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Adaptogens - Stressing the Importance of Protection

by Irene Stein(more info)

listed in immune function, originally published in issue 38 - March 1999

Until fairly recently, the function of vitamins was regarded with a great deal of scepticism by the orthodox medical profession, but they have been shown to play an intrinsic role in preventative health and have been accepted by almost everyone from heart surgeons to nutritionists the world over. In the same way adaptogens will be shown to play an equally protective role and may be heralded as a discovery of equal importance in the 21st century.

The definition of an adaptogen is a food which helps the body to adjust to difficult or extreme circumstances.[1][IS1] These elements help to tune up the body to a state of heightened resistance to disease by increasing both physiological and emotional health. Adaptogens are naturally occurring substances which enhance the body's ability to cope with the effects of stresses and which can be taken over a long period without damaging any part of the body.

Adaptogens work on a cellular level to normalise the function of every cell, so stimulating the healing process to enhance the body's natural defences and helping the body to function normally. Adaptogens have been found to relieve the symptoms of many conditions which are brought on by a depleted cellular system.

Echinacea & Chicory

Echinacea & Chicory

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian Ginseng

One of the greatest threats to good health has been recognised as stress. As each decade passes the levels of stress faced by the next generation rises, to such an extent that we are leading completely different lives from those even experienced by our grandparents. Many different research projects stretching across the medical spectrum from cancer to ME have corroborated that stress contributes to as much as 80% of all illness and disease.[2] The degenerative process brought on by stress follows a defined pattern. At the onset of a stressful situation, the first reaction is alarm, but when the stress continues, alarm is replaced by the resistance phase when the body's adaptive energies are sufficient to maintain normality. That's how we cope with short-term stress. But in today's world, stress is no longer short-term and as the weeks turn to months and the adaptive energy is depleted, the cells become less able to resist disease. The cells and tissues break down which results in organ dysfunction and disease. At this stage you feel exhausted. This process can take a long time, but it is also possible to degenerate one's health, given enough stress, in a very short time.[3]

We all know people who abuse their bodies by not eating well, not sleeping, alcohol, smoking and drugs, and eventually fall ill. Advocates of natural medicine have discovered that by harnessing the most powerful adaptogens, we can push the limits without the same risks to our long-term health. There are many substances that fall into the category of adaptogens. The major ones include Schizandra berries (Wu Wei Zi), Astragalus (Huang Chi), Ashwaganda, Reishi Mushroom (Ling Zhi), Poria Cocos, Gotu Kola, Holy Basil, Angelica Sinensis (Dong Quai), Polygonum Multiflorum (Ho Shou Wu), Suma, Lycii Berries ( Gou Qi Zi), Codonopsitis (Dang Shen), Eucommia (Du Zhong), Echinacea and perhaps the most well known Ginseng and Royal Jelly.

For centuries the Chinese have recognised the value of these substances. Royal jelly has become a panacea for a wide range of conditions because it strengthens the body's ability to deal with stresses, whilst ginseng has been used by dozens of Eastern cultures to cope with energy depletion brought on by stress.

It has taken Western practitioners slightly longer to catch on. However, catching up they are. As long ago as 1966 a Bulgarian study by Dr I.P. Pavlov, showed that the conditions of elderly patients were greatly improved by increasing their intake of adaptogens found in a honey, royal jelly and bee pollen mixture. Their appetites and sleep patterns improved; they had less cardiac pain; they could breathe easier; their blood pressure and their cholesterol levels dropped.

Research was also gathering apace in the field of arthritis research, where there was much to gain from helping up to ten million sufferers. Until relatively recently the causes of arthritis remained largely unknown, but many therapists began to show that certain forms may be associated with a breakdown of the immune system, possibly triggered off by stress and that adaptogens could help in their long term treatment.

It was well known that the Chinese had researched the subject of arthritis for many years and to this day give routine injections of the queen of adaptogens – royal jelly – to treat arthritis. In this country as early as 1963 Barton-Wright Elliott found that royal jelly administered to arthritics raised levels of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) in 70% of their rheumatoid patients who subsequently experienced increased mobility and a fall in the eosinophil sedimentation rate, indicative of a reduction in inflammation. The improvement continued as long as daily administration was maintained.

