4 adaptogens emerge for immunity

March 29, 2023

By Holly E. Johnson, AHPA | Natural Products Insider

Botanical dietary supplements related to immune function have been in high demand for the past several years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. For example, elderberry experienced over 100% growth in both 2018 and 2019, and in 2019 three of the top four selling botanicals in the mainstream channel were from the immune health category.

While elderberry and echinacea are two of the most popular herbs that have long been associated with immune support and are well-studied for immunity endpoints, there is increased research interest in a group of botanicals called adaptogens that show activity as immune modulators

Awareness of the benefits of adaptogens has been galvanized by the need for efficient tools to manage stress in the everyday lives of modern humans, as these herbs are associated with resilience and are generally marketed to support mental stamina and help the body cope with stress

The concept of adaptogens in human health has roots in a 1936 letter to the editor of Nature by Hans Selye where the classic general adaptation syndrome was first proposed, the gist being that a stressor causes a temporary decrease in function followed by an adaptation that improves function and maintains homeostasis. During the 1940s in the context of WWII, the theory that a pill could improve mental and physical performance in healthy people was proposed and various substances perceived as stimulants were tested on pilots and submarine crews. In the 1950s and 1960s scientists further developed the idea of using medicinal plants to increase stamina and survival in stressful or potentially harmful environments, and the concept of “adaptogens” was introduced by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1958. Adaptogens were originally described as enhancing the state of non-specific resistance, and as leading to increased working capacity and performance in an environment of fatigue and stress, regardless of the nature of the stressor.

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