Herbal Medicine: Ancient yet Relevant

How Chinese Medicine Can Improve Your Life

Herbal Medicine Week takes place June 2016 – a great time to address the relevance of herbal medicine in today’s society. As alternative medicines and therapies such as acupuncture and cupping gain in popularity, there has never been a better time to learn about herbal supplementation, particularly now that Herbal regulations are under scrutiny.

I regularly use Chinese Herbal Medicine in my clinic – natural herbs each with their own specific characteristic and medical use – to treat different issues and help rectify the over-activity or under-activity of yin and yang, energy and blood and help restore the body to its normal physiological functions. Herbs have been used for centuries and once they affect the body in any way, they are considered medicines. There are many different families of herbs, such a Adaptogens.

I’d like to introduce you my favoured category that I consider to be the ‘Powerhouse’ of Herbs – known as ADAPTOGENS.

What are Adaptogens?

Modern Western scientists investigated these particular herbs in the late 1940s and the term ‘adaptogen’ was established.

Key features:

Non-toxic even in high dosage; Produce a balanced defence against stress; normalise the whole body towards homeostasis – the internal system’s ability to remain constant and balanced despite external stressors.

Homeostasis is the internal system’s ability to remain constant and balanced despite the external stressors. Hormones are kicked into high gear to create fight or flight responses when dangers appear. Thousands or even hundreds of years ago, stressors were mostly life and death matters.

For most of us, today’s dangers are usually less dramatic. But the body’s internal reactions remain the same. And usually we don’t fight or flight! The resultant stress and anxiety created causes poor health and accelerates ageing process.

How they work:

Support the adrenal function, counteracting the adverse effects of stress; Enable the body’s cells to have access to more energy; Helps cells to eliminate toxic by-products of the metabolic process; Provide an building-up effect and can regulate adrenal hormones; Help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently; Enhance the proper regulation of bio-rhythms; Neutralises stress and fatigue; Enhances mental and physical performance.

In general, adaptogens work by

  1. Support the adrenal function, thus counteracting the adverse effects of stress;
  2. Enable the body’s cells to have access to more energy
  3. Help cells to eliminate toxic by-products of the metabolic process
  4. Provide an anabolic (building-up) effect, hence they regulate adrenal hormones
  5. Help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently
  6. Enhancing and speeding the proper regulation of bio-rhythms
  7. Neutralises stress and fatigue.
  8. Enhances mental & physical performance.

The mechanism as to how adaptogens vitalize the body to achieve high mental and physical performance has been studied extensively in the former Soviet Union, Japan, Germany, Sweden and the United States.

When adaptogens are present, the adrenal gland hormone output is efficient and conserved in response to physical and environmental stress. The body response is efficient, and energy and hormone output is efficient and conserved. The Adaptogens allow one to obtain extra stamina and energy. During physical activity, more glucose is released into the blood. The adaptogens help the glucose cross the barriers and enter the tissues more easily. Also, the elevated levels of glucose have been observed to return to normal more quickly in the presence of adaptogens. After taking adaptogens, there is more energy available to carry out difficult tasks, to perform better with less fatigue. Thus, the body can achieve high mental and physical performance. In the former USSR, pilots, astronauts, athletes and workers in many other occupations have effectively put adaptogens to work.
The Soviet Olympic and elite athletes have routinely included adaptogens in their sports training programs to achieve maximum performance without side effects.

Here are some indicative adaptogenic herbs:

Ashwagandha: For a mental kick-start
This tonic is wonderful for exhaustion, memory loss, muscle weakness, and insomnia. It benefits the ‘resistance’ and ‘exhaustion’ phases of adrenal fatigue. It is capable of normalizing cortisol levels, whether they are too high or low.

Astragalus or Chinese Milk Vetch: For a super-charged energy boost
Classic Chinese herbal energy tonic with considerable immune-enhancing properties: tones the adrenals, lungs and spleen. It is antiviral, antispasmodic, improves glucose tolerance and fluid balance.

Borage: For improving convalescence
This helps to restore the adrenal glands after internal stress of cortisone or steroid use. Often used after fevers as a diaphoretic and long term for convalescence. Thanks to its emollient and anti-inflammatory action it’s useful in respiratory ailments. Can also be used to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers.

ashwagandha-bsp Astragalus

Dang Shen: For an anti-oxidant surge Western research has demonstrated its strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and analgesic capabilities. Used in Chinese medicine for fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and vertigo.

Devil’s Club Root: For stabilising blood sugar
This has a balancing effect on the endocrine system and is used for those whose energy levels vary considerably during the day – so is used for the treatment of diabetes, and unstable blood sugar. Also used to treat tuberculosis, swollen glands, burns, wounds, and stress headaches.

Fo-ti, Ho Shou Wu: For overall rejuvenation
Used to treat dizziness, weakness and numbness, and helps to support the healthy function of the liver and kidneys.

dang-shen devil he_shou_wu

Rhodiola or Golden Root: For improving body resistance to stress
It works to improve immune function, and helps with depression, long-term memory and cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).

Korean Ginseng: For increasing physical performance and mental endurance
Used to treat adrenocortical hypo-function – stimulates the adrenal gland and helps to increase the ability to handle stress and improve mental fatigue and physical endurance. Great for adrenal exhaustion, supports immune function, improves visual acuity, and supports faster post-op healing.

Licorice Root: For a serious body boost
Increases cortisol levels and mitigates problems with low blood pressure. Helps with adrenal exhaustion, including Addison’s disease. Also works as an anti-inflammatory, mild laxative, pancreatic tonic, and an immune stimulant with anti-viral properties. Can also be used topically for herpes, eczema and psoriasis.


Korean-ginseng licorice-isp


American Ginseng: For achieving balance
A great example of an adaptogenic herb with a balancing adrenal effect – it helps with nervous exhaustion from overwork, boosts heart and blood circulation. Helps to treat diabetes, depression,general lassitude, and irritability, lack of concentration, worry, neurosis and depression.

Schisandra: For beauty and vitality
Renowned as a beauty tonic, it’s considered to be a youth preserving herb. It has been used for centuries to make the skin soft, moist and radiant. It is also said to be a powerful tonic to the brain and mind, and is believed in China to improve memory. It is also said to be an excellent sexual stimulant. It is said to strengthen the whole body, preventing poor liver function and strengthening kidney function.

Shatavari: For a power pick-me-up
Similar to Korean Ginseng: Topically great for relieving stiffness in the body. Also helps to restore fluids, soothes inflammation. Useful for treating dysentery, diarrhoea, stomach ulcers, coughs, and dehydration.


American-Ginseng schisandra

Wild Yam: For natural pain relief

Anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, anti-rheumatic – it can also help with nausea in pregnancy, uterine and ovarian pain and diverticulosis.


Adaptogens are not vitamins. They are not a medicines that cure any particular illness or condition. It effectively assists the body in using its own resources to achieve optimum levels of physical, mental and emotional health.

Most people are not aware of any obvious changes during the first few days or weeks. Over time, however, you may begin to notice important long-term improvements, resulting from your body’s internal balance and wellbeing.

For more information, contact The John Tsagaris Clinic, Chelsea, London Tel: +44 203 489 9779, www.johntsagaris.co.uk