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Exploring Eleuthero: Origins, Benefits, and Promise of an Adaptogenic Botanical

Published on November 28, 2023


By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

http://lisastockwell.com/
Exploring Eleuthero: Origins, Benefits, and Promise of an Adaptogenic Botanical
Exploring Eleuthero: Origins, Benefits, and Promise of an Adaptogenic Botanical

Since 1947, when a Russian scientist first studied Eleuthero and introduced the concept of an adaptogen — a substance that could promote stamina and wellness without negative side effects — this herb has been considered one of the premier adaptogens. REF#3180

With a centuries’ long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and promising findings from modern research, Eleuthero has shown its potential to help the body adapt to a variety of stressors.

In this article, we’ll explore the history, traditional uses, active compounds, and scientifically-backed benefits of this adaptogenic herb. 

The Fascinating History of Eleuthero

Eleuthero is native to regions of North East China, Eastern Russia, Korea, and Japan. It is sometimes referred to as Siberian ginseng, but this is a misnomer since the plant has different chemical components from American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng). To avoid confusion, the use of the name “Siberian Ginseng,” and any other commercial use of the word “ginseng” for an herb that is not in the genus Panax, was banned in the United States by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.REF#3181 

Eleuthero has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years to invigorate qi (energy) and increase stamina. It has also been used traditionally to support nervous and mood disorders, including sleep that is disturbed by too many dreams. Because of its bitter taste, the Eleuthero root is often prepared as a tonic and mixed in sweet rice wine. The root and leaves may also be used to make tea. 

Eleuthero gained wider recognition in the 1950s after Russian pharmacologist, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, began pursuing a performance tonic that would give Russians an edge in the Cold War without producing negative side effects. After his mentee and colleague, Dr. Israel l. Brekhman, suggested he focus on plant-based medicine, he coined the term adaptogen to describe a category of herbs that could help keep the body in balance in spite of physical, emotional, chemical, and biological stress. 

The two scientists worked together to uncover the mysteries of adaptogenic herbs. They first studied Panax Ginseng, but switched to Eleuthero because it was cheaper and more available in the USSR. They recognized Eleuthero as an important adaptogen for its balancing and protective effects on the body. 

Between 1962, when the herb was first officially introduced as a medicinal plant in the pharmacopeia of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and 1986, Eleuthero was the subject of over 1,000 published studies in the U.S.S.R. It’s believed that during that time, Eleuthero was given to Russian cosmonauts to help them in the Space Program and to Russian athletes to excel at the Olympics.

These studies were not available to the public until after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. In 2021, a systematic review of 46 of these studies made the findings available to the international scientific community. These studies concluded that Eleuthero did “exhibit benefits for cognitive function and physical and mental endurance.”REF#3182 

Most studies today are based on the early work of Drs. Lazarev and Brekhman. However, few clinical studies have been done since to duplicate the positive results noted in the Soviet studies.

Active Compounds in Eleuthero

While traditional use and anecdotal evidence are helpful in understanding the value of herbs, modern science works to identify the specific bioactive compounds in herbs and understand their mechanisms of action to validate their use as supplements. The primary compounds in Eleuthero include:

  • Eleutherosides: Eleuthero contains a group of compounds called eleutherosides that are found in its roots and stems. These include syringin and syringaresinol. The eleutherosides are thought to be responsible for many of Eleuthero's adaptogenic effects, including combating fatigue. Studies show eleutherosides can increase endurance, lower blood lactate levels, and enhance lipid metabolism.REF#3183
  • Triterpenoid saponins: These compounds may help support a normal inflammatory response. 
  • Coumarins: Eleuthero contains antioxidant compounds called coumarins, such as isofraxidin. 
  • Flavones: These bioactive plant pigments have antioxidant abilities.
  • Polysaccharides: These compounds have been found to support a healthy immune system.

While these active compounds are believed to help the body manage stress and exert a balancing effect, more research is required.

Potential Benefits of Eleuthero Supported By Research

In time, further investigation of Eleuthero's bioactive ingredients and their interactions may uncover exactly how and to what extent this botanical affects stress resilience and promotes homeostasis. Existing research, traditional use, and anecdotal evidence suggest it is one of nature’s gifts that can help us cope with the many stresses and challenges we face in our ever-changing world.

