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Adaptogen - Eleutherococcus Senticosus Maxim Shrub

by Dr Moira Williams(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 76 - May 2002

Adaptogens were first identified by Russian pharmacologist Lagarev and formally classified over 50 years ago by the late Russian Professor Israel Brekhman who devoted a team of researchers to the task of searching for plants with medicinal properties. Of their most exciting discoveries was the root of the Eleutherococcus senticosus maxim shrub found in the exacting climates of Eastern Siberia which became known as the 'King of Adaptogens'.[1],[2]

There are three criteria for classification as an adaptogen:

  1. Non-specific in their actions;
  2. Enhance the body's ability to cope with internal and external stresses without being stimulatory;
  3. Are non-toxic and do not have any harmful side effects.

No known artificially manufactured substance can match these properties.

As such, adaptogens do not have any specific pharmaceutical effects but rather act upon the body to restore any imbalances, whilst very importantly not causing any harmful effects. Adaptogens allow the body to work more efficiently by regulating the normal physiological processes. Some adaptogens act more noticeably on one system, for example Eleutherococcus has been largely researched for its abilities to regulate and thereby strengthen the immune system.[3] The late oncologist Professor Vladimir Kupin used Eleutherococcus to counteract the destructive side effects of conventional treatments on the immune system.[4] He showed that Eleutherococcus could help to maintain a stronger immunity to infections and demonstrated improvements in T-cell counts,[5] quite a potent effect for a traditional herbal remedy!

For the implications of the effect of adaptogens on common everyday problems, again Eleutherococcus is the most widely researched plant extract with over 1,000 research projects to its credit. Many of these originate in Russia and date back over the past 30 to 40 years, but are just as relevant today. Indeed, Eleutherococcus is registered in the Pharmacopoeiae of Germany,[6] France and Russia and research work still continues. Other adaptogens include Panax ginseng, Schisandra chinesis and Ganoderma mushrooms.

Effects on Health

Boosting the Immune System

In the 1970s 1,250 drivers at a Russian automobile plant were given twice-yearly courses of Eleutherococcus. The work that they did was repetitive and stressful in a difficult industrial environment. After one year the percentage of sick workers was reduced by 30%, and the total disease incidence in the control group was unchanged. At the same plant in November to December 1975 a total of 13,096 workers took Eleutherococcus daily with a resulting 30% to 50% reduction in illnesses such as respiratory tract infections and influenza, as compared with the control group. A seven-year study of truck drivers, again in Russia, reported an amazing 90% reduction in the incidence of influenza-type illnesses. 838 children under school age who took Eleutherococcus also showed a reduction in incidence of common colds and 'flu'.[2],[7],[8]

Further evidence shows that these results may be due to the fact that Eleutherococcus increases the numbers of active immune fighter cells[9] and in particular the numbers and activity of T-helper cells. These cells are vital in the defence against viral infections and would help to explain how Eleutherococcus can help the body to ward off viral infections and to reduce the severity of such illnesses.

A study undertaken by Eladon Limited in conjunction with the Herpes Association showed that the users of Eleutherococcus had significantly fewer and less severe outbreaks of the Herpes simplex viruses responsible for cold sores and genital Herpes infections than the placebo group.

Extremes of Stress

People who worked in difficult environments, such as radio telegraphic workers, sailors on humid tropical sea voyages and factory workers in Polar regions, were all shown to benefit from using Eleutherococcus. Mental concentration and ability to withstand and function in extremes of climate improved and again incidence of illnesses declined, demonstrating the general adaptogenic effects of Eleutherococcus.[8],[10]


For many years, the Russian Olympic squads used Eleutherococcus to support their athletes during training and through events.[11] Results of studies suggested an increased efficiency in the transport of oxygen to muscles, including to the heart, and improved elimination of toxins such as lactic acid, produced during vigorous exercise.


Eleutherococcus used to be the only substance, other than vitamins and minerals, which the Russian cosmonauts used. Weightlessness tests the body to its limits and cosmonauts have to be able to reach and sustain peak mental and physical health for prolonged periods. Eleutherococcus was found to hasten adjustment to weightlessness and re-adaptation to gravity, as well as supporting health, mental concentration and immunity against infection.[12]

Toxins and Radiation

By helping the body to regulate itself more efficiently, adaptogens can be helpful in reducing the effects of the harmful free radicals that surround us. Free radicals cause damage to the nuclei of our cells and promote the acceleration of the ageing processes and formation of cancers and heart disease. Free radicals are found in sun rays, fatty foods, tobacco smoke and radiation, to name but a few. Eleutherococcus promotes the elimination of toxins including alcohol from the body,[2] and it also helps to counteract the damage caused by radiation to cells and was given to victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.


