Adaptogenic herbs are a unique category of herbs that are known to support adrenal health and regulate cortisol. And that’s something we could all benefit from because the stress and overwhelm that is part of many people’s lives can lead to high cortisol and adrenal dysfunction. So, in this article we’re going to look at some adaptogenic herbs for adrenal fatigue and how they can help to support overall health and well-being.
More specifically, we will look at:
- Commons signs of adrenal fatigue.
- How adaptogenic herbs work.
- 7 adaptogen that can help lower cortisol and support adrenal health.
- Guidelines for safe use of adaptogens.
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WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Although adrenal fatigue is a controversial topic – most of its proponents are alternative health practitioners – the symptoms associated with it can be quite similar to those associated with adrenal insufficiency (aka Addison’s Disease).
Now, just in case you’re not familiar with adrenal insufficiency, it’s a medical condition that occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer able to make sufficient amounts of cortisol and aldosterone (source). As a whole, adrenal insufficiency is said to be triggered by an auto-immune response.
On the other hand, proponents of adrenal fatigue state that the underlying trigger is stress of any kind. So, think unhealthy food, emotional worries, an infection. They’re all stressors.
And when we’re experiencing stress, the adrenals produce cortisol as our first line of defense. However, chronic stress means the adrenals continue to pump out more cortisol.
The theory behind adrenal fatigue states that eventually, the adrenals become fatigued. They’re unable to sustain the high levels of cortisol production that the body needs. As a result, some symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include (source):
- low energy (especially in the morning) as well as energy dips throughout the day.
- mood swings.
- cravings for sweet or salty foods.
- weakened immune system.
- increased use of stimulants like caffeine.
- brain fog and cognitive impairment.
- weight gain.
- low libido.
Basically, the main thing to note here is that before the adrenals become “fatigued” there’s a period of time during which they’re working overtime, producing a lot of cortisol. So, during that time, cortisol is high.
However, if the problem isn’t addressed then there comes a point when the adrenals can’t keep up cortisol will be low.
Neither scenario is ideal because the adrenal function is out of balance.
Also, it’s worth noting that the adrenals also produce some of our sex hormones (source). So, anything that disrupts healthy adrenal function could also affect all of the other hormones produced by these glands.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADAPTOGEN FOR ADRENAL FATIGUE?
Maca, rhodiola, eleuthero, ashwagandha, holy basil, schisandra and reishi mushrooms are adaptogenic herbs that can be used to support the adrenals. As adaptogens, they help to regulate cortisol production, create an overall sense of calm, support detoxification and improve the body’s use of oxygen (source).
So, this means that with regular use of adaptogens, the body’s stress response system can work more efficiently and cortisol production can be adjusted as needed (up-regulated or down-regulated).
Now, let’s have a look a closer look at the properties and benefits of each adaptogen for adrenal fatigue:
Grown in the Andes Mountains in South America, maca comes in yellow, red and black varieties.
This potent (and surprisingly yummy) root has historically been used to (source):
- Boost energy.
- Improve sleep quality.
- Enhance mood.
- Reduce anxiety.
- Increase libido.
- Improve menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.
- Support fertility.
2. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is most known for its ability to regulate cortisol production during stressful times and therefore, prevent the adrenals from burning out (source).
In addition, rhodiola also (source):
- Improves focus and concentration.
- Boosts physical performance.
- Eases depression and anxiety.
- Lowers (and in some cases, eliminates) binge eating.
3. Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)
Eleuthero comes with a laundry list of benefits related to adrenal fatigue and overall health.
Here’s an overview of what eleuthero has to offer (source):
- Boosts immunity.
- Improves chronic fatigue symptoms.
- Treats insomnia.
- Increases energy.
- Supports heart health.
- Improves athletic performance.
- Used to treat arthritis, kidney disease and other chronic conditions.
Known to stabilize mood, restore healthy cortisol levels and improve insulin sensitivity, ashwangandha is one of the most popular adaptogens for adrenal fatigue.
In addition, to the above, this popular Ayurvedic herb can also help:
- Balance the immune system.
- Improve estrogen and progesterone levels.
- Support healthy thyroid function.
- Act as a natural tonic to reduce inflammation, and promote overall health and longevity.
- Protect the brain from oxidative stress.
