How Adrenal Fatigue Happens To You
Stress is defined as any disturbance–extreme cold or heat, psychological stress, sleep deprivation, work overload, physical trauma, as well as toxic exposure—that can trigger the stress response. The body’s stress response system is comprised of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Prolonged stress triggers the HPA axis and consists of three stages: 1.) alarm, 2.) resistance, and 3.) exhaustion.
The initial, short-lived stage 1 is the body’s normal fight-or-flight response to danger, characterized by elevated cortisol levels. Stage 2 resistance phase allows the body to continue buffering extended stress exposure long after the initial fight-or flight response has dissipated. Cortisol and DHEA released by the adrenal glands help support the resistance reaction. However, extended periods of stress burden this delicate system, creating an imbalance of cortisol and DHEA. This can result in mental and physical fatigue, nervous tension, irritability and poor memory, all of which are characteristics of stage 3.
Adrenal fatigue can cause many symptoms, as outlined here.
Best Adaptogenic Herbs For The Adrenals
- Rhodiola rosea Root Extract: Rhodiola rosea has been categorized as an adaptogenic herb due to its ability to increase resistance to a variety of stressors. Rhodiola has been studied extensively and is widely used in Eastern Europe and Asia to help support the nervous system, mood regulation, mental clarity, work performance, and the sleep cycle. (1) Within the central nervous system, Rhodiola has demonstrated an ability to preserve levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examining the effects of Rhodiola on fatigue and stress, 161 patients aged 19 to 21 years received Rhodiola twice daily resulting in a significant reduction in fatigue. (2) An additional study using Rhodiola extract in students showed significant improvements in mental performance, greater mood stability and improved sleep patterns. (3)
- Eleuthero Root Extract: Eleutherococcus senticosus has been identified as a strong adaptogenic herb and is widely used in China to support general health, memory, and endurance. (4) In addition to its ability improve stress resilience and fight fatigue, Eleuthero has exhibited immune supporting effects. (5) In a double-blind study, 45 healthy volunteers received Eleuthero or placebo for 30 days. A cognitive challenge test was given to assess stress response and heart rate. Unlike placebo, subjects receiving Eleuthero demonstrated a 40% reduction in heart rate in response to a stressor. (6) Eleuthero has also been shown to improve performance in runners. In a study on performance athletes, Eleuthero extract (2 or 4 mL) given 30 minutes prior to a race significantly reduced time (48.7 minutes) compared to the control group (52.6 minutes). (7)
- Schizandra Berry Extract: Schizandra Berry Extract is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in China and Russia to help support mental clarity, stress response, and emotional wellness. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, athletes who were given an adaptogenic blend containing Schizandra extract had increased concentrations of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule which causes blood vessels to expand resulting in increased circulation, increased blood flow, better perfusion of nutrients throughout the body, and maintenance of healthy blood pressure when compared to those who were given a placebo. The researchers concluded that Schizandra berry enhances physical performance in athletes. (8) Schizandra berry has also been shown to support learning and memory and may have a protective effect on brain health. (9)
What Other Supplements Help Adrenal Fatigue?
Licorice Root Extract: The primary components in licorice root extract that support adrenal health include glycyrrhetic acid and glycyrrhizen. Licorice has also been able shown to block 11-B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, the enzyme responsible for the conversion of cortisol to the inactive cortisone. (10) When taken in small doses, licorice root extract can be used to maintain cortisol levels, an important factor for individuals that need to support adrenal hormone production and maintain healthy inflammatory pathways. (10)
Adrenal Concentrates: For thousands of years, glandular concentrates have been used in medicine to supply key ingredients to support the body. The concept of glandular therapy states that similar organ extracts from animals will support the same organ within humans by stimulating its activity. Adrenal bovine concentrate, for example, allows for rejuvenation of the adrenal stress system in a balanced and efficient manner.
Balanced Micronutrients: Adrenal gland function, as well as the synthesis of cortisol, is dependent on an adequate supply of several vitamins. Vitamin C plays a major role in neurotransmitter production and supports general health of the adrenals. (11) Under stressful conditions, vitamin C and B complex vitamins are readily used and excreted from the body. Within the B vitamin family, pantothenic acid breaks down Coenzyme A, which is essential for the production of energy from ingested fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In a study evaluating the effects of pantothenic acid and glutathione production, panthothenic acid was found to increase CoA levels in the body, leading to increased ATP production. (12) Niacin also plays a vital role in many metabolic functions in the body, including supplying energy to cells and assisting in the production of adrenal hormones.
How To Get Everything Your Adrenals Need Everyday
Taking the above supplements individually on a daily basis can be a challenge. To make it convenient, I have recommended Diamond Nutritionals’ Adrenal Support Formula to my patients for many years. Two capsules twice a day provide a balanced amount of pure, professional grade, natural ingredients we need when suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Foods To Avoid and Foods To Eat
As with almost all medical conditions, diet and lifestyle are extremely important when dealing with adrenal fatigue. In my article, “How To Treat Adrenal Fatigue Naturally,” you will see a list of things that make adrenal fatigue worse. These foods (and other stressors) will greatly aggravate adrenal fatigue.
- Rhodiola rosea.
Altern Med Review
- Shevtsov, VA, Zholus BI, et al. A randomized trial of two
different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus
placebo and control of capacity for mental work.
- Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov, et al. A double blind,
placebo controlled pilot study of the stimulating
and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on
the fatigue of students caused by stress during an
examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen.
- American Botanical Council. American Botanical Council.Eleuthero root. http://www.herbalgram.org. 2002.
- Eleutherococcus senticosus.
Altern Med Review
- Facchinetti F, Neri I, Tarabusi M. Eleutherococcus
senticosus reduces cardiovascular response in healthy
subjects: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
- Halstead BW, Hood LL. Eleutherococcus
senticosus /Siberian ginseng: An introduction
to the Concept of Adaptogenic Medicine. Long Beach, CA:
Oriental Healing Arts Institute; 1984:28.
- Panossian AG, Oganessian AS, et al. Effects of heavy
physical exercise and adaptogens on nitric oxide
content in human saliva.
- Kang SY, Lee KY, et al. ESP-102, a standardized combined
extract of Angelica gigas, Saururus chinensis
and Schizandra chinensis, significantly improved
scopolamine-induced memory impairment in mice.
- Guilliams TG, Edwards L. Chronic Stress and the HPA Axis.
- Patak P, Willenberg HS, Bornstein SR. Vitamin C is
an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex
and adrenal medulla.
- Slyshenkov VS, Dymkowska D, Wojtczak, L. Pantothenic
acid and pantothenol increase biosynthesis of
glutathione by boosting cell energetics.
2004; 569 (1-3):169-172