Adaptogens are therefore not treatments, nor are they cures, but they have the unique ability to enhance the body's own natural defence mechanisms against illnesses and the stresses of daily living to promote health. Adaptogens act in harmony with the normal physiological processes and as such are without serious side effects, although anyone who is taking a prescribed medicine should always check that the use of an adaptogen will not interfere with its effects. Their exact mechanisms of action are undoubtedly complex and little understood.[2]

Eleutherococcus is the most extensively researched and one of the most commonly used of all the adaptogens. It is widely available in the UK, however the majority of products contain little or no active ingredients, Eleutherosides. To be effective all the chemical constituents of the root, and most importantly the ones known as 'Eleutheroside',[13] must be present in optimal ratios. The extraction processes are exacting and costly. Contents of Eleutheroside vary from crop to crop and between regions, and so each new batch needs analysing and standardizing. Many products contain ground-up whole roots, others contain the tailings left over after extraction has taken place, and others do not contain Eleutherococcus at all, but Ginseng, due to the fact that Eleutherococcus is sometimes given the erroneous name 'Siberian Ginseng'. Ginseng itself acts more as a 'tonic' and does not have such powerful effects on the immune system.

The Chinese herbalist, Li Shi-Chen, wrote to the effect "would rather take a handful of Eleutherococcus than a cartload of gold jewels". I do not know if I would go that far, but it certainly is food for thought.


1.Brekhman II. Eleutherococcus. Nauka. Leningrad. 1986.
2.Brekhman II. Man and Biologically Active Substances. Pergamon Press. Oxford. 1980.
3.Farnsworth A, Kingham A, Soefarto D and Waller D. Eleutherococcus senticosus: Current status as an adaptogen. Economic and Medicinal Plant Research. Vol 1. Academic Press Inc. London. 1983.
4.Kupin V. Eleutherococcus and other biologically active modifiers in oncology. Medexport. Moscow. 1985.
5.Kupin V, Polevaya EB and Sorokin AM. Increased immunologic reactivity of lymphocytes in oncologic patients treated with Eleutherococcus extract. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Eleutherococcus. Moscow. 1984.
6.Monograph of Eleutherococcus. German Pharmacopoeia. 1991.
7.Kalashnikov NB. New data on Eleutherococcus. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium, Moscow, 1984. Vladivostock. 1986.
8.Collisson RJ. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus maxim). Brit J Phyt. 2(2): 61-71. 1991.
9.Bohn B, Nebe CT and Birr C. Flow cytometric studies with Eleutherococcus senticosus extract as an immunomodulating agent. Drug Research. 37(10): 1193-96. YEAR?
10.Barenboim GM and Kozlova NB. Eleutherococcus extract as an agent increasing biological resistance of man exposed to unfavourable factors. Eleutherococcus, strategy of the use and new fundamental data. Medexport. VOL/ISSUE NO? 6-17. 1982.
11.Fulder S. The drug that builds Russians. New Scientist. August. VOL/ISSUE? pp567-9. 1980.
12.Alexeev V. Head of Medical Research Department, Cosmonaut Training Centre, Moscow. Personal communications.
13.Brekhman II and Dardymov IV. Pharmacological investigation of glycosides from ginseng and Eleutherococcus. Lloydia. 32: 46-51. 1969.

Further Information

For more information about Elagen, a standardized extract of the renowned Eleutherococcus senticosus, please contact Eladon Ltd, PO Box 111, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 1NR; Tel: 0845 345 1636;


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About Dr Moira Williams

Moira Williams, born in Bristol, qualified in Medicine in 1986 from Birmingham and then worked in Community Paediatrics and Haematology in Bangor, North Wales. She met and married the Managing Director of Eladon Ltd after establishing their mutual interest in alternative health and in particular in herbal plants. Their interest in Eleutherococcus has taken them to Russia on a number of occasions to meet cosmonauts, physicians and scientists who specialize in Eleutherococcus, and has led to research projects notably with sufferers of the Herpes simplex viruses and with athletes. They have four children.

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