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Adaptogens for stress include herbs such as red reishi, ginseng, and cordyceps. These herbs combat the effects of stress, and improve our overall vitality. So why is an adaptogen beneficial for almost everyone? Well, depending on the source quoted, stress or stress-related ailments account for somewhere between 75-90% of all visits to a physician. Stress has been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, muscle tension, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, obesity, depression, anxiety, adrenal fatigue, and a plethora of other conditions. Modern society makes it virtually impossible to live without the burdens of stress, and therefore it seems these chronic conditions are on the rise. Fortunately, we can look to traditional medical systems such as Chinese medicine in our effort to maintain health and wellness. Specifically, we can look to a category of herbs that have been called “adaptogens”.

Simply stated, an adaptogenic substance is one that helps the body adapt naturally to cope with the effects of stress. In some cases, people feel completely run down and emotionally and physically exhausted from stress. In these cases, an adaptogen will have the effect of improving energy and vitality. In other cases, people can become “on edge” due to the effects of stress, and may have problems sleeping, or become highly irritable. For these people, an adaptogen will have a more calming and relaxing effect. In traditional Chinese medicine, these substances fall into the category of tonics, and among the most commonly used are panax ginseng, cordyceps, and lingzhi (commonly known as reishi).

Panax ginseng is also called Chinese, Korean, or Japanese ginseng. It is considered the preeminent herb for strengthening the qi (vital energy). More specifically, ginseng strengthens the lungs, spleen and stomach, and also benefits the heart. Best suited to those with a rather frail constitution as evidenced by weakness of the muscles, shortness of breath (or exercise-induced asthma), lethargy and lack of appetite, anxiety, insomnia, and palpitations. It would not be well-suited to those who are robust, well-muscled, or have tendencies to outbursts of anger. Modern research has shown it to improve immune function by increasing the production of interferon – the body’s own antiviral compound. Other studies have shown it to be antidepressant, antidiabetic, anthihypertensive, and also shows a protective effect in most cases of cancer.

Cordyceps, like panax ginseng, has long held a place of high esteem in traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, in ancient China the cordyceps fungus was so rare that it was only allowed to be used by the Emperor. The cordyceps fungus is considered one of the most potent adaptogenic herbs, having a tonic effect on the kidneys and lungs. Its ability to strengthen kidney yang energy has led to it being widely used in men’s health for problems such as impotence, low sperm count, and low libido. Because of its effects on the lungs, cordyceps benefits athletes by increasing oxygen uptake into red blood cells by the lungs, and it is rumoured to be widely used by members of the Chinese Olympic track team. A very balanced and safe substance because it tonifies both the yin and yang, it improves endurance, strengthens the immune system, clears phlegm, and is considered invaluable in post-partum recovery or recovery from any serious illness. Modern research has shown it to have anticancer effects, as well as being effective in liver and kidney diseases, and high cholesterol. It has also shown antioxidant properties as well as immunomodulatory properties.

Reishi (ganoderma lucidum) or lingzhi as it is known in Chinese medicine is another potent adaptogen. Considered a qi tonic, it is also known as the “mushroom of immortality” due to its supposed effects to increase longevity. Unlike panax ginseng and cordyceps, published research to indicate it can increase stamina and reduce fatigue is not common. However, there is considerable evidence of its ability to enhance immune function, and even suppress the growth of breast, prostate, colon, nose and throat cancer, and leukemia. A Chinese study showed that it can prevent internal blood clots that trigger heart attacks. It has also shown positive effects to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

Adaptogenic herbs such as panax ginseng, cordyceps, and reishi can be invaluable supplements to help the body cope with stress. But more than that, by regulating the immune system adaptogenic herbs become part of an overall preventative medicine approach that is the ultimate key to wellness, health, and vitality!