The 10 Best Herbs To Support Your Adrenals + Fight Chronic Fatigue Naturally
Feeling tired at the end of a long day is normal. Constantly feeling at your wits end with exhaustion is not. That my friends, is adrenal fatigue. As a functional medicine expert, I understand that adrenal fatigue is the end stage problem of a dysfunction going on beneath the surface that needs to be addressed.
Thankfully, there are many ways that you can reclaim your energy naturally. One of my favorite ways is through herbs that have been clinically proven to help ease stress and restore the underlying imbalances contributing to your constant fatigue. Read on to learn more about adrenal fatigue and the best herbs to take to finally kick the exhaustion once and for all.
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What are your adrenal glands?
Your adrenal glands are located right on top of your kidneys like little baseball caps. They are responsible for regulating and producing various hormones in your body but their primary job is to regulate the release of your body’s stress hormone, cortisol.
Whenever you are faced with a stressful event your sympathetic nervous system switches on your “fight-or-flight” response, signaling your adrenal glands to release cortisol, which increases blood pressure and blood sugar for faster response time and better survival. This worked well for our ancestors in life or death situations like when they were faced with a predator. But once the stressful event is over or the predator was gone, cortisol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are all supposed to decrease and return to baseline levels. However, nowadays we are faced with chronic stress that doesn’t go away due to jobs, toxic relationships, and so on. This constant stress signal can result in chronically high cortisol levels which eventually leads to adrenal fatigue.
What is adrenal fatigue?
In a healthy individual, cortisol is higher in the morning to help with waking, and slowly lowers throughout the day. Melatonin, your “sleepy time” hormone, is inversely proportional to cortisol, so when cortisol is high, melatonin is low and vice versa. Adrenal fatigue happens when there is an imbalance in this cortisol rhythm. Cortisol is either low when it should be high, high when it should be low, or always low or always high. Adrenal fatigue can look different case to case.
But the problem isn’t isolated in your adrenals. In fact, your brain tells your adrenal glands what to do through a complex web of communications called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), or simply the brain-adrenal axis. Your hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which tells the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then tells your adrenal cortex to release cortisol.
Adrenal fatigue is really a dysfunction of your brain’s communication with your adrenals – not the adrenal glands themselves.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue
Since everyone’s biochemistry is different, your exact symptoms of adrenal fatigue may vary from someone else. But if you are struggling with any of these tell-tale symptoms, it’s very likely you are struggling with adrenal fatigue:
- Slow to start in the morning
- Cravings for salty or sugary foods
- Low libido
- Fatigue in the afternoon
- A “second wind” in the evening
- Inability to stay asleep
- Dizziness when standing up quickly
- Afternoon headaches
- Blood sugar issues
- Chronic inflammation
- Weak nails and brittle hair
- Difficulty losing weight
What naturally supports adrenal glands?
The best thing you can do to support your adrenal glands is to incorporate herbs and lifestyle changes that support a normal cortisol rhythm, healthy HPA-axis function, and healthy inflammation levels. Adaptogens are typically my go-to. These herbs to support your adrenals are a family of plant medicines that are known for their ability to help your body adapt to stress, support proper hormone balance, and are generally safe for most people as they have little to no side effects.
The best herbs to support adrenals
What is the best herbal treatment for adrenal fatigue? It’s a question I get asked often in my telehealth functional medicine clinic.
Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies have shown (1) a significant reduction in cortisol levels and associated stress and anxiety symptoms in those who took ashwagandha on a regular basis. That’s why I included it as one of the main ingredients in my supplement The Brain-Adrenal Balancer, designed to help you cope with stress and restore your energy levels.
Rhodiola is a superstar adaptogen for calming and rebalancing your body’s stress response. Not only is rhodiola able to lower your cortisol levels - your body’s stress hormone - it has also been shown (2) to increase your energy levels, stamina, and boost mental clarity. In fact, rhodiola’s benefits are so powerful, it has been widely used in Europe as a tool to help people overcome fatigue to increase work performance and endurance.
3. Licorice root
Due to its high content of triterpenoid saponins that play a role in cortisol balance, licorice root is a popular herbal remedy to support adrenal fatigue.
4. Holy Basil
Another adaptogenic herb, Holy Basil - also sometimes referred to as Tulsi - helps to rebalance cortisol in addition to helping support healthy inflammation levels that can play a role in hormone imbalance and adrenal fatigue. I made sure to include Holy Basil in my supplement collaboration holi ( y o u t h ) with Agent Nateur designed to restore balance to your hormones and inflammation for a balanced mind and a healthy glow from the inside out.
Derived from African red bush, Rooibos is most often found in tea form and has been shown to have a balancing (3) effect on cortisol.
6. Gingko biloba
One lesser known benefit of Gingko biloba is its ability to lower cortisol levels with studies showing (4) it can help mitigate the rise of both blood pressure and cortisol during times of heightened stress.
