing do they do to determine efficacy? For instance, if the product is a liquid, ask if they do HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) testing for potency. All companies are required to do identity testing, but they are NOT required to test for potency. How long have they been in business? With the rising popularity of adaptogens, did they just pop up with a good marketing campaign? Get to know the company you buy from. Rather than just order online, call the company directly and see if they can answer your questions satisfactorily.
As safe as adaptogens are, they are also powerful. But like any natural product, the herbs will have fluctuations in quality and potency, depending on yearly harvest and the area where they are grown, storage, handling, and manufacturing. It takes stringent quality control and constant testing to maintain a high quality product year after year.
You might have to dig to find good herbs. But if the promise of improved mood, mental clarity, immune support, improved exercise response, physical endurance, and overall recovery sound good to you in times like these, start digging.
About the author
Joy Van Noy is co-founder and president of Auburn Laboratories, Inc. Launched in 2000, Auburn Laboratories, Inc has been bringing the highest quality adaptogenic formulas to a growing community of informed customers for two decades. She and her husband, Michael Van Noy, DVM, focused initially on developing formulas for animals, particularly equine athletes. They have built a company with the most trusted and reliable adaptogenic formulas, counting among their customers some of the most talented and expensive equine athletes in the world, including numerous Olympic level horses and graded stakes winning racehorses. They have now brought their expertise in formulating the highest quality adaptogenic products to the human market.