Bbased on current research, there are four potential benefits worth noting.

1. Eleuthero May Support Healthy Energy and Stamina Levels

The review of USSR studies concluded that Eleuthera provided benefits for both physical and mental endurance.REF#3182 

Some recent studies have shown Eleuthero enhances physical performance and endurance in both trained athletes and untrained individuals, but results have been mixed. In one small eight-week human study of recreational male athletes, Eleuthero was found to significantly enhance endurance capacity and elevate cardiovascular functions, demonstrating the promise of this herb for endurance.REF#3184 However other studies with athletes have shown no benefit from the use of Eleuthero supplementation. More research is required.

2. Eleuthero May Support a Healthy Stress Response

Research shows Eleuthero may help humans adapt to stress and reduce symptoms of burnout and fatigue caused by stress.REF#3185 In one study where healthy adults were subjected to a stressful cognitive test, Eleuthero reduced their cardiovascular response to stress while a placebo had no effect.REF#3186 

In an animal study where mice were deprived of sleep, Eleuthero was effective in relieving behavioral issues caused by sleep deprivation.REF#3187 

3. Eleuthero May Support Brain Health

Some studies have indicated Eleuthero can improve memory and concentration. A small pilot clinical trial of 40 healthy women showed a positive response in mental performance to an adaptogenic blend of Rhodiola Rosea, Schisandra Chinensis, and Eleuthero. In comparison to placebo, subjects who took the Eleuthero blend demonstrated enhanced attention, increased speed, and improved accuracy on cognitive tasks performed under stressful conditions. Those using the Eleuthero supplement also had a lower percentage of errors, indicating better accuracy, work quality, and care while multitasking in a stressful environment.REF#3188

Another small human study of 20 elderly and hypertensive adults showed an improvement in social functioning and mental health after four weeks. However, by eight weeks those results diminished, suggesting that Eleuthero may only have short-term effect.REF#3189

A promising animal study published in 2019 determined that an Eleuthero leaf extract enhanced cognitive function in young mice.REF#3190 Another animal study showed that Eleuthero enhanced learning and memory in experimentally aged rats.REF#3191

Due to the mixed results of these studies, more research is needed to determine the effects of Eleuthero on brain health.

4. Eleuthero May Provide Immune Support

One human placebo-controlled study on 36 healthy volunteers showed Eleuthero increased important immune cells that help the body fight illness and may also protect the immune system from toxins and harmful compounds.REF#3192 

Several animal studies have shown Eleuthero to counteract suppression caused by toxic metals like cadmium, improve survival when exposed to insecticides, and shield animals from harmful inflammation and cell damage when they experience endotoxin shock.REF#3193 

These studies suggest that Eleuthero may act as an immune system modulator, enhancing immune response when needed while also protecting the body from overreacting. More research is still required to fully understand how Eleuthero interacts with the complex immune system.

In summary, Eleuthero shows promise in supporting performance, cognition, and overall health and vitality. The adaptogenic qualities may benefit both healthy and compromised individuals. With increasing scientific inquiry, our understanding of Eleuthero's effects in the body will continue to grow, shedding light on the full range of benefits this botanical may offer.

Eleuthero Precautions and Side Effects

Eleuthero should not be taken by children. It is considered safe for most adults when taken at recommended dosages. Human trials have shown no adverse effects when Eleuthero is taken as directed for several months. 

However, if you have a chronic health condition, take medication, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, you should not take this herb without talking with your healthcare provider.

It is suggested that it should not be used for more than two months at a time, with a two week break between uses. At least one study has shown that it loses effect after four weeks.

When selecting Eleuthero supplements, it’s important to choose products that contain Eleutherococcus senticosus rather than other Eleutherococcus species or the herb Periploca since there is some issue with adulterated Eleuthero products in the United States.

Other Adaptogens to Consider for Your Overall Well-being

There are several other adaptogens to consider for promoting vitality and welll-being. As research helps explain the mechanisms and applications of Eleuthero and other adaptogens, these botanicals are likely to become invaluable tools for enhancing whole-body health and resilience. Consider incorporating one or more of these other adaptogens into your wellness regimen.

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