Enhancing Cellular Defense Mechanisms with Adaptogens

Aging is associated with a decrease in adaptive abilities along with increased vulnerability to stress. At the same time, aging is a complex process involving a persistent activation of some stress response systems, often involving transcriptional reprogramming, and the activation of vitagenes, which can be consider a ‘geroprotective’ adaptation.13   Environmental stressors induce specific and predictable epigenetic changes that can eventually result in an adaptive response to the stimulus. It seems likely that mild stress-induced hormetic response involves mechanisms similar to those that underlie developmental epigenetic adaptations.

The illustration below shows the involvement of hormesis in the epigenetic processes that determine age-related disorders and longevity.14

adaptogens

Dose–response curve depicting the quantitative features of hormesis

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.


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Pursuit of Truth requires being and listening, rather than doing and assuming; and slowing down rather than speeding up. You must cultivate Truth. The great Eclectic School of Medicine of the early 1900’s had a Motto, which I stand by today. It read: “To Love the Truth, To Prove the Truth, To Apply the Truth, and To Promote the Truth.”

In today’s times, the term “evidence based medicine” is often used and in the past decade has been readily adopted largely by the naturopathic field when speaking in the context of plant-based medicines (the primary “toolbox” of wholistic practitioners) in an effort to gain more acceptance through applying equally high standards of “safety and validity” to those of conventional medicine. However, this is often far from what can be called “truth” since the motive behind clinical research is not to prove “truth” but to have a drug or device approved by the FDA. The problem with using “evidence based medicine” exclusively, rather than “evidence informed medicine”, which I prefer, is that the term originated from the randomized controlled trial research paradigm used to study drugs. Such clinical studies are set up specifically in a reductionist method, removing all variables, which is essential for a drug.


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In my last post, I broadly discussed the exciting field of epigenetics, which is radically changing the landscape of what we’ve long believed about genetics and biological destiny. Emerging research shows that food and herbs may be the most important factors in our genetic well-being, directly affecting our health, disease risk, and longevity.

As a clinical herbalist, I find the relationship between herbs and epigenetics particularly compelling. A large body of research shows that a wide array of botanical compounds work in a variety of ways to maintain health at the cellular level, and offer great promise in improving our molecular expression, protecting against cellular stressors and aging by normalizing gene behavior. We cannot change the genes we have, but we can positively alter the fate and behavior of our genes by supplying them with beneficial herbal and dietary compounds.

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I believe zinc deficiency might be the number one overlooked health concern facing our aging population. Zinc is an essential trace element found in every cell of your body, where it plays an important role in cellular structure, function, and metabolism. A multi-tasking mineral, zinc is required for metabolic health, immune response, reproductive health, and numerous biochemical functions. Zinc also helps preserve DNA integrity, is vital for more than 2000 transcription factors, is necessary for the production of brain neurotransmitters, and functions as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.


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First discovered in 1929, vitamin K has long been recognized as necessary for healthy blood clotting. This, of course, is a critical function—without sufficient vitamin K, we would bleed to death from even a minor wound. But in the past decade, vitamin K has been shown to play a much greater role in health than was previously recognized.

Research shows that vitamin K, in synergy with vitamin D, is an essential nutrient for building strong bones. Vitamin K also supports cardiovascular health, promotes an appropriate inflammatory response, ensures healthy cellular function, and provides redox/antioxidant activity.


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In my two previous posts on thyroid health, I discussed the potential problems associated with diagnosing and treating thyroid issues. As I stated in my first post, thyroid problems are frequently under diagnosed, primarily because of inadequate testing and incomplete understanding of the complexities of thyroid function. At the same time, thyroid problems are often treated in ways that further compromise function.


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