What You’ll Learn in This Article
- Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Why Supplements Alone Might Not Help
- Nutrients for Adrenal Health Support
What happens when you put a paleolithic body built for hunting and gathering, and for the most part, handling acute or short-lived moments of stress, into 21st century life? The answer is adrenal fatigue in varying degrees from mild to burnt out and many of us are walking around with it and not even aware of the condition.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
At first, with chronic low-level stress, the adrenals will pump out higher levels of cortisol and catecholamines. Some may experience this phase for years or even decades before a decrease in adrenal function occurs.
High adrenal gland function that is overproducing and trying to keep pace with stress has symptoms such as:
- tired and wired
- trouble sleeping
- midnight waking
- no energy in the morning
- can’t fall asleep
- belly fat
- short fuse
- coffee cravings
- hair loss
Low adrenal gland function has symptoms such as:
- severe fatigue
- memory loss
- frequent sickness
- crying spells
- lack of motivation
- salt cravings
- low sex drive
- unstable blood sugar levels
You can see how the symptoms start as too much energy that can’t be turned off to low energy bottomed out. These symptoms are in tune with what is happening with cortisol and how your cortisol cycle is being disrupted.
Cortisol Cycle Disruption
A healthy cortisol cycle starts high in the morning upon waking and peaks at about 8 a.m. As the day progresses, cortisol slowly comes down and is at a low point around 9 p.m. when it’s time for bed. What happens to this cycle in a high adrenal function time can vary but many experience cortisol elevations at 3 p.m. or later which cause the sleep issues, midnight waking and overall tired and wired feelings.
With low adrenal function, the cycle will change to very low cortisol levels in the morning with very little to no elevation in cortisol at all. This flat lined cycle causes severe fatigue and low-level function of all the systems in the body. Chronic low-level stress elevates cortisol for a period of time and then this overproduction turns into sporadic or underproduction of this vital hormone.
Additional Health Problems
As with any hormone when there is a problem with one there is another one to offset the issue. The body’s checks and balances for elevated cortisol are to elevate glucose and decrease immune function. Have you ever noticed that after pulling an all-nighter and studying for a test you usually get sick afterward? That type of stress from sleep deprivation and nerves elevates cortisol that can lead to a compromised immune system; you are then more susceptible to any illness.
How Sex Hormones are Affected
In addition to cortisol and catecholamines, the adrenal glands make the great-grandmother of all sex hormones called pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is crucial for fertility and hormone production of DHEA, progesterone, and cortisol. DHEA is the grandmother hormone and makes testosterone and estrogen. So, an interesting thing happens when there is stress in the body and more cortisol production is needed. The body diverts pregnenolone from converting to progesterone and it is converted into cortisol.
This is one of the main reasons why a woman who is under stress of any kind may have trouble getting pregnant. It’s really a safety mechanism by the body to prevent a pregnancy when there is stress. This diversion of pregnenolone usually causes a decrease in progesterone and DHEA levels and subsequently estrogen and testosterone.
If you need to get a deeper education and appreciation for this important hormonal imbalance, I suggest reading a comprehensive article I wrote about adrenal fatigue (causes, tests, natural remedies, etc) here.
Why Supplements Alone Might Not Help
The bad news is: I have found that adrenal fatigue, among all the other hormonal imbalances, takes the longest to rebalance. Why? I think it’s because it requires a multi-faceted approach of: getting rid of stress (easier said than done); sleeping and resting more (a tough one for many); restoring digestive health; cutting back or eliminating any stimulants such as sugar (not easy for any sugar addict); caffeine (don’t hate me but coffee can really impact some women, I researched and wrote about it here); alcohol; and overexercising.
The good news is: Adrenal health can be restored. Apart from the above changes, you can speed up adrenal recovery by adding a few strategic vitamins, minerals and herbs.
Please remember that adding healing lifestyle changes (quality sleep, rest, good food) and giving up bad habits (stress, alcohol, coffee, etc.) will be FUNDAMENTAL to your recovery. Taking supplements alone without accommodating the healing habits and/or eliminating the bad habits, WILL NOT restore your adrenals.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to find hormonal balance with proper nutrition, I invite you to check out my book, Cooking for Hormone Balance, here.
