Dr. Michelle Pobega, ND has been practicing naturopathic medicine in Toronto since 2009. I first met her at my local yoga studio, Kula, and she's proven to be a trust-worthy source for science-based holistic medicine and healing.
Michelle’s positive and uplifting energy is contagious, and so I was eager to get her opinion on one of my all-time favourite topics: ADAPTOGENS!
As a Naturopathic Doctor who focuses on helping clients optimize digestion, stress management, mood and energy (inspired by her own healing journey) - as well as a total boss babe who’s tried various adaptogens in the 9 years since graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine - Michelle is the perfect person to provide a run-down on these superherbs.
“Adaptogens are used to for lack of better wording, to help the body adapt to (and recover from) the effects of chronic stress. Many adaptogenic herbs help support re-balancing cortisol levels, support mood, improve energy, cognitive function etc - all areas of physiology where optimal function can be interrupted when the body is under a prolonged or chronic state of stress.”
To Cycle - Or Not to Cycle, That is The Question…
Depending on who you speak with (or what article you read) - it’s clear that there isn’t one clear way to work with adaptogens. Some practitioners swear by cycling them on and off them for optimal efficacy - whereas others claim that’s simply a myth, and definitely not necessary.
Michelle’s perspective makes a lot of sense to me…
“From my clinical practice, I have often used adaptogenic herbs for clients that are fatigued, overworked, overwhelmed, and their HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) needs to be rebalanced or re-set.
I dose daily with adaptogens. At the onset, I'm likely advising twice a day (morning and early afternoon) to help support a revitalization effect, while working on lifestyle factors to helps support the clients daily management of the various "stressors" that place a burden on the body (emotional and mental stresses, poor diet, poor blood sugar regulation, inflammation, poor sleep etc).
Once the client is feeling more in tune with their vitality again and have regained control over the various aspects of life that can be managed or controlled, I typically decrease the daily dose, or switch to a different adaptogenic formula based on where the clients new level of support lies as they have transitioned in their health.
Eventually I take them off, and perhaps just support them more with a boosting the specific nutrients that the adrenals require to function optimally to meet the demand of modern day life. If shit hits the fan, as it periodically does in life, then adaptogens may be cycled back in as needed to help the body physiologically cope with any extra burdens.
Based on having to heal myself --> ie., dealing with stress management, mood and digestive discomfort and digestive issues (likely stemming from excessive stress and poor diet choices through university, and the stress continuing through CCNM), I've learned that stress is always going to be there, the best thing anyone can do is learn about how to cope with it and minimize its effects on the mind and body, through an upgraded diet, healthy amounts of exercise, good sleep, meditation, and therapy/counselling or some form of mental/emotional/spiritual support (for me it was and continues to be intuitive counselling and energy work), without those a pill or adaptogenic herb can only do so much.
The body is a complex of various moving parts and they all need to be supported for the system to functional optimally.”
Michelle’s 2 Herbal Picks for Overwhelmed and Fatigued Women
“Some of my favourites are formulas with Ashwagandha and/or Rhodiola at the base."
Ashwagandha (aka Withania Somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb mostly known for its restorative and rejuvenating benefits. Its a nerve tonic and an adaptogen. It can be used to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress, improve cortisol levels, improve immune function, improve energy, improve quality of sleep, support healthier thyroid function. I like it as a good general tonic that isn't too stimulating. If I need a larger boost in energy, I may look for a formula with rhodiola or a ginseng.
Rhodiola Rosea is a plant that grows at high altitudes in arctic areas, ie it thrives in a harsh climate. Those properties are what make its adaptogenic strength remarkable. It has also been found to help balance cortisol levels, supports healthier mood (such as support symptoms of anxiety or depression), increase energy, as well as mental and physical performance and vigour, without being overly stimulating.
"I find that a lot of females not only feel overwhelmed and fatigued, but also show varying symptoms of excess worry, anxiety, nervous tension and I tend to avoid overly stimulating herbs like ginsengs in most cases, and prefer using more tonifying herbs, like Ashwagandha and Rhiodiola, that support anxiety and energy in a more balanced way.”