Monday, March 31, 2008

Medicinal Herbs for Athletes -- TONICS

3 Herbal Categories Useful for Athletes:

· Tonics – increase energy, increase endurance, and stimulate the immune system.
· Nervines – resolve pain, nourish nerve tissues, relieve muscle spasms, and calm and relax the mind.
· Topical Preparations – formulas used to relieve strains, sprains, soreness, and

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), exercise is essential to maintain health. Physical activity promotes the flow of Qi –which is our life force or energy, and promotes the flow of blood throughout our circulatory system.

However, excessive exercise is considered to be taxing to the body and may lead to “deficiencies” within the body. Rest is considered to be the primary method for preventing deficiencies and to ensure the body has time to rebuild and maintain Qi and Blood.

The concept of Yin and Yang is the foundation of TCM. Yin is considered feminine, fluid, cool, and nourishing; and Yang is considered masculine, drying, warm, and stimulating. Running, is considered to be a Yang activity, and should be balanced with Yin activities such as Yoga, stretching, swimming, easy cycling, or Tai Chi. Cross-training with Yin activities will help to promote balance within the structural body.

The use of herbs as medicine and food has been occurring as long as humans have walked (or run!) the Earth. Ideally, our food should be our primary medicine, and we can supplement our food with specific herbs to enhance the tonifying and nutritional value of food. A diet consisting mostly of whole grains, legumes, steamed or sautéed vegetables, and moderate amounts of protein will help to maintain our health, and support our body—especially during periods of high intensity training. Supplementing our diets with specific herbs can be useful in maintaining our immune system, supporting and tonifying specific organ groups, and enhancing endurance.

Additionally, the use of external herbal preparations can help to alleviate sore muscles, strains, and sprains.

Herbs are biochemically available to our bodies, and our bodies have had millennia to create receptors for the constituents present in herbs. Synthetic pharmaceuticals have been around for about 100 years, and are useful for certain conditions. Herbs generally work by helping to support the body as necessary, enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself without masking symptoms or driving illness deeper within the body.

Most people are familiar with the tonic herb Ginseng (Panax ginseng), which is widely used around the world to increase energy, strength, and endurance, as well as to stimulate the immune system. There are actually six kinds of “Ginseng” used in TCM, and only two are actual Ginsengs. The other herbs share similar qualities as ginseng. Ginsengs are considered to be the Kings of all tonics, but each type has specific actions on the body, and not all are appropriate for everyone.

As athletes, we are exerting stress upon our bodies during periods of heavy training. In using tonics, we can help to counteract that stress, and maintain a strong, healthy body.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
One tonic that is very useful for most athletes is the Siberian Ginseng. This herb is considered to be a Qi tonic, and counteracts stress and fatigue. Additionally, it is prescribed for rheumatic conditions, and is considered to be antispasmodic—helping to reduce muscle spasms. Siberian Ginseng can be taken daily by athletes to increase stamina.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps spp.)
In China, Cordyceps is considered to be virtually essential for athletes who rely on strength, speed of foot, and endurance. Recent Research has shown that Cordyceps is restorative after excessive exertion, and it may improve physical endurance. Cordyceps helps restore cellular energy levels during times of high stress. It helps boost functions associated with the adrenal cortex that aid in the adaptation to stress. Cordyceps increases respiratory capacity and efficiency. Cordyceps is also an immune-stimulant. Cordyceps has been shown to benefit the vascular system, improving the function of circulation at the capillary level. According to TCM principles, Cordyceps is used to tonify Qi, replenish Yin and Yang “Essence”, (which is thought to be the very foundation of our life-giving energy), strengthen the body and mind, and is said to be “anti-aging” and have rejuvenative capability.

Cordyceps is one of the absolute coolest fungi on the planet. The spores invade the pupae of various species of caterpillars, use the infant caterpillar as food, overtake the pupae and eventually sprout a fruiting body.

Lycii Berries (Lycium barbarum and L. chinensis)

This delicious fruit of the Wolfberry bush is very widely used throughout Asia and is thought of as a superb Yin and Blood tonic. The fruit is easily added to cereals, yogurt, and trail mix. You can find it at health food stores in a product called Himalmania. It is sometimes called Goji berry. We have several related species here in the SW, and this popular xeriscape plant is easily found at most local nurseries. Recent research has shown that Lycii fruit has significant antioxidant activity. Lycii berries may help athletes produce more lean muscle mass and experience strength gains. The berries contains substances that protect DNA, they contains polysaccharides that have been demonstrated to stimulate the immune system. Zeaxanthin, a carotenoid abundant in Lycii berries, may produce functional improvement in vision. It has been reported that it could markedly increase androgen levels in the blood, making patients feel more energetic.

In TCM Lycii is used as a Liver and Blood Tonic, it nourishes the vital essence of the body, calms the heart and the nervous system. It is said to brighten the eyes, promote cheerfulness and vitality. It is also said to strengthen the legs.

Reishi Mushroom / Ling Zhi (Ganoderma lucidum)

In China, Reishi is called the Herb of Immortality, and is thought of as the premier herb for longevity and health. Reishi is abundant in chemical constituents known as polysaccharides, which play an important role in strengthening the body's overall immune functions. Extensive research has been performed on the constituents present in Reishi. Research has proven Reishi to be anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, anti-hypotensive, and hepatoprotective. It has also been found to inhibit platelet aggregations, and to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Ganoderic acids in Reishi inhibit histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions. Ganoderic acids are potent antioxidant free-radical scavengers. Reishi may improve the physical condition of the cardiovascular system. Reishi stimulates the production of interferon and interleukins I and II, which are potent natural immunity-boosting substances produced in our own bodies. According to TCM Reishi is a Qi, Essence, and Shen (Mind) Tonic. It is said to protect the entire body, it nurtures the heart, protects the liver, and promotes calmness, centeredness, balance, inner awareness, and inner strength.
Nervines are next...

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