Stress: Eleuthero

Eleuthero, a native of northeast Asia, is used in traditional Chinese medicine for general weakness and debility, lassitude, anorexia, insomnia, and dream-disturbed sleep. Its use as an adaptogen originated in the former Soviet Union, in the latter half of the twentieth century, when it was researched and promoted by scientists as a substitute for Panax ginseng, which was more expensive and less accessible. Pharmacologic studies have suggested that its effects are at least equal to, and perhaps superior to those of Panax ginseng.

Until recently referred to as Siberian ginseng, the herb is now properly referred to as Eleuthero, because of recognition that although the plants are from the same family, their actions arise from very different chemical constituents. Eleuthero’s actions much like ginseng, are considered immunomodulating, stress reducing, performance and energy enhancing, anabolic, and adapto-genic, hence the original misnomer. The herb has demonstrated the ability to improve adrenal function, stress tolerance, enhance immune function and resistance to infection including influenza, and enhance selective memory.” The plant contains phenyl-propionates (e.g., syringin, caffeic acid, sinapyl alcohol, coniferyl aldehyde), lignins (e.g., sesamin, syringoresinol and its glucoside), saponins (e.g., daucosterol, P-sitosterol, hederasaponin B), coumarins (e.g., isofraxi-din and its glucoside), vitamins (e.g., vitamin E), and provitamins (provitamin A, i.e., beta-carotene). These molecules have demonstrated a wide range of pharmacologic activities and are associated with an extensive literature base. Six secondary compounds found in Eleutherococcus have been shown to have various levels of activity, as shown in Eleutherococcus Constituents and Effects. Previously, many of these compounds were referred to as eleutherosides; however, as these compounds are not unique to this plant, and had been previously identified from other sources, the term eleutherosides is not properly applied to these constituents.

Eleutherococcus Constituents and Effects

AntioxidantSyringin, caffeic acid, caffeic acid ethyl aldehyde, coniferyl aldehyde
AnticancerSesamin, sitosterol, isofraxidin
HypocholesterolemicSesamin, sitosterol, beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterol 3-D-glucoside
ImmunostimulatorySesamin, syringin
Reduce moderate insulin levelsBeta-sitosterol and its glucoside
Anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activitiesBeta-sitosterol
Antibacterial agentCaffeic acid

Animal experiments have confirmed not only these actions but also the reduction of NK activity and the inhibition of corticosterone elevation induced by swimming stress in animal models. Stress-induced gastric ulcers have been prevented in animal models, and positive results have been shown with reduction of serum lipid-peroxide levels and improved lipid metabolism. In healthy volunteers, ingestion of fluid extracts led to markedly increased T-lymphocyte counts and studies have demonstrated overall improvements in cellular defense. Studies on athletic performance and stress response have shown that Eleuthero improves the testos-teronexortisol ratio by over 28%, a marker of reduced stress response in athletes. Clinical findings also have suggested that patients with moderate fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome may benefit from use of Eleuthero, and that older adults may safely experience improvement in some aspects of mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks of therapy, although these differences attenuate with continued use. Eleuthero also has been shown to cause reductions in cardiovascular stress response in healthy patients. Eleuthero is considered to have a high safety profile. Russian studies have noted a general absence of side effects and adverse reactions, and there are no expected significant herb-drug interactions; however, its use is not recommended for patients with hypertension or during acute phase of infection, although it may be combined with antibiotics for treatment of dysentery.S’ The German Commission E considers it an invigorating tonic to be used in cases of fatigue, decreased work capacity and concentration, and for convalescence.S’ It is not heating or stimulating to the degree of ginseng or Schisandra. In fact, herbalists consider it a generally neutral herb that can be used by anyone.