You have adrenal fatigue. This much you’re sure of.
Before you head to your local health food store to pick up an assortment of supplements, read this post.
I’ll show you exactly which supplements will help your adrenal fatigue and which will make it worse!
What’s the first thing you do before starting a new workout routine?
You get all the workout supplements, don’t you?
A similar thing happens with adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue. You’re tired, so, you look for products to increase your energy. More coffee. More green tea.
When that’s not enough, you go supplement shopping. Ginsing. Ashwagandha. B vitamins. Adrenal fatigue blends.
Before you know it, you’re taking 10 different supplements. And you’re still tired. You have no idea which supplement is helping, which is hurting, and which is doing nothing.
Let me help you make of sense of adrenal fatigue supplements. I’ll show you exactly which supplements to take, when to take them, and for how long. But before we jump into supplements, let’s pump the brakes.
Supplements are not the root-cause solution to adrenal fatigue.
Do this one thing before purchasing adrenal fatigue supplements
Do you remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
In case you’re not familiar with it, I’ve attached an image. Maslow designed his pyramid from the bottom up. He suggested that before you can move up to a higher rung on the pyramid, you need to have the needs associated with the lower rung fulfilled first.
For example, you can’t focus on achieving your full potential when you don’t have enough food or water. Once you have your basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter sorted, then you can begin to progress up the pyramid towards achieving your full potential.
A similar pyramid exists in the context of adrenal fatigue. Supplements are the top of the pyramid. Yet supplements are always the first thing used to treat adrenal fatigue. Before reaching for the adrenal fatigue supplements, you need to build the base of your pyramid.
The base of your pyramid is the food you eat. You can take all the supplements you want but if you’re eating fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’re not going to overcome adrenal fatigue. Before you take any supplements, change your diet.
With a healthy base to your pyramid, your adrenal fatigue supplements will exert a much stronger effect. Without diet and lifestyle changes, you will not overcome adrenal fatigue.
Why supplements alone won’t fix adrenal fatigue
You cannot supplement yourself out of adrenal fatigue.
I’m not saying supplements are unimportant. Supplements certainly have their place in treating adrenal fatigue. But supplements won’t cure adrenal fatigue.
You need to uncover the underlying or root cause of your adrenal fatigue. The most common root causes of adrenal fatigue include:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Hidden sources of inflammation
- Sleep disruption
These three areas – blood sugar, sleep, and inflammation – are the other rungs in your pyramid. Before you add adrenal fatigue supplements, make sure you’ve thoroughly addressed each of them. I show you how to do that in this post.
If you don’t address the above, no amount of supplementation is going to fix your fatigue.
What should you eat if you have adrenal fatigue?
If you don’t have the energy to follow the nuances of a paleo or keto diet, do this one thing:
Eat real food.
If your food comes in a bag or box, don’t eat it. If your food doesn’t rot, don’t eat it. Follow this adage and you’ll be 80% of the way towards a diet that helps you beat adrenal fatigue.
Next, we’ll discuss the most important vitamins and minerals needed to overcome adrenal fatigue!
The most important vitamins and minerals for adrenal fatigue
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.
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. I recommend you start by incorporating the whole food versions of the below nutrients before you start supplementing. Do not supplement everything listed in this post. Instead, work with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who can recommend a targeted supplement protocol.
- 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.
- Best food sources of pantethine:
- Chicken liver
- Sunflower seeds
- Portabello mushrooms
- 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.
- Best food sources of vitamin C:
- Red peppers
- Green peppers
- 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.
- Best food sources of choline:
- Tocotrienols prevent oxidative stress from occurring in the brain.
- Remember, adrenal fatigue is a brain problem, not an adrenal gland problem.
- Best food sources of vitamin E:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pine nuts
- A naturally occurring sugar found in the body.
- This supplement has shown promise in helping to alleviate fatigue.
- Best food sources of ribose:
- 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.
- Best food sources of B vitamins:
- Organ meats
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild caught fish (not the farmed varieties)
- Leafy green vegetables
- Magnesium is the most common mineral deficiency in North America.
- Magnesium is great for helping with sleep and increasing overall energy levels.
- Best food sources of magnesium:
- Cooked spinach
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
Ok, now you know the foods you should be eating in order to get the necessary vitamins/minerals to combat adrenal fatigue. Next, we’ll jump into the best supplements for adrenal fatigue. Just remember that supplements should only be added after changing your nutrition, balancing your blood sugar, and improving your sleep.
The best 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. Instead, manufacturers often use proprietary blends to hide the actual vitamin/mineral content. By stating your supplement is a proprietary blend, you don’t have to list the exact amount of vitamins, minerals, or herbs in your product. Be extra cautious when you see the words proprietary blend. I recommend you opt for supplements that clearly state their ingredients.
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 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 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Why some adrenal fatigue supplements make you feel worse
I strongly advise you to avoid treating adrenal fatigue on your own. Work with a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner – his/her advice is invaluable.
I don’t make this recommendation to get more patients. I make this recommendation because properly treating adrenal fatigue can be tricky. I’ve written at length about why testing for adrenal fatigue is almost always done wrong. When the testing is done wrong, the treatment is done wrong.
Adrenal fatigue describes a condition of low cortisol. In medical lingo, this is known as hypocortisolism. But your body can also be in a condition where it’s creating too much cortisol. This is known as hypercortisolism. And too much cortisol can cause a very similar set of symptoms as adrenal fatigue.
But the ways to treat high cortisol (hypercortisolism) and low cortisol (hypocortisolism or adrenal fatigue) are vastly different. In fact, this could be the reason why you feel worse whenever you try to treat your adrenal fatigue.
Some supplements raise cortisol levels. Other supplements help to lower cortisol levels. If you have adrenal fatigue (low cortisol) and you take supplements known to lower cortisol levels, you’re going to feel worse.
If you have high cortisol levels and take supplements known to raise cortisol, you’re going to feel worse. This is why working with a knowledgeable practitioner is so important.
If there are no practitioners in your area. Or, if you’re unsure if your cortisol levels are high or low, opt for adaptogenic herbs. These are your safest bet.
Even more supplements to improve adrenal fatigue
The above supplement recommendations are general adrenal tonics. But remember, they don’t address the underlying or root cause of your adrenal fatigue. To create an effective supplement protocol, you must determine what the underlying cause of stress is. The most common root causes of adrenal fatigue are:
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Circadian (sleep) interruption
Below, I list supplement recommendations for the three most common causes of adrenal fatigue:
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.
How to finally overcome adrenal fatigue
I want to be clear, you cannot supplement yourself out of adrenal fatigue.
You need to identify and treat the underlying or root cause. Only then will supplementation be effective. 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?
What supplements made your adrenal fatigue symptoms worse?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!
Also published on Medium.