Chronic stress has far more serious health implications than you can ever imagine. And we are not just talking about the mental or emotional kind of stress that comes from financial worries, relationships or a work environment that is just too demanding. If you are sick, feeling too cold, suffering from a chronic infection, not eating healthy foods, taking prescription medicines, or are exposed to environmental toxins like pollution, chemicals and heavy metals, your body perceives all this as stress.
When you keep coming across these stress triggers again and again, your body responds to them in a way that negatively affects your overall well-being. Science has provided enough evidence that too much stress promotes inflammation, accelerates the process of ageing and causes debilitating, chronic disease over time - even leading to premature death. This is where adaptogens can help. These powerful herbs can help your body neutralize the harmful effects of stress in more ways than one.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are creating a lot of buzz these days and chances are you have already heard about these herbs – primarily known for their ability to support the body’s natural capacity to deal with stress and to self-heal and repair when you are going through stressful experiences. Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have been using adaptogenic herbs for centuries as ‘tonics’ or ‘rejuvenators’.
You may be familiar with the names of herbs like Reishi, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Maca, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea and Jiaogulan. Well, all of these have one thing in common. They are all adaptogens. However, not all herbs are adaptogens. Only one in 4,000 herbs can be truly classified as an adaptogen, and these herbs must have specific properties to be qualified as a real adaptogen.
- Must be completely safe with no toxic side effects even when consumed over a long period
- Must exert non-specific action on the body; i.e. should have a wide range of health benefits across multiple body systems
- Helps the body to restore overall balance by normalizing organ and system function
- Increases the body’s resistance to stress
These adaptogenic herbs achieve balance and harmony within the body through their regulating effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathoadrenal system (SAS) – comprising of endocrine, immune and nervous systems which are closely involved with how your body responds to stressors around you. And as we mentioned, these triggers could be physical, chemical, biological or even environmental. It doesn’t matter where your stress is coming from, adaptogens help you adapt, as the name itself suggests.
While each herb functions differently, their ultimate effect is to make the body resilient to stress and minimize the adverse effects. These herbs can be consumed as whole leaves (for example, holy basil), brewed into teas or can even be taken as supplements.
In this blog post, we will talk about Jiaogulan: one of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs out there. Let’s find out what makes this herb so unique and how drinking jiaogulan tea regularly can help you take control of your health again.
Jiaogulan: A potent adaptogen and antioxidant
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a herb known for its adaptogenic effects on the body. Grown in Asian countries such as China, Japan and Thailand, jiaogulan is also popularly known as the ‘Herb of Immortality’ because it’s regular use is believed to increase the life span by improving various health parameters. In a nutshell, jiaogulan prevents premature ageing of the body at the cellular level and keeps chronic, degenerative diseases at bay – resulting in a healthy, disease-free life span.
People from Southern China have been drinking jiaogulan tea for hundreds of years as a general tonic to rejuvenate body and mind. They also use it as a herbal medicine to treat various conditions such as asthma, infections, jaundice, bronchitis and colds.
Jiaogulan contains a wide range of bio-active compounds, called saponins, that make this herb truly unique. The saponins present in jiaogulan are called gypenosides and have significant health enhancing properties – making it adaptogenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, liver protective and even anti-cancerous in nature. Jiaogulan is also a source of vitamins, flavonoids, polysaccharides, amino acids and various trace minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and selenium.
Normalizing effects of Jiaogulan
Like all adaptogenic herbs, jiaogulan has normalizing effects on all major body systems – whether it is the endocrine system (hormones), nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, immune system and circulatory system. Just like a thermostat, jiaogulan senses where the imbalance lies and with a unique bi-directional approach, it works with the body to stabilize these disorders.
Not every herb or natural remedy functions this way as they usually have one directional intelligence when it comes to imparting a specific health benefit. But jiaogulan, with a bi-phasic action, supports and strengthens underlying systems, thus fine-tuning their functions and helping them to perform optimally. If a system is over-functioning, jiaogulan would help down-regulate its activity. Likewise, it would also improve the performance of a system that is under-functioning.
