5 Key Strategies & Best Natural Supplements For Adrenal Support


Feeling constantly drained and wondering if you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue? It’s one thing to be tired after a long day, but if you are experiencing chronic fatigue and stress, there may be something off with your adrenal glands and hormone production. Find out what exactly adrenal fatigue is, and learn what specific natural supplements integrative medical experts recommend for improving adrenal gland function and overall energy levels. Chronic fatigue is a crippling disorder characterized by persistent exhaustion despite getting rest.

Though scientists haven’t figured out what exactly causes chronic fatigue, recent research has shown adrenal function seems to play an important role. (1) Data analyzed from over 50 studies on chronic fatigue and adrenal function found that the majority of chronic fatigue patients also have an abnormal adrenal function.

What are adrenal glands?

The adrenal glands, which are tiny, crescent-shaped organs seated on top of your kidneys, are in charge of releasing several important hormones. Cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA, androgenic steroids, norepinephrine, and epinephrine all come from your adrenal glands. These hormones help regulate (2) your immune system, metabolism, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.

For example, cortisol is one of your primary stress hormones and helps regulate your energy levels. The two most common ways these nickel-sized organs can cause health issues are by producing too little or too much of certain hormones. If you often wake up tired in the mornings and still feel like you need a nap in the afternoon and can’t sleep at night, you may be suffering from what many integrative experts now refer to as adrenal fatigue.

man yawing at his desk

Feeling constantly tired is just one symptom of adrenal fatigue.

What is adrenal fatigue and how can you recognize it?

The term “adrenal fatigue” (AF) is used by holistic healthcare providers and functional doctors to describe a collection of nonspecific symptoms often induced by chronic stress. Even though adrenal fatigue is yet to be recognized by any American Board of Medical Specialties, there is a widely used clinical perspective (3) by holistic healers written by James L. Wilson, DC, ND, Ph.D. offering a protocol for diagnosing and successfully treating AF. (4)

Get the facts about adrenal support and adrenal fatigue!

According to Dr. Wilson, when someone suffers from adrenal fatigue, their overworked adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the fast-paced style of the multitasking 21st century. Chronically overworked stress hormones are believed to be the main cause behind adrenal fatigue. Feeling constantly tired is just one symptom of adrenal fatigue.

Other common signs of adrenal fatigue include (5):

  • A weakened immune system
  • Inability to handle stress or to focus
  • Frequent urination
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of body hair
  • Dizziness when standing up
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Food cravings for salty foods
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased libido
  • Skin hyperpigmentation (discoloration)
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Mild depression
  • Overuse of stimulants (ex: caffeine or energy drinks)

Adrenal fatigue vs. adrenal insufficiency disorder

Adrenal insufficiency is a recognized disorder (6) that occurs when adrenal glands don’t make enough of certain hormones. Many natural medicine professionals accept adrenal fatigue as a definition of a mild form of adrenal insufficiency, though adrenal fatigue symptoms are more nonspecific and do not match up.

Adrenal insufficiency symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of your skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Low blood pressure (fainting)
  • Salt craving
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women

Doctors are able to diagnose (7) adrenal insufficiency with regular laboratory blood tests and patients are treated with medications that replace the hormones (8) adrenals would normally make, such as DHEA. (9)

5 key strategies to combating adrenal fatigue:

  1. Get serious about good nutrition & watch your caffeine intake
  2. Aim for daily exercise and moderate physical activity
  3. Improve your sleep habits
  4. Get comfortable with guided meditation
  5. Take adrenal support supplements

Dr. Holly Lucille ND, RN, discusses the ins and outs of Adrenal Fatigue and HPA Axis Dysfunction.

The 10 best supplements for adrenal fatigue treatment

Research has shown that stress management is key (10) to reversing damage caused by abnormal hormone production from the adrenal glands. Vitamin and mineral supplements have been shown (11) to help ease mental stress and support healthy adrenal gland function.

Here is a roundup of the adrenal support supplements most often recommended by Fullscript practitioners.

licorice root in different forms on 4 ceramic white spoons

Licorice root can help those who experience cortisol, a steroid hormone, deficiency.

