Very simply, adaptogens are nontoxic, produce a nonspecific defensive response to stress and have a normalizing influence on the body. As defined, adaptogens constitute a new class of natural, homeostatic metabolic regulator. — David Winston and Steven Maimes
Paul Bergner has a very interesting slide presentation titled the Dark Side of Adaptogens. Unfortunately this paper does not appear to be available online anymore, but it still available as part of the Fatigue: Pathophysiology, Natural Therapeutics, and Adaptogens course.
The subtitle to this talk on the Dark Side of Adaptogens is “How the indiscriminate use of tonic herbs can promote burnout and deep injury to the endocrine system”.
One of the parts I found most interesting about this talk was questioning the need for an adaptogenic approach when tonic herbs already have a well defined role within the traditional systems of health. Tonic herbs are used in very careful ways at the appropriate times with the appropriate indications. The modern usage of adaptogens as a silver bullet, in isolation, and without a holistic consideration or the backing of a well assessed health restoration plan can do more harm than good.
Tonifying herbs strengthen the processes of the body, including the pathogenic processes. Thus tonifying herbs should not be prescribed in cases where there are still signs of an exterior disorder. If they are, the exterior disorder will linger on. — Bensky and Gamble (Chinese Materia Medica)
We have a thread started on our discussion forums to discuss adaptogens.