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Adaptogens Part 2: Molecule of the year! The nominees are……

In my last post we started a series on the topic of adaptogens. I want to thank those of you who responded for your thoughtful comments and questions.

Today I'd like to drill down on the biological mechanisms medical researchers believe are at work in adaptogens. In general adaptogens help the human body return to a state of homeostasis, i.e. balance, after a stress has been placed on it.

Under normal conditions the return to homeostasis is driven my the release of substances know as "stress response mediators." These include cortisol, nitric oxide and stress-activated protein kinase. Adaptogens, directly or indirectly, stimulate release of these stress mediators. Essentially, they signal the sympathetic nervous system that it's ok to stop the stress response.

In the case of jiaogulan (aka Gynostemma), the primary mechanism seems to be stimulation of nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide is one of the most amazing molecules around. So amazing it was awarded the title of "molecule of the year" in 1992. Who knew there was a molecule of the year award?

The beneficial effects of increased Nitric oxide are many and deserving of a post of their own. For this series on adaptogens, I"ll just list a few of them, improved communication between cells and within the nervous system, reduced blood pressure, protection from liver damage, improved erections, reduced inflammation and improved immune response.

With all these benefits, it is actually difficult to sort out cause and effect, in terms of the adaptogenic benefits. For example, does liver function improve as a side effect of improved blood flow or is there a direct liver function benefit related to the improved inter-cellular signaling? Researchers aren't sure yet. Fortunately, for us, we don't need to know all the answers to experience the health benefits.

A few cups of Jiaogulan every day is good for you. That's really all we need to know.

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