Nutrients for Adrenal Health Support
Fish Oil for Easing Mental Stress
Omega 3 fatty acids research has shown it may help support adrenal health by easing the body’s response to mental stress. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory and supports cell fluidity which is important for healthy communication between cells. As catecholamines, cortisol, insulin, and other hormones are being overproduced during stress, cells will begin to get “numb” or “deaf” to these messages from overexposure.
As the cell becomes more resistant, the body does not respond to the messages resulting in fatigue, insulin resistance, inflammation and poor immune health. Fish oil can resensitize these receptors and support these chemical pathways in the body.
Take a high potency fish oil delivered in the natural triglyceride form. Take 800-1000 mg each of EPA and DHA. Look on the back of the label to see each of these listed out, don’t pay attention to the 1000 mg listed on the front of most labels.
Only use fish oil products that are molecularly distilled and filtered to ensure purity and to maximize the removal of heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, PCBs, and other contaminants.
To make it easier for you, I have also created the Adrenal Repair Kit which consists of all the critical vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Getting the Kit will also save you 15% as compared to getting the single products.
Magnesium – Both the Adrenal Spark Plug and Calming Agent
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system and is also required for energy production. In the first phase, when there is adrenal overproduction, when you are tired and wired, a magnesium chelate (bisglycinate or glycinate) would be a good form to use. Glycine is a calming amino acid and is the best choice for a chelate because it is the smallest amino acid giving it the greatest absorption potential.
This form of magnesium allows for larger amounts of magnesium to be absorbed more quickly and be better retained by the body, as compared to other forms.
Glycine magnesium delivers 8.9 mg of magnesium per 100 mg of the product (8.9% bioavailable) that is chelated with 55 mg glycine.
Try: Wellena Magnesium Replenish (bisglycinate), a highly absorbable form of magnesium chelated to two molecules of the amino acid glycine.
This very stable form of magnesium should not cause gastrointestinal symptoms and is less likely to be stimulating, like the malate form for some.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and is found to be increasingly deficient in our diets. Start with 100 mg and try to work up to 100 mg three times per day. Sometimes this form of magnesium will also loosen bowels so stop at that dose when it happens.
To read more about how to boost magnesium for hormone-balancing here is one of my most popular articles.
To learn more about how to balance your hormones with supplements (and which to take), you can download our FREE Supplement Guide here.
Vitamin C – Replenishes Adrenal Function
The adrenal glands are rich in vitamin C which is used to produce all the adrenal hormones, most importantly cortisol. As stress begins and continues, vitamin C is used rapidly by the adrenal glands to make cortisol. As vitamin C is depleted, adrenal function declines and the only way to replenish these stores is to eat a diet rich in vitamin C and to supplement. In times of adrenal fatigue, getting a therapeutic level of vitamin C is usually necessary and this would be time for supplementation.
The dosage of vitamin C is to bowel tolerance, so start with 100 mg/day and work your way up to the dosage where you bowel moves.
B Vitamins: The Energy Fuel
B vitamins are used to by the body in the conversion of food into energy. When stress is ongoing, your system is working overtime to supply the fuel to your body. B vitamins are used in the energy-making process and also become depleted. By supplementing with B’s, you can support this function and prevent or replenish any deficiencies.
Dosage of B vitamins is 50-100 mg per B.
Try: Wellena B Maximus for a full spectrum B complex with methylated B’s.
Pantothenic Acid for Adrenal Function
Pantothenic Acid (also known as vitamin B5) is used in the production of stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. With overstimulation, this B vitamin gets depleted as well.
A study found that pantothenic acid supplementation stimulates the ability of adrenal cells in male rats to secrete corticosterone (glucocorticoid involved in regulation of energy, immune reactions, and stress responses) and progesterone.
Dosage is 100-1000 mg per day.
Try: Wellena B Maximus which contains pantothenic acid as well as all your B vitamins.
Adaptogenic Herbs to the Rescue
Eleutherococcus Senticosus (Siberian Ginseng)
Siberian Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that may help the body handle stress and regulate cortisol levels. This distant relative of the true ginsengs (Asian and American) does not contain ginsenosides (constituents of the plant) but it behaves very similarly to the true ginsengs. The beauty of an adaptogen is that the herb adapts to what your body your needs.