Kirlian photograph of a fingertip (left) before applying royal jelly and Vitamin E - the normal human aura.Kirlian photograph of a fingertip (right) after applying the cream – note the extra energy given off. This is indicated by the greater regularity and intensity of the white lines.

Kirlian photograph of a fingertip (left) before applying royal jelly and Vitamin E -
the normal human aura.Kirlian photograph of a fingertip (right) after applying the cream –
note the extra energy given off. This is indicated by the greater regularity and intensity of the white lines.

Case study

A year ago 54 year old Annette suffered from arthritis of both the upper and lower portions of her spine. There were long periods when her pain was so bad that she could not stand or walk without assistance and her only option was to remain in bed – often for days on end. This obviously had an effect not only on her flexibility, but on her morale – which was extremely low. "I was ready for the end I was in so much pain" was the way she graphically described her feelings at the time. Her condition got so bad she was sent to the hospital for an MRI scan.

This revealed the extent of her degeneration and her specialist feared that any improvement was neigh on impossible due to the deterioration of her bones.

It was around this time that a friend introduced her to a royal jelly formulation known as Irena. After two months, taking two phials a day, Annette found she was starting to experience an improvement in her condition, but felt that the outlay for a double dose was prohibitive. This proved to be a false economy, since within days she realised the true effect of Irena as her condition steadily worsened once more. Once back on track, such was the difference not only in her arthritis but on her high blood pressure that Annette's doctor took her off all her medication, stating that whatever she was taking was obviously doing her more good. Annette has recently joined a Tai Chi class and is feeling fit and well.

The Irena formulation which so helped Annette was developed four years ago by a team of biochemists, homoeopaths and herbalists headed by Dr Emile Coufalik. The constituents of the formulation are a finely balanced compound of fresh royal jelly, ginseng, echinacea, serenoa serrulata, damiana, capsicum minimum and honey which act in synergy – some to alleviate symptoms, whilst others are there to potentise. In fact laboratory studies have shown that the addition of echinacea potentises the royal jelly ten fold.

In 1989, Dr Zena Maxwell conducted a survey of people suffering from ME (Myalgic Encephalomyetis) which is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Post-Viral Syndrome. She gave them the formulation which contained a potentised combination of adaptogens which laboratory studies had shown acted together to give ten times more power to the active ingredients than if they were taken individually. A startling 74.3% found that the Irena formulation helped, and even those who were not so sure wanted to continue the treatment because they had felt non-specific benefits. Following the study, testimonial letters flooded in attesting in more personal terms to the effects of the formulation on their conditions:

Case study

Until recently Marie Bingham of Bedfordshire was a zombie. She had to quit her stressful job as a nursery teacher and could no longer walk her dog. Each day was a nightmare as she couldn't cope with daily tasks, visitors or travelling. She was diagnosed as suffering from ME.

Then she was dealt a further blow. When having a routine check-up it was discovered that she also had diabetes. This she has managed to control by watching her diet.

Distressed by muscle spasms and having difficulty breathing, she embarked on a course of a royal jelly formulation packed full of adaptogens. Before long she found that the symptoms she had suffered for so long did not seem so bad. After taking Irena for a few months she knew that she was definitely on the road to recovery, but she wondered if it was Irena or a co-incidence that she felt better. ME is said to eventually run its course so she stopped taking Irena to see what would happen.

She was soon experiencing very bad days again and had proved to herself that it was the components in this unique formula which were making the difference. Soon after taking Irena again, she was once more feeling the benefits.

Now, nearly a year on from when she first started with Irena, Marie sleeps all night, her anti-inflammatory and pain relief tablets have been reduced to a minimum. She is no longer constantly tired and dark around the eyes. Her whole immune system has improved and she no longer catches every cold and sore throat around.

