Medicinal Plant Research Experts Publish Extensive Review on Adaptogens

On October 25, 2020, the scientific journal Medicinal Research Reviews published a review entitled “Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress‐ and aging‐related diseases.”1 This paper, written by 11 medicinal plant experts, comes at a time when herbal adaptogens are becoming more widely used by proactive health consumers to deal with increasing mental and physical stress.

The concept of adaptogenic herbs was established in the years after World War II in Russia, but has gained acceptance around the world as evidenced by the market success of many adaptogens such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), and rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea).

The publication is 74-pages long and cites 628 references. Adaptogens are introduced by providing definitions from various authors over 60 years. This is an important aspect of the paper, since the idea of what an adaptogen exactly is has changed over time, and given the current trendiness of the word, is sometimes inappropriately used by marketers, which can lead to confusion with consumers. The authors also discuss the common principles of “adaptogenic” herbs in various systems of traditional herbal medicine in Asia and Europe and provide a list of 109 plant species that are listed in the literature as adaptogenic or anti-stress herbs.

Much of the review focuses on the  physiological mechanisms that underly the adaptogenic effects, and which signaling pathways in the human body are impacted by the adaptogenic response. This large body of evidence is contrasted by a comparatively short paragraph on the results of clinical studies involving the adaptogens andrographis (Andrographis paniculata), ashwagandha, Asian ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola, and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis).

In the current time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to cope with loss of loved ones, an uncertain work situation, or to adapt to a new lifestyle, many people appear to be including adaptogenic herbs in their self-care routines. While there are still many gaps in the knowledge about adaptogens, this paper gives an in-depth summary about the current state of science in this important field of herbal medicine. Medicinal Research Reviews is a high impact factor open-access journal, and the paper can be accessed using the link here.


1. Panossian AG, Efferth T, Shikov AN, Pozharitskaya ON, Kuchta K, Mukherjee PK, Banerjee S, Heinrich M, Wu W, Guo D, Wagner H. Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress‐ and aging‐related diseases. Med Res Rev. 2020;40(6):1-74.