Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief

 
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Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief

The definitive guide to adaptogenic herbs, formerly known as “tonics,” that counter the effects of age and stress on the body

I purchased this on Kindle after finishing The Rhodiola Revolution.

After reading the previous book, perusing at least a couple hundred studies on Pubmed along with digesting the questionable grammar of numerous self reporters posting in various forums there was just a few things this book enlightened me about...

The Adaptogens are Hepatoprotective

Schisandra is the most beneficial adaptogen for the liver. It is hepatoprotective and helps regenerate liver cells and increases the presence of hepatic glutathione, an essential liver nutrient. In animal studies, it has been shown to significantly protect against chemical- and drug-induced liver damage and promote the healing of existing damage. (p. 108)
This is particularly important to Biohackers that are throwing a bunch of strange molecules at our neurobiology that are likely stressing our livers.

There's a couple of things that add an air of mystery to the Adaptogens, like the nature of the autonomic nervous system...
It consists of two physiologically and anatomically distinct, mutually antagonistic components: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two subdivisions function in a dynamic balance aiming at homeostasis. (pp. 68-69)

Irreducible Mechanism of Action

The belief that each herb has a single active constituent is usually false. (p. 127)
There was an interesting case study where they thought they had isolated the individual Gensenoside that was the active ingredient and when they used it alone it had zero effect.
When this substance was isolated and extracted, it was found to have no activity. Interestingly, when researchers tried giving the herb minus this specific chemical to animals, it no longer worked either. The active constituent of hawthorn turned out to be the herb itself. (p. 30)
The mechanisms of the Adaptogens don't quite fit squarely into our logical cause and effect scientific models.

'Bad Science'

Part of the book makes the (debatable) point that published scientific research is an unreliable source of information.
To quote a John Ioannidis, PhD
“The great majority of published research is so deeply flawed that it should be considered essentially worthless.” (p. 54)
Ioannidis singled out the following types of studies as being particularly likely to lead to a worthless result: Studies with a small sample size; Studies that consider a small number of possible effects; Studies whose outcomes are poorly or subjectively defined; Studies in which financial conflict of interest is a factor; Studies in which the researchers are prejudiced by being unduly wedded to a particular outcome; and Studies of a topic that is currently “hot.” (p. 55)
For example:
Dr. Ronald Siegel’s theoretical “ginseng abuse syndrome” continues to be mentioned even after being discredited more than twenty years ago. In Siegel’s study, all subjects who had the “syndrome” consumed ginseng together with caffeinated beverages and developed symptoms of elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia. What he described had little to do with ginseng and everything to do with excessive caffeine consumption—it was actually “caffeine abuse” not “ginseng abuse.” (p. 57)
The conclusion the book reaches is that medicinal traditions and consensus of anecdotal reports about a drug or herb should be weighed at least equally with what the studies on Pubmed are saying. Which is kind of interesting, see my article with a methodology for spotting bad science.

The book itself is a quiet dry read, pretty boring, it put me to sleep on more than a few nights. I don't really recommend reading it unless you are tremendously curious about Adaptogens.

Some passages I highlighted:

tonic: A substance that alleviates conditions of weakness within the body. It strengthens and invigorates and can work on any or all body systems.

All plants contain adaptogenic/tonic compounds, because plants have to contend with a good deal of stress themselves. (p. 1)

Many adaptogens also have hepatoprotective (protects the liver) (p. 20)

When this substance was isolated and extracted, it was found to have no activity. Interestingly, when researchers tried giving the herb minus this specific chemical to animals, it no longer worked either. The active constituent of hawthorn turned out to be the herb itself. (p. 30)

adaptogens act by stimulating the body’s nonspecific stress response via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathoadrenal system. (p. 30)

Soviet Academy of Science to develop a product that increased the performance of their elite personnel, which included athletes, military personnel, political officers, and chess players, (p. 32)

Lazarev and Brekhman created a team of more than twelve hundred biologists, scientists, and physicians. (p. 36)

included in the space program for cosmonauts in 1977. (p. 36)

“The great majority of published research is so deeply flawed that it should be considered essentially worthless.” So wrote John Ioannidis, PhD, (p. 54)