Known by its other name, Sibering ginseng, eleuthro is a root that can help increase (5) your resistance to stress, boost energy levels, and support healthy cortisol rhythm.
Also referred to as Peruvian ginseng, maca is considered an adaptogen for its ability to reduce stress and balance hormones - including cortisol. One study even found (6) that maca was able to relieve symptoms like stress in postmenopausal women by rebalancing estrogen and cortisol levels.
Studies have confirmed (5) schisandra’s ability to fight adrenal fatigue by supporting HPA-axis function, especially when taken in conjunction with eleuthero.
While this isn’t exactly an herb, this adaptogenic mushroom does wonders (7) for those struggling with adrenal fatigue by balancing cortisol levels and increasing energy.
Tips for using herbs
While you can find most of these herbs in supplement form, it’s not always fun to have to take yet another supplement. Since you can get most of these herbs in powdered form, they can easily be added into smoothies, energy bites, or other recipes. This also allows you to incorporate more than one herb at a time. Just be sure to always listen to your body and pay attention to recommended dosages so you aren’t going overboard with any herb.
Lifestyle tips for adrenal fatigue
Herbs are just one of the many things you can do to support adrenal fatigue. I’ve often seen the most success in treating adrenal fatigue when a whole-body approach is taken to addressing this condition. These are just a few of the lifestyle changes you can do to rebalance your hormones and boost your energy.
1. Incorporate stress management techniques
Your cortisol levels don’t stand a chance if you are always stressed out. The first step is to pinpoint areas of your life that bring you the most stress - whether that is a demanding job or a toxic relationship - and find ways to set healthy boundaries. You can’t eliminate all stress in your life, so incorporating stress management techniques like meditation, journaling, or breathwork can be great for mitigating any stress that comes your way throughout your day.
2. Heal your gut-feelings connection
In my book Gut Feelings, I talk all about how your physical and emotional health are intertwined. Shameflammation - the process where shame influences inflammation and vice versa - plays a major role in your stress levels and likelihood of adrenal fatigue. By shifting your view of health and wellness from shame to a place of self-respect, you can begin to restore your gut feelings connection.
3. Eat more healthy fats
Fats are the building blocks for healthy hormones and brain function. Wild-caught seafood, avocados, nuts, and coconut oil are rich in omega-3 healthy fats and MCTs that act as fuel for your brain and hormones so they can communicate effectively to support HPA-axis function.
Things to consider
While most of these herbs are generally safe for most people, it is still important to talk with your doctor and take your particular health case into account, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking any medications. For example, people with certain thyroid problems don’t do well with ashwagandha and it can potentially exhausterbate your health problem.. Pay attention to how you feel, start off with a smaller amount, and gradually increase over time as you notice how your body reacts.
How to get your hormone levels tested
When looking to test for adrenal fatigue specifically, you’ll want to run a 24-hour Adrenal Stress Index test. This salivary test tracks your cortisol levels to determine if there is an imbalance in your cortisol rhythm contributing to adrenal fatigue and irregular sleep patterns. A functional medicine practitioner will be able to recommend this test for you.
As far as cost goes, this particular test might be covered by insurance but in most cases, hormone saliva labs like this are considered elective tests that aren’t covered by your insurance. However, they can be purchased through an HSA or FSA account. Talk with your insurance provider on how to get hormones tested based on what is covered and what you will need to pay out of pocket.
Seeking help from a functional medicine doctor
If you believe you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, there is hope! You are not meant to live a life of chronic exhaustion. Thankfully, there are many natural tools, including herbs, that can support proper hormone balance. But sometimes we need a little help getting there.
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we specialize in running labs like the 24-hour Adrenal Stress Index along with other tests, to identify the root cause behind your case of fatigue. Afterall, everyone is different and the underlying triggers of your fatigue might be different than someone else's. We take your whole health case into consideration to come up with a plan that works for you in all areas - diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
So if you are ready to restore your energy and reclaim your health, schedule a telehealth functional medicine consultation today.
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- Chandrasekhar, K et al. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian journal of psychological medicine vol. 34,3 (2012): 255-62. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
- Rhodiola. National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. October 2020 https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/rhodiola
- Schloms, L., Smith, C., Storbeck, K.-H., Marnewick, J.L., Swart, P. and Swart, A.C. (2014), Rooibos influences glucocorticoid levels and steroid ratios in vivo and in vitro: A natural approach in the management of stress and metabolic disorders?. Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 58: 537-549. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201300463
- Jezova, D et al. “Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers.” Journal of physiology and pharmacology : an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society vol. 53,3 (2002): 337-48.
- Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity.” Current clinical pharmacology vol. 4,3 (2009): 198-219. doi:10.2174/157488409789375311
- Meissner, H O et al. “Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study.” International journal of biomedical science : IJBS vol. 2,4 (2006): 375-94.
- Song, Jingjing et al. “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 174616. doi:10.1155/2015/174616
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
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