For example, jiaogulan simultaneously calms as well as energizes the body without causing overstimulation, unlike caffeine. It also regulates metabolism, thus exerting both weight-gain and weight-loss benefits. So, Jiaogulan basically does what needs to be done to align the body towards its centre – and restoring homeostasis.
Given it can stabilize the HPA axis, jiaogulan prevents stress taking roots in the body and thereby avoiding serious damage. It empowers the body with the adaptive energy it requires to handle stress of any kind. It is obvious that a well-balanced body is much better at dealing with internal and external stressors, recovering from diseases and healing itself.
Jiaogulan has yet another impressive property, something that is central to why it is called the herb of immortality. Jiaogulan stimulates the body to produce its own army of endogenous antioxidants – Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Glutathione and Catalase. These are some of the most powerful antioxidants that limit the damage caused by excessive production of free radicals. Unnatural stress levels (again caused by a host of biological, physical, environmental and emotional factors) lead to the production of free radicals and in amounts that is difficult for the body to neutralize on its own.
Free radicals cause cellular damage and trigger chronic inflammation and premature ageing – leading to the onset of all kinds of age-associated health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cataracts, cancer arthritis and dementia. Moreover, your body’s ability to make its own supply of antioxidants takes a hit with age. Combined, ageing and chronic stress increase your requirement of antioxidants. Jiaogulan can boost the levels of endogenous antioxidants that have many other important health enhancing benefits. For example, glutathione is a master oxidant that not only fights free radicals but also helps detox your body from a wide range of toxins.
Jiaogulan and overall homeostasis
Overall, jiaogulan’s adaptogenic and antioxidant qualities help the body modulate its response to stress and manage it much more efficiently. Jiaogulan works in a number of ways to bring an overall balance, to reduce stress and to exert longevity benefits:
- Supports adrenal health
- Modulates stress response by reducing the levels of stress hormones like cortisol
- Relaxes a hyper-excited nervous system
- Improves mood and lowers anxiety
- Promotes sound, healthy sleep
- Lowers inflammation and reduces the risk of chronic disease
- Boosts immune functions
- Supports heart health
- Relieves fatigue and improves energy levels
- Reduces symptoms of ageing
- Regulates cholesterol levels
- Regulates blood pressure and strengthens arteries
- Helps in weight loss 
- Balances blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity  
- Supports liver functions, prevents inflammation and protects liver from the damage caused by free radicals, toxins and alcohol
- Detoxifies the body as it stimulates the production of glutathione, the master antioxidant
- Assists in the fight to prevent cancer and reduces damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Improves digestion and gut health
- Reduces inflammation in the urinary bladder, thus beneficial for diabetic patients prone to developing urinary tract infections. 
- Supports lung functions and works as an effective expectorant and decongestant, thus helpful in treating asthma, bronchitis and cold.
- Protects brain health
As an adaptogen, Jiaogulan is generally a very safe herb to use. However, it is not recommended for:
- Very young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Individuals who are taking blood thinners (jiaogulan functions as an anticoagulant and prevents clot formation in the blood)
- People on immune-suppressant drugs (jiaogulan boosts immune functions)
- People on drugs that lower blood pressure
- Park et al. "Antiobesity effect of Gynostemma pentaphyllum extract (actiponin): A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." Obesity (Silver Spring, Md). 2013
- Huyen et al. Gynostemma pentaphyllum Tea Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2013
- Huyen et al. “Antidiabetic Effects of Add-On Gynostemma pentaphyllum Extract Therapy with Sulfonylureas in Type 2 Diabetic Patients,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012
- Petra Lüthjea, Ezarul Faradianna Lokmanb, c, Corine Sandströmd, Claes-Göran Östensonb, Annelie Braunera. Gynostemma pentaphyllum exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and modulates antimicrobial peptide expression in the urinary bladder. Science Direct. Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 17August 2015