ME is just one of many conditions helped by stepping up the intake of adaptogens. Townsend et al's research showed that it was possible to protect mice against transplantable leukaemia using hydroxydecanoic acid and, since royal jelly is the only known natural source of this fatty acid, it is possible to see that this remarkable substance can help with a raft of stress-related conditions – including cancer, which scientists have now corroborated can be brought on by extreme stress.[4]

Case study

This was certainly the case for cancer victim Brenda McKay whose condition was brought on two years ago when a terrorists car bomb planted outside her brand new shop in Finchley, exploded, badly damaging the building. Insurance covered the repairs but the business never recovered. Neither did Brenda. Soon afterwards she was admitted to hospital for an emergency hysterectomy and in August, following a routine check up, she was told she had breast cancer. After three more operations, Brenda had to have daily chemotherapy which was so corrosive that her hair burned before it fell out!

Such was the aggressive nature of her cancer, that Brenda was advised to stay in hospital during her daily chemotherapy treatment.

However, looking around at the ill-looking people in the ward convinced her that a positive mental attitude could prevail and that hanging around with ill people would just drag her down. Her picture now hangs in the cancer ward as an inspiration to other sufferers whom Brenda visits and 'entertains' by changing wigs mid conversation! She is now undergoing daily radiotherapy for five weeks, which will be followed by another period of chemotherapy, but Brenda refuses to give in.

At the age of 49, Brenda looks younger and despite a two-hour round trip to the hospital and the daily treatment, feels "so brilliant" that she is out every night. She strongly believes that adaptogens have kept her going. "Throughout my treatment I have been taking a remarkable supplement chock full of adaptogens including royal jelly, ginseng and echinacea, which not only helps me physically – by giving me loads of energy, but has definitely been responsible for keeping me so buoyant mentally. My doctors laugh when I tell them my secret – and believe me they all ask – but they are happy when they find out that because its also got ginseng and echinacea in it, Irena gives me every vitamin and mineral I need to boost my immunity. It has also minimised my side effects, but on days when I do suffer from sickness, the Irena makes sure I am supplementing to keep up my nutritional level". Brenda added.

But it's not only life threatening conditions which can be helped by incorporating adaptogens into the diet. Diana Wilson of Hertfordshire says that she had persistent pneumonia that the doctor said was the result of her immune system having been 'shot to bits' by stress. Despite antibiotics, she could not throw off the infection. A change to organic food, supplemented by ginseng, garlic and royal jelly helped her recover.

Adaptogens have the potential to help every person in some way and most of us could benefit from several points on this impressive wish list; more energy and stamina; a balanced appetite; a feeling of well-being; greater ability to deal with stressful situations; more productivity and motivation; improved focus and concentration; faster recovery from physical activity; better regulated menstrual cycle with less emotional difficulties; greater ability to cope with jet lag and climate change; less craving for sugar and alcohol; improved sleep; better moods; less anxiety and more enthusiasm for life.


1 Adaptogens by Robert Biddleman – former website on adaptogens, now (2002) largely non-functional and mainly on herbs –
2 Robert H Odell Jnr. MD, Ph.D. – website on adaptogen technology – (no longer a live website); Dr Z D Maxwell M B Ch B – Medical Adviser – Report on 3 month pilot trial of the effect of ME – 1989; Michael van Stratten – Foods for the Mind and Body, Harper Collins 1997.
3 Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, Ohio State University. Encyclopedia of Complementary Medicine, Dorling Kindersley 1997.
4 Dr Stephen Greer, Kings College Hospital London linked negative emotional states with disease; Dr George Solomon and Dr Rudolf Moose found that individuals who were optimistic and positive thinking did not become ill Encyclopeadia of Complementary Medicine, Dorling Kindesley 1997.


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About Irene Stein

Irene Stein has, over several decades, created numerous beauty, anti-ageing and hair growth products. She is the author of  Royal Jelly: a Guide to Nature's Richest Health Food (Harper Collins 1986) and  Irena, Health for Life: One Woman’s Quest to Improve on Nature (Irene Stein 1997). She may be contacted via Tel: 00 972 9970 8628;  07831 641199;

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