You have adrenal fatigue, but you don’t know where to start your treatment.
It’s wise to do some research first as very few supplements recommended for adrenal fatigue have been studied for their ability to successfully treat the condition. Instead, there’s a lot of marketing and hype.
Keep in mind that adrenal fatigue is not a condition that you can supplement yourself out of. Supplements have their place in treating adrenal fatigue, but they won’t cure it. The underlying or root cause needs to be identified and removed before your body will be able to recover.
Adrenal fatigue is a medical condition that involves improper functioning of the body’s stress-response system. I’ve written extensively on the topic in previous posts. You can find more information about adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysfunction here.
While more than 70% of Canadians have used natural health products like vitamins and minerals, herbal products, and homeopathic medicines, at least 10% report that they have experienced unwanted side effects. (1) Knowing exactly what supplement(s) to take for adrenal fatigue is essential to seeing improvement.
Adrenal fatigue nutrition
If you recall from my previous series of posts, adrenal fatigue is commonly caused by inflammation, blood sugar imbalance, sleep interruption, and perceived stress. A healthy diet will assist in alleviating two of the four potential causes.
We recommend following a paleo template. Ideally, this diet should identify and remove any food allergies or sensitivities that are unique to you. A 30-day reset diet is a perfect place to start.
Following a paleo-template will also help to better balance blood sugar levels. More of your daily calories will be coming from proteins and fats on a paleo-style diet (instead of carbohydrates). Proteins and fats are better able to regulate blood sugar levels than carbohydrates.
Basic nutrients for adrenal fatigue
Ideally, the majority of the nutrients listed below will come from your diet. However, these nutrients are, at times, required above and beyond what can be achieved through eating a healthy diet. In these cases supplementation may be required.
Do not supplement everything listed in this post. Instead, work with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who can recommend a targeted supplement protocol.
- Pantethine(2, 3)
- Pantethine is the active form of vitamin B5
- It is essential in helping our body break down (metabolize) proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Most importantly, pantethine is needed for our body to create adrenal steroids.
- Vitamin C(4, 5, 6)
- The adrenal glands contain the highest amount of vitamin C in the body.
- Vitamin C is required for our body to be able to produce cortisol.
- When the body is under stress it requires substantially more vitamin C.
- Phosphatidylcholine (PS)(7, 8)
- Phosphatidylcholine is a component of your cell walls (membrane). It helps to protect the cell from oxidative stress.
- It is required for your body to create acetylcholine. Acetylcholine helps to balance your fight/flight nervous system with the rest and digest nervous system.
- Vitamin E (Tocotrienol form)(9, 10, 11)
- Tocotrienols prevent oxidative stress from occurring in the brain.
- Remember, adrenal fatigue is a brain problem, not an adrenal gland problem.
- Tocotrienols prevent oxidative stress from occurring in the brain.
- A naturally occurring sugar found in the body.
- This supplement has shown promise in helping to alleviate fatigue.
- B vitamins are needed to create and excrete adrenal hormones.
- Low levels of B vitamins can create a state where the body poorly tolerates stress and stress-related effects.
- Magnesium is the most common mineral deficiency in North America.
- Magnesium is great for helping with sleep and increasing overall energy levels.
Supplements for adrenal fatigue
There is no shortage of supplements marketed for adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, most of them have little to no research backing their claims.
Many of the herbs discussed below are known as “adaptogenic”. An adaptogen is considered to be balancing and can stimulate or suppress the same organ tissue depending on what is needed. (15)
Below, you’ll find a list of adrenal fatigue supplements that have research supporting their reported benefits.
- Adrenal glandulars(16)
- Adrenal glandulars are desiccated adrenal glands from cows, sheep, or pigs.
- The act of supplementing a gland is often seen in those with low thyroid function. In such cases, desiccated thyroid is often a recommended supplement (in place of Synthroid).
- Unfortunately, the use of glandular does not allow for specific dosages of peptides or hormones. There is no standardization in effect.
- Glandulars have not been clinically tested for any adrenal fatigue conditions in human subjects.
- There are many anecdotal reports of the benefits from supplementing adrenal glandulars. Unfortunately, there is no research confirming (or denying) the efficacy of adrenal glandulars at the time of this writing.