1. Licorice root

For people who do not produce enough cortisol, licorice root can help. Licorice root has been found to:

  • Work with cortisol to improve energy levels. (12)
  • Regulate cortisol. A study conducted at the Queen Margaret University Edinburg found licorice root aids the body in regulating cortisol. (13)

2. Curcumin

Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric with antioxidant properties. Curcumin has been shown to:

  • Enhance your mood. In one randomized controlled trial (14), curcumin was found to be an effective option for treating depression.
  • Exhibit neuroprotective qualities. A systematic literature review on curcumin concluded (15) that the compound is a good candidate as a neuroprotective drug for human Parkinson’s disease patients.

Many randomized controlled trials have been done on turmeric and curcumin, considered the gold standard of research.

Curcumin supplements: Extracts are the most potent form of turmeric supplements that will give you the most curcumin compound. Concentrated extracts pack up to 95% curcumin, whereas turmeric in powder form usually contains (16) around 3% curcuminoids.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D has many important functions in the body, but recently researchers have become interested in how vitamin D intake affects hormone production. Vitamin D has the following benefits:

  • Low levels of vitamin D have been linked (17) to cortisol and aldosterone overproduction.
  • Vitamin D deficiency was shown to exacerbate the effect of adrenal insufficiency on heart stability in critically ill children. (18)

Vitamin D supplements: Pinpointing an individualized and healthy vitamin D level can be complicated. It may be worth talking to your primary care practitioner about testing, if appropriate. Remember to take it vitamin D with a meal or on a full stomach to help with absorption.

4. Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in cells that influence immune function and muscle metabolism. It has been shown to:

  • Balance-out cortisol overproduction. Several studies have shown that PS is especially good at regulating and balancing out cortisol levels following exercise. (19)

Phosphatidylserine Supplements: When choosing an adrenal support supplement, remember to look out for Phosphatidylserine specifically; do not get a supplement labeled “phosphorylated serine.”

Rhodiola rosea herbs surrounding a tea form with Rhodiola rosea extract

The herb Rhodiola rosea can be supplemented through tea form.

5. Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic herb known for its capacity to alter hormones and has been found to:

  • Improve mental performance and energy levels. A 2000 study showed that Rhodiola improves mental performance and fatigue levels of students around exam periods. (20)
  • Decrease cortisol levels. In one double-blind, randomized controlled trial, subjects with stress-related fatigue were given two daily doses for 28 days of Rhodiola Rosea. (21)

Rhodiola Supplements: When taking Rhodiola supplements, be wary of supplements with spp, as this doesn’t tell you the type of Rhodiola you are getting.

Ashwagandha herb in powder and solid plant form

The herb ashwagandha has a correlation to stress management.

6. Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been scientifically found to:

  • Improve the quality of life. Studies suggest that a high-concentration and full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract can be taken safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress. (22)
  • Counteract symptoms of stress. (23)
  • Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. (24)

Ashwagandha supplements: It is recommended that ashwagandha supplements be taken before bedtime since the adaptogenic herb has also been linked (25) to calming effects. Large-scale clinical studies are still needed to prove the clinical efficacy of the herb being used for stress reduction.

7. Tyrosine

Tyrosine is an amino acid that functions (26) as a precursor to neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Tyrosine has been found to:

  • Aid neurotransmitters. Tyrosine has been shown (27) to help neurotransmitters keep up production of dopamine and norepinephrine and support the body’s response to stress.
  • Improve performance in stressful situations, such as military operations. (28)

Tyrosine Supplements: Tyrosine is most effective (29) when taken between meals and right before a stressful event along with an easily digested carbohydrate.

8. Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is very common in the US, and symptoms include fatigue and depression. Magnesium deficiency plays a role (30) in adrenal insufficiency and has been shown to:

  • Induce anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation. Preclinical and some clinical studies suggest a link (31) between magnesium levels and pathological anxiety.

Magnesium Supplements: Adequate amounts of magnesium in the body has been shown to promote relaxation, improved and less restless (32) sleep.

Holy basil leaves in plant form on table

You can find holy basil leaf by also searching for Ocimum sanctum L. and tulsi when looking at ingredients.

