Building Resilience: Adaptogens for Changing Times

Feeling tired, anxious, or overwhelmed? You are not alone. Much has been going on in the world, which can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or fatigue. Or, it may just be the stressors of everyday life that are impacting your wellbeing. Now is the perfect time to focus on building resilience for the coming winter months, and the rest of the year, as we continue to navigate changing times.

Resilience is defined as being able to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, stress, or illness. Often primarily thought of as mental or emotional, there are in fact ways we can support our physical resilience, which in turn can positively impact mental and emotional resilience, thus influencing our overall wellbeing. Aside from the basics (eating well, exercising, and getting good rest) specific medicinal plants known as ‘adaptogens’ can be used by almost anyone to support their ability to cope with stress.

An adaptogen is a term for a safe and non-toxic medicinal plant that promotes balance in the body, one that can positively reduce the stress response, normalise body functions, and strengthen body systems compromised by stress. To put it simply, they help you to adapt.

Once reserved for royalty, Vikings, and Olympic athletes, these plants were first formally studied in World War II. Scientists had observed their traditional use by hunters needing to maintain resilience and stamina, whilst reducing hunger and exhaustion. They trialled them in enhancing the performance and endurance of soldiers and pilots. Results showed promise, and their modern-day use began. 

The plants themselves often grow in unfavourable conditions; high altitudes, harsh winters, or dry summers – some even survived the ice age! It is believed their learned ability to adapt to these growing conditions is what makes them so beneficial as a natural medicine.  They work by supporting stability in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands, thus modulating the release of stress hormones. This leads to their array of beneficial effects including the potential to enhance mood, energy and immune function, whilst reducing anxiety. Below is a small selection worth considering.

Korean Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Whilst a few different herbs are referred to as ‘ginseng’, Korean or panax ginseng is the ‘true’ ginseng. Possibly the most stimulating of the adaptogens, it is particularly useful in cases of fatigue and convalescing, and is beneficial to certain chronic disease states. It has also been shown to support memory, cognition and low mood. Males with low stamina, menopausal women and the elderly may particularly benefit from this ginseng.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero)
Similar to its not-quite-related ‘cousin’ Korean ginseng, Siberian ginseng also acts as a mild stimulant and supports the immune system, alongside being a general ‘tonic’. It is a good choice for those who may find Korean ginseng too stimulating, but need energy and immune function gently restored, such as children or anxiety-prone individuals.

Astragalus is an adaptogen that is particularly effective at strengthening the immune system. It is useful in cold and flu prevention, as well as during recovery and convalescing, for example after glandular fever. It is safe for all ages and also supports cardiovascular function, making it an ideal tonic for the elderly. 

Withania (Ashwagandha)
This Indian herb is ideal for ‘wired but tired’ people. It has been shown to be beneficial for anxiety, insomnia and fatigue. It has a stronger sedative action than many adaptogens therefore is useful in cases of nervous fatigue. Withania also helps to support the immune system and is used as a tonic for debility and weakness in children and the elderly.

Reishi Mushroom
Reishi is unique in that it is a medicinal mushroom. Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years throughout Asia for their health-giving properties; Reishi is known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’! It is particularly beneficial for supporting the immune system and has also been used traditionally to calm the mind, enhance meditative practices and support sleep.

Adaptogens can be consumed in many forms including teas, powders, tablets, or tinctures. Their strength and quality vary widely, particularly now adaptogens are gaining in popularity and there are many options to choose from. Whilst mild effects may be experienced from drinking teas or from other low-dose preparations, we typically recommend taking them as a high-potency tablet or tincture for an initial period of 4-6 weeks to ensure full benefits are received. They’re also not something you can simply take for immediate relief. Their effects build over time and can be subtle and easier to notice in retrospect. Typical comments include “Wow… I coped with that situation a lot better than I did in the past!”.

If the above sounds of interest to you, and you wish to explore taking adaptogens, consider seeking the advice of a qualified Naturopath or Medical Herbalist. They can safely guide you in finding which herb (or combination) will best suit your situation, taking into account your overall health status and any medications you may be on, as well as ensuring the quality and strength is appropriate. At The Herbal Dispensary, we have a team of three Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists who are always happy to help support you with your health, adaptogens or otherwise. You are welcome to give us a ring any day of the week or book a consultation for more in-depth support.