If you are overproducing stress hormones, the herb will down-regulate this action and if you are underproducing it will upregulate this action. A study analyzing the effects of eleuthero on stressed mice found it to have anti-fatigue action, recovery of the reduction of NK activity (immune action), and the inhibition of cortisol elevation induced by swimming stress. All these actions are pretty impressive for one herb to protect the body from the harmful effects of stress.
Dosage is 100-200 mg/day.
Try: This herb is part of our Wellena Adrenal TLC. This is a combination of standardized herbs and nutrients that support and nourish the adrenal gland. The adaptogenic herbs in this formula may help the body handle stress and regulate cortisol levels while the vitamins may increase hormone production and support adrenal gland function.
Panax Quinquefolius (American Ginseng)
American Ginseng is also an adaptogenic herb, and it is native to North America. This herb is traditionally used for the same reasons as Siberian Ginseng but can be more stimulating.
Research has shown this herb to have many properties including boosting the immune system, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. This herb is more cooling and can be a better fit for women during menopause with fatigue and hot flashes.
Dosage 100-200 mg/day.
Try: This herb is part of our Wellena Adrenal TLC
Alternatively, think about getting the Adrenal Repair Kit which consists of all the critical vitamins, minerals and herbs. Getting the Kit will also save you 15% as compared to getting the single products.
Ayurvedic Herbs Can Help, Too
Ashwagandha, Sometimes Called Indian Ginseng
Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for someone suffering from long-term stress that is depleted. This herb also works like an adaptogen and can be utilized at any point during or before a stressful time for support.
Studies show it does have anti-stressor effects and supports adrenal and thyroid function and the immune system and mood (depression and anxiety). Ashwagandha acts mostly to calm, and can help with sleep but for some, it may be energizing due to its effect on thyroid function.
Dosage 100-300 mg/day.
Try: This herb is part of our Wellena Adrenal TLC.
If you’d like to drink your Ashwagandha, here is a simple recipe for an Ashwagandha Latte you can try.
Russian Adaptogenic Herb
Rhodiola Rosea has been categorized as an adaptogen by Russian researchers due to its ability to increase the body’s resistance to stress.
Studies have shown Rhodiola to have antidepressant, adaptogenic, anti-anxiety like properties which can be helpful for adrenal stress. This herb can be too energizing for some, particularly those that are really bottomed out, so start on a low dose and take in the morning to try it out.
Dosage 100-300 mg/day.
Try: This herb is part of our Wellena Adrenal TLC
Amino Acid for Adrenal Stress
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid used by the brain as a precursor to neurotransmitters called catecholamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, which support energy and focus. These catecholamines can become depleted with adrenal stress and supplementing with tyrosine can offer support. Tyrosine can also support levels of the thyroid hormone T4 (thyroxine) which may become an issue for some as adrenal stress will also affect thyroid function.
Dosage 500-1000 mg daily in divided dosages separate from food.
Try: N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine is part of the Wellena Adrenal TLC
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Licorice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to support adrenal fatigue.
Licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol thereby helping the body keep more of it around for healthy functioning. Licorice is for those with low or bottomed out adrenal function to support energy and mood while healing.
Dosage 100-300 mg standardized extract.
Try: Wellena Adrenal TLC
Herbs have amazing properties to support and protect the adrenal glands from the effects of stress. These adaptogenic herbs are great to take ongoing with short breaks of a week for every 6-8 weeks you are taking them. This allows the herb to work at its best while not allowing the body to become too used to the herb so that the support does not work anymore.
Think about getting the Adrenal Repair Kit which consists of all the critical vitamins, minerals and herbs. Getting the Kit will also save you 15% as compared to getting the single products.
And remember, we must slow down and find space to replenish and nurture our adrenals. A good diet, a good night’s sleep, gentle exercise, laughter, meditation, and just chilling out are natural ways to protect our adrenals from all the constant stimulation and rushing around.
In the comments below, please share which herbs, nutrients or vitamins you feel have helped your adrenal health. Which made it worse? I’m always curious!