History of Adaptogens

Article Index
History of Adaptogens
Adaptogen: Defined
All Pages

Herbal Medicine

The ability of certain nutritional plants to produce general holistic effects has been known to herbalist’s for thousands of years. Their philosophy is based on the belief that lasting vitality is achieved through keeping the body healthy, rather than treating it for disease. The Orientals were so proud of their special natural remedies that they named them “kingly” and “elite” herbs. For thousands of years, these plants were utilized by people in China, Russia, Japan, Korea and finally in Europe. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of these plants from a scientific standpoint was not confirmed until half a century ago. It was then that the Russian physician and pharmacologist, Dr. Israel Brekhman and his mentor, Prof. Lazarev named them “adaptogens”. This name was chosen due to the scientific proof of their effectiveness in helping the human body to “adapt” to changes in the environment. Scientific studies have shown that humans and other organisms are able to adapt better and survive longer when using these adaptogenic herbs. In fact, these special plants have managed to survive in harsh environments for centuries due to their unique composition of biologically active substances.

Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary healthcare. Within the last twenty years in the United States, increasing public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in the use of herbal medicines.

Substances derived from the plants remain the basis for a large proportion of the commercial medications used today for the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, pain, asthma, and other problems. For example, ephedra is an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than two thousand years to treat asthma and other respiratory problems. Ephedrine, the active ingredient in ephedra, is still used in the commercial pharmaceutical preparations for the relief of asthma symptoms and other respiratory problems. It helps the patient to breathe more easily.

Another example of the use of an herbal preparation in modern medicine is the foxglove plant. This herb had been in use since 1775. At present, the powdered leaf of this plant is known as the cardiac stimulant digitalis to the millions of heart patients it keeps alive worldwide.

There are over 750,000 plants on earth. Relatively speaking, only a very few of the healing herbs have been studied scientifically. And because modern pharmacology looks for one active ingredient, most of the research that is done on plants continues to focus on identifying and isolating active ingredients, rather than studying the medicinal properties of whole plants. Herbalists, however, consider that the power of a plant lies in the interaction of all its ingredients. Plants used as medicines offer synergistic interactions between ingredients both known and unknown.

The efficacy of many medicinal plants has been validated by scientists abroad. However, almost all of the current research validating herbal medicine has been done in Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Russia. And for the most part, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for licensing all new drugs (or any substances for which medicinal properties are claimed) for use in the United States, does not recognize or accept findings from across the sea. Even though substantial research is being done in other countries, drug companies and laboratories in the United States so far have not found a way to financialy benefit from investing money or resources into botanical research. The result is that herbal medicine does not have the same place of importance or level of acceptance in this country as it does in other countries. By contrast, in Germany, roughly 600 to 700 plant-based medicines are available and are prescribed by approximately 70% of German physicians.