Metabolic balance refers to the balance of catabolic (breaking down) and anabolic (building up) activity. The balance between energy input and energy expenditure is the basis for the concepts of allostasis and allostatic overload. While both processes occur continuously, anabolic processes are favored during times of rest, healing, pregnancy, lactation, and growth. Anabolic metabolism influences immune response, protein synthesis, cellular repair, cell function, and bioenergetics.
The natural aging process is associated with reduced anabolic activity and increased catabolic activity. Recovery and healing takes longer and metabolism often slows. This is exacerbated by multiple factors that can contribute to chronic illness, degenerative disease, and metabolic disease.
Allostatic overload causes accelerated catabolism and depletion of internal energy. Decreased muscle mass, lowered immune response, compromised resistance to disease, and hormonal imbalance are indicators of increased catabolic activity. Muscle wasting can become problematic in the elderly or in those with degenerative disease when it progresses to sarcopenia or cachexia.
Anabolic botanicals are not traditionally classified as adaptogens. What they share in common is the ability to restore and support metabolic homeostasis through promoting healthy anabolic processes. As we see in the metabolic model of stress and recovery, promoting anabolic function is essential to restoration of metabolic homeostasis. Russian researchers such as Ben Tabachnik were particularly excited about these compounds in regards to their ability to promote athletic endurance and stamina, and enhance recovery time from intense training regimens.
Historic Context of Anabolic Botanicals
Ben Tabachnik, PhD (1940 – 2008) was a senior scientist for the National Research Institute of Sport in Moscow during the 1970s and 1980s. He specialized in sports physiology for over 30 years and coached the Soviet Olympic sprinting team. In 1990 he immigrated to the United States where he worked as a coach and sports medicine consultant for elite athletes and with several nationally-known sports teams. He was especially interested in herbal alternatives to anabolic steroids and was among the first to introduce the concept of using specific botanicals as natural anabolic agents to improve athletic performance.
When he met professional clinical herbalist Donald Yance in the 1990s, they further developed this concept while working together. They realized that the catabolic processes of the prolonged stress response also occur during high-performance athletic training. Together and individually they made numerous contributions to the study, understanding, and clinical use of adaptogenic compounds to enhance health, athletic performance, and to support recovery from chronic and degenerative illness.
The therapeutic use of the more nonspecific, harmonizing, and restorative adaptogenic botanicals is often enhanced through combining them with herbs that work more directly to promote and restore anabolic function. A skillful blending of herbs appropriate for the individual optimizes the healing process.