5. Holy Basil (aka Tulsi)
Like many adaptogenic herbs, holy basil has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
It provides a wide variety of benefits, such as (source):
- Lowering stress.
- Fighting off viruses, bacteria and fungi.
- Reducing inflammation.
- Lowering blood sugar.
- Improving depression and anxiety.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to depression and anxiety, some research shows that holy basil can be as effective as prescription drugs.
6. Schisandra Berry
One of the main benefits of schisandra (sometimes written as schizandra) berry is its ability to improve liver function.
A healthy liver means your body is able to eliminate toxins that contribute to chemical stress.
And less chemical stress means your stress response system and adrenals are not constantly being triggered!
In addition to the above, schisandra can also improve (source):
- Night sweats.
- Memory loss.
7. Reishi Mushrooms
Animal and human studies show that reishi mushrooms are beneficial for (source):
- Improving sleep.
- Fighting stress.
- Boosting energy.
- Supporting the immune system.
- Enhancing strength and stamina.
HOW TO USE ADAPTOGENS FOR ADRENAL AND CHRONIC FATIGUE
To get the benefits of adaptogenic herbs for adrenal health, you can take them in the form of a:
Tea is a soothing and effective way to enjoy the medicinal properties of herbs.
Generally speaking, you need 1 teaspoon of dried herb for every cup of boiling water.
And you also want to let the herbs steep in the water for at least 15 minutes.
There’s just one thing to watch out for with adaptogens: some of them don’t taste all that great!
So, you’ll have to play around a little to find a blend that tastes good and addresses your adrenal fatigue symptoms.
Tinctures are super convenient and easy to absorb.
While it is possible to make your own, a simpler option is to buy one.
One brand that I always recommend is Herb Pharm.
I love this brand because of their organic farming practices and the fact that they’ve been making herbal products for several decades now.
Different brands have come and gone, but Herb Pharm has stuck around, which speaks to the quality of their products.
For adrenal support, I like Herb Pharm’s Stress Manager tincture (available on Amazon).
It’s a blend of schisandra, holy basil, reishi mushrooms and rhodiola.
Adaptogenic Supplement Capsules
Another convenient way of taking adaptogens is in capsule form.
For capsules, my top recommendation is always Gaia’s Adrenal Health formula.
This blend contains ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola and schisandra.
Similar to Herb Pharm, Gaia follows clean farming practices (which means no additional hormone disruptors enter your body).
In addition, the herbs are delivered in a liquid capsule which is easier for your body to absorb (compared to hard capsules).
The benefit of using an adaptogenic powder is that you can blend them into hormone balancing smoothies, soups and even desserts!
Just be mindful of the fact that adaptogens tend to have strong flavors that can be difficult to mask.
Personally, I’ve found maca to have the best flavor of them all.
It’s caramel-like and tastes delicious in smoothies as well as hormone-balancing energy balls.
Ashwagandha is pretty good too, although it has a salty aftertaste that makes it less versatile.
To eliminate the trial and error, I like adaptogenic powder blends like this one from Four Sigmatic.
Four Sigmatic specializes in a variety of adaptogenic products and this blend is optimized for both taste and health benefits!
FAQs ABOUT ADAPTOGENIC HERBS FOR ADRENAL FATIGUE
How long should you take adaptogens for?
Some experts recommend following these guidelines for safe use of adaptogens (source):
- take one day off per week.
- if you’ve been using them six weeks straight, take a week off.
- if you’ve been using them for 6 months, take a full month off.
Is exercise good for adrenal fatigue?
Overall, exercise is a mood booster that can re-energize you, reduce cortisol and adrenaline, while also stimulating the production of feel good hormones like endorphins (source). However, if exercise is too intense, it can be another source of stress and may worsen adrenal fatigue. So, when it comes to adrenal fatigue and exercise, it’s important to really listen to your body and give do as much (or as little) exercise as is necessary to feel better and balanced.
Adaptogenic herbs are just one of many things you can do to regulate cortisol and support your adrenals. To stack the deck in your favor, it’s also a good idea to evaluate your diet and lifestyle, to see if you need to make improvements.
For help with the dietary aspect, I suggest reading these guidelines for how to put together a hormone-balancing diet plan. As for lifestyle, check out some of my favorite tips on how to start a self care routine.
Now, I would love to hear your thoughts…do you already use adaptogens (or other herbs)? What’s been your experience with them? Drop a comment below 🙂
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