9. Holy basil leaf

Holy basil leaf is not your typical basil plant. Native to Southeast Asia, holy basil leaf, also known as Ocimum sanctum L. and tulsi (in tea form), acts as an adaptogen. It has been found to:

  • Improve cognitive function and salivary cortisol levels. In one 2015 study (33) where participants were given 300 milligrams of Tulsi for thirty consecutive days, researchers concluded holy basil leaf has cognition-enhancing properties in humans.

Holy basil leaf supplements: Holy basil is most effective as a supplement when taken in tincture or pill form.

10. Vitamin C

The adrenal glands contain one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body (34) and research has shown that these glands secrete vitamin C as a response to stress (35).

  • In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial (36), 120 participants were given a high-dose of sustained-release ascorbic acid or a placebo. Individuals receiving ascorbic acid supplementation demonstrated lower blood pressure, faster salivary cortisol recovery, and better subjective stress responses compared to the control group.

Vitamin C supplements: Vitamin C supplementation may help mitigate the stress response, as well as prevent depletion of vitamin C.

What about adrenal extracts made from bovine adrenal glands?

Adrenal extract, also known as adrenal complex — adrenal cortex when you come across it on supplement labels — and its main active ingredient is hydrocortisone. It is an extract made from the actual adrenal glands of cows, pigs, or sheep after they are slaughtered.

Some experts believe adrenal extract or adrenal cortex works well for people with low cortisol levels, but due to lack of scientific evidence, we recommend you talk to your doctor about adrenal extracts before taking any. The adrenal extract has been shown to:

  • Improve health for Addison’s Disease sufferers. A study found (37) that the removal of a whole adrenal gland from an animal and consuming it daily in small amounts can be effective at restoring a large measure of health to sufferers with Addison’s Disease.
  • Adrenal extract is believed to boost energy and memory, but more studies need to be conducted for it to be scientifically proven. Some medical experts believe the extract functions like the body’s adrenal gland.

Adrenal extract supplements: Do not take adrenal extract in injectable form, as it has been found to lead to serious infections. (38) You should also avoid adrenal extracts if you have a compromised immune system.
Ask your doctor about adaptogenic herb blends and other natural adrenal support supplements you can try that they recommend.

Takeaways

  • Your adrenal glands are two triangle-shaped, nickel-sized glands just above the kidneys. Adrenal glands produce and control cortisol, our stress hormone.
  • Adrenal fatigue is believed to be caused by chronic stress. When you are constantly stressed out, your adrenals stop producing cortisol the way they should
  • Signs of adrenal fatigue include low energy, trouble sleeping, frequent urination, weight gain, mood swings, depression, anxiety, brain fog, and autoimmune issues.
  • Stress management is the best adrenal fatigue treatment
woman and doctor chatting in the doctor's office

Chatting with your healthcare practitioner about adrenal health may help your lifestyle improve!

Talk to your doctor about adrenal fatigue and adrenal support supplements

If you feel constantly exhausted and want to figure out what the underlying cause may be, discuss your chronic fatigue symptoms with a trusted healthcare provider.

Though there are no formal tests for adrenal fatigue, a natural medicine physician may test AF by:

  • A blood test looking at DHEA-S levels (39)
  • A simple saliva test for measuring cortisol levels

If you are feeling chronically tired, weak, or depressed, your symptoms should be taken seriously. You may have undiagnosed adrenal insufficiency, obstructive sleep apnea, depression, an autoimmune disorder, or other health problems. Testing can be an important part of the process.

Once you and your healthcare provider have a better sense of what is and isn’t causing your symptoms, you can confidently start an individualized treatment plan using natural supplements.

If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript! 

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  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997656/
  4. https://www.aimedjournal.com/article/S2212-9626(14)00005-4/pdf
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212962614000054
  6. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease
  7. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease/diagnosis
  8. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/adrenalgland/conditioninfo/treatment
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  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/
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  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21184804
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  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5561616/
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  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997116/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10839209
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10075127
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18476388
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  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209058/
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1599383
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  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/
  32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586582/
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26571987
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15666839
  35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17616774
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  37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2205609/
  38. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/5/5/pdfs/99-0509.pdf
  39. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/tests/dhea-sulfate-test

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