Ioannidis singled out the following types of studies as being particularly likely to lead to a worthless result: Studies with a small sample size; Studies that consider a small number of possible effects; Studies whose outcomes are poorly or subjectively defined; Studies in which financial conflict of interest is a factor; Studies in which the researchers are prejudiced by being unduly wedded to a particular outcome; and Studies of a topic that is currently “hot.” (p. 55)

Dr. Ronald Siegel’s theoretical “ginseng abuse syndrome” continues to be mentioned even after being discredited more than twenty years ago. In Siegel’s study, all subjects who had the “syndrome” consumed ginseng together with caffeinated beverages and developed symptoms of elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia. What he described had little to do with ginseng and everything to do with excessive caffeine consumption—it was actually “caffeine abuse” not “ginseng abuse.” (p. 57)

It consists of two physiologically and anatomically distinct, mutually antagonistic components: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two subdivisions function in a dynamic balance aiming at homeostasis. (pp. 68-69)

Rhaponticum and schisandra enhance reading comprehension, aptitude, and speed. (p. 94)

Schisandra increases visual acuity and decreases eye fatigue in tasks requiring extended visual concentration. (p. 103)

Fortunately, many adaptogens are hepatoprotective and help protect against liver damage and dysfunction. (p. 107)

Schisandra is the most beneficial adaptogen for the liver. It is hepatoprotective and helps regenerate liver cells and increases the presence of hepatic glutathione, an essential liver nutrient. In animal studies, it has been shown to significantly protect against chemical- and drug-induced liver damage and promote the healing of existing damage. (p. 108)

A well-publicized example is the herb ephedra (ma huang), which has been inappropriately used for weight (p. 123).

The alcohol and water mixture extracts a wide range of constituents from the herb, and alcohol increases absorption of the herb by approximately 30 percent, (p. 125)

The belief that each herb has a single active constituent is usually false. (p. 127)

Korean Heaven grade is the highest quality Korean ginseng. (p. 145)

It is used in ayurvedic medicine to relieve “mental fog” caused by chronic cannabis smoking. It can be combined with other cerebral stimulants such as rosemary, bacopa, and ginkgo to help people with menopausal cloudy thinking, poor memory, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and to speed up recovery from head trauma. (pp. 169-170)

since 1960, more than 180 studies on the uses, chemistry, and pharmacology of this herb have been published. (p. 192)

In animal studies, it has been shown to provide significant protection against chemical- and drug-induced liver damage and to promote healing of existing damage. (p. 196)

It is a mild central nervous system stimulant that enhances reflexes, work performance, and mental activity. At the same time, it is calming and helps relieve anxiety and stress-induced asthma or palpitations. (pp. 196-197)

There has been extensive research to discern what shilajit actually is. (p. 202)

A second animal study found that, taken over five days, shilajit given to mice increased their levels of dopamine, the neurochemical that helps you feel calm. At least in mice, it relieved anxiety and stress. One other study found that it also enhanced learning and memory in rats. (p. 203)

Effects of Shilajit on Memory, Anxiety, and Brain Monoamins in Rats, Indian (Jaiswal 1992). This animal study suggested that shilajit has nootropic (cerebralenhancing) effects and can relieve anxiety. (pp. 203-204)

Motherwort is the herb I most frequently combine with blue vervain for people with simple anxiety. (p. 214)

St. John’s wort has become known as the “depression herb.” This is unfortunate, (p. 218)

In one remarkable case from many years ago, I had an opportunity to use a similar formula with great success. A friend’s wife came down with bacterial meningitis. Luckily, they caught it early enough. She was rushed to the hospital and given intravenous antibiotics. Her life was saved and she was discharged from the hospital, but she still had severe cognitive problems. Her ability to hear, see, speak, and smell all were seriously impaired. She was unable to hold a conversation, work, or read; even food had a strange taste. Her doctors had done all they could do and advised her that these troubling symptoms would hopefully resolve after six to twelve months. I was asked to help at this point and recommended several nootropic and adaptogenic herbs. In two weeks, she reported significant improvement, and after a month on this formula, she stated that she was “back to normal, and maybe even better than that.” This case, although remarkable in its quick and total success, is not all that unusual and shows how herbs can offer significant benefits for many “untreatable conditions.” (p. 224)

I find the adaptogenic effect becomes more noticeable four to six weeks into not smoking, which is about the time that most folk’s resolve melts away. (p. 239)

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by David Winston & Steven Maimes
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(Updated: July 16, 2017)
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