- Adrenal glandulars have an impeccable safety record. Supplementation of glandulars will not produce any harmful effects.
- Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticous or acantho-Panax senticous) (17, 18, 19)
- Eleuthero is commonly known as Siberian Ginseng.
- Eleuthero root has been used to improve physical and mental fatigue, as well as improved mental performance under stress.
- Two different studies showed success in either chronic fatigue or quality of life after supplementing with eleuthero for one month. However, after two months the improvement was not sustained.
- Overall, research suggests that eleuthero should be supplemented in combination with other herbs/vitamins; it is not recommended to use eleuthero exclusively when treating adrenal fatigue.
- Schisandra (schisandra chinensis) (20, 21, 22, 23)
- Schisandra is native to China and eastern Russia. It is commonly called magnolia berry or five-flavored fruit.
- Schisandra has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system.
- If one has mental exhaustion, Schisandra can increase the capacity of work.
- There is little published research on taking Schisandra as a stand-alone herbal for treating adrenal fatigue. Though there are many studies where it is used in combination.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) (24, 25, 26, 27)
- Also known as roseroot, golden root, or arctic root has been used for many years in both Europe and Asia.
- There have been over 11 clinical trials examining Rhodiola’s efficacy. Of the 11, 8 trials found Rhodiola to be beneficial for physical performance or fatigue and mental performance or fatigue.
- RSE– a combination of Rhodiola, Schisandra, and eleuthero (28)
- The blend was shown to increase cognitive speed and accuracy in subjects who were under mental fatigue.
- Another study found the RSE combination helped decrease the number of antibiotics needed when treating pneumonia. In the same study, subjects reported a higher quality of life scores when taking the RSE combination.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) (29, 30, 31)
- This herb is commonly used in ayurvedic medicine to promote physical and mental health.
- Ashwagandha has shown to offer an improvement in anxiety and stress measurements.
- Panax Ginseng (American and Korean Ginseng) (32, 33, 34, 35)
- Ginseng has been used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.
- Ginseng has been researched for a number of different maladies.
- In general, ginseng is not recommended on its own for HPA axis dysfunction or adrenal fatigue. Instead, it should be combined with other herbals to offset its potentially stimulating effects.
- Licorice Root(glycyrrhizin glabra L) (36)
- The active ingredient in licorice root is glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin has been shown to raise cortisol levels in those with hypocortisolism (adrenal fatigue).
- Please note: licorice root is not recommended for those with high blood pressure.
- It is not recommended to dose above 10mg/day of glycyrrhizin.
- Mucuna/Cowhage(mucuna pruriens) (37)
- Mucuna is a tropical legume. It is native to Africa, India, and the Carribean.
- The seed of mucuna contains L-dopa (a precursor to dopamine) making it a worthwhile natural therapy in Parkinsons’s disease.
- To date, only animal studies have been performed. However, mucuna was shown to significantly increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels.
- Additionally, a study done on mice showed mucuna to have strong anti-depressant properties.
Additional supplements for adrenal fatigue
The above supplement recommendations are general adrenal tonics. To create an effective supplement protocol, you must determine what the underlying cause of stress is. As discussed in my previous posts, the typical culprits are:
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Circadian (sleep) interruption
Once the underlying cause of stress has been identified, you can add supplements specific to that area. Below are some supplement recommendations for blood sugar imbalance, inflammation, and sleep interruption.
Blood sugar imbalance:
- Curcumin is a bright yellow chemical produced by some plants. It is the reason for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. (40)
- Curcumin has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.(41)
- An investigation should be done to identify and eliminate the cause of inflammation. Continued supplementation of curcumin, while helpful, is not a cure.
Ok, now you have a basic understanding of common herbals used in the treatment of adrenal fatigue. Before purchasing any supplements, be sure to read the ingredient list carefully, ensuring that the majority of the herbals listed have been shown to be effective like the ones I listed here.
Additionally, should a specific condition be causing your adrenal fatigue, supplements can be a useful mechanism while searching for the root cause.
How do you overcome adrenal fatigue?
For more information on the common causes of adrenal fatigue, please see my previous post.
Now, I want to hear from you.
What supplements have you found helpful in treating adrenal fatigue?
Looking for more information about adrenal fatigue? Check out what else we’ve written about restoring adrenal health.
Also published on Medium.