Stress is a condition of the mind-body interaction and is perceived differently amongst individuals. The adrenal glands are walnut sized glands that sit atop the kidneys and produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Many of you have probably heard of the detrimental effects of this hormone. Elevated cortisol levels and chronic stress have the ability to affect every system in the body. Chronically elevated cortisol can burn out the adrenal glands, leading to feelings of fatigue and anxiousness. It can also make you more susceptible to weight gain, increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and bone loss.
With chronic activation of the adrenal glands, they can become overworked and overused leading to adrenal dysfunction. Burning out the adrenal glands can come in stages, each with its own tell-tale signs.
3 Stages of Adrenal Dysfunction:
Feeling ‘wired and hyper’ all the time
- Resistance Phase
- Decreasing Cortisol
- Feeling wired at night and tired during the day
- Exhaustion Phase
- Cortisol has plummeted
- Feelings of overwhelming fatigue and poor immune function are dominant
- This is the last and final stage. It is best to treat the adrenals prior to reaching this stage!
Constantly feeling tired and fatigued can make reaching for caffeine and/or sugar quite easy. However, they don’t fix the lack of energy for very long, and often will result in energy crashes soon after consumption. So, what can help us manage stress & increase energy levels better? ADAPTOGENS!
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens have been used in traditional medicine for centuries and work on the basis of prevention. They are a class of plants that help to recharge the adrenal glands and provide them with some additional support. Adaptogens can support both the brain and body. They help to increase our resilience to stress and protect us from chronically high cortisol levels, which can leave you feeling energized and calm. There are many different adaptogens out there and the one/s you choose must match the stage of adrenal dysfunction.
3 Best Herbal Supplements For Adrenal Support
Ashwagandha has been used in India for 6,000 years and is found in the dry areas of India, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa. Some of you may know it as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha is composed of many medicinal compounds like amino acids, fatty acids and choline. The root smells like "Ashva" which is the Indian word for "horse" and consuming it is said to "give the power of a horse!" That is why it is called Ashwagandha. Thus far, research studies have shown that the benefits of Ashwagandha can be:
- Reducing stress and anxiety - Ashwagandha root extract can reduce perceived stress, decrease cortisol and lower anxiety
- Enhancing sleep quality - Through its effects on the neurotransmitter, GABA
- Improving memory and cognitive impairment - Research studies have shown that
- Improve Alzheimer's - Ashwagandha can help to improve memory in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease
- Lowering inflammation - Helps to reduce inflammation in the body and can be used as a potential treatment option for inflammatory conditions like arthritis
Ashwagandha is best suited for Stage 1 + Stage 2 adrenal dysfunction, where the ‘wired but tired’ feeling is observed and is best taken before bed. Avoid taking Ashwagandha in the daytime. The recommended dose is typically 300-500 mg/day.
Caution: Do not use this herb if you are pregnant or have an autoimmune disease.
2. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is a Russian herb that works by increasing the release of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ in the body. It is used by a lot of females to provide a little extra support emotionally, physically and mentally. The benefits of Rhodiola can be:
- Regulating stress - Rhodiola regulates cortisol levels in the body by supporting the Nervous System, which helps manage stress better
- Increasing energy - Rhodiola is used in patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. It is best for fatigue related to a lack of motivation. Since Rhodiola is fast acting, it is best to take mid-day when you feel that decline in energy
- Boosting physical endurance & energy levels - Rhodiola is a top herb for endurance athletes. It helps with post-recovery due to physical exertion. Since it is fast acting, taking Rhodiola 30 minutes before a workout can help with energy levels!
- Elevating mood - Rhodiola modulates the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin in aim to provide a sense of calmness.
Rhodiola is best for Stage 2 of adrenal dysfunction. It is best to take if you are looking for a little more mental stimulation. The recommended dose is typically 200-400 mg/day.
3. Licorice Root
Licorice also known as Glycyrrhiza Glabra, acts synergistically with cortisol. It is one of the most used herbs in Traditional Chinese medicine and is specific for people with adrenal exhaustion (Stage 3). Its main medicinal properties come from the ingredient, glycyrrhizic acid, which inhibits the breakdown of cortisol. This helps to balance cortisol levels in the body and is particularly useful for Stage 3 adrenal dysfunction. The benefits of Licorice root include:
- Increasing energy and endurance - Through balancing cortisol levels
- Aiding in digestion - Licorice helps to increase saliva production and lower stomach acid which soothes the gastrointestinal tract as food makes its way down the digestive system
- Hormone balancing - Licorice promotes hormone balancing which can help to balance estrogen levels in the body. It can be used to increase ovulation and improve fertility in women with PCOS
This adaptogen is best indicated for Stage 3 adrenal dysfunction as it helps to raise cortisol levels. It is best taken in the morning for sustained energy. Aim for 1-4 grams/day
Caution: Licorice can cause salt retention, elevated blood pressure and hypokalemia. Do not take Licorice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Make sure to speak to your healthcare practitioner prior to use!
A great thing about adaptogens is that they can be used individually or in combination formulas. Picking one adaptogen or multiple adaptogens depends on your stage of adrenal dysfunction. Adaptogens work best when taken for a minimum of 3 months and as always speak to your Naturopathic Doctor or healthcare professional to see which one/s would be best for you!
Written By: Dr Saira Kassam, ND | 2017
The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.