A look at adrenal fatigue and how it can be healed with medicinal herbs and plants.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition that has been covered in medical literature for over 100 years. In recent years, however, the prevalence of adrenal fatigue has increased.
The prevalence of adrenal fatigue in recent years could be a result of several factors including poor nutrition and the stressful lifestyles that many people lead today.
While this condition has been met with skepticism by traditional medical professions, with some saying the symptoms could be related to several health issues, adrenal fatigue has been recognized as a condition by alternative practitioners such as naturopathic doctors.
If you’re feeling constantly lethargic and you’re not getting quality sleep, determining if your adrenal glands are overworked and healing these glands with plants and herbs can help to regulate your sleep cycle and restore your energy levels.
This article takes a look at adrenal fatigue and how it can be healed with medicinal herbs and plants.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
A condition that occurs as a result of stress over prolonged periods, adrenal fatigue has symptoms that may feel similar to chronic fatigue, but it cannot be healed with sleep and rest alone.
The common symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue include feeling lethargic, a general feeling of being unwell, tiredness where you may feel “wired,” and poor sleep quality.
As a person continues living with these symptoms, the natural sleep cycle can be disrupted causing further physical symptoms such as hair loss and weight gain.
While these symptoms and the lethargy that is associated with adrenal fatigue can be challenging to live with, adrenal fatigue is one of those conditions where people often go undiagnosed and untreated for a long time before seeking medical advice.
What is the Difference between Adrenal Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue?
It’s important not to confuse adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue. There are several differences between adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue.
Chronic fatigue is often caused by viral infections such as glandular fever and bacterial infections like pneumonia. Rest, sleep and treating the immune system is typically the focus for treating chronic fatigue.
In contrast, adrenal fatigue can take many years to develop, and it develops as a result of overworked adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands become overworked when the body is in constant “flight or fight” mode, continually triggering the adrenal glands to produce aldosterone, cortisol, and male sex hormones known as adrenal androgens.
As the adrenal glands become overworked, they begin to have difficulty producing these hormones resulting in the adrenal fatigue symptoms many people experience.
Treatment for adrenal fatigue differs from chronic fatigue. To effectively treat adrenal fatigue, and restore effective adrenal function, targeted supplementation is crucial.
Some of the key vitamins and minerals needed to restore healthy adrenal function include vitamins B5, B6, B12, C and magnesium (1). These vitamins and minerals can be found in a variety of foods and medicinal plants and herbs.
Plants and Herbs that can Help to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
As with any other health issue, getting your body back to full health again can take time.
While plants and herbs can help to treat adrenal fatigue, these need to form part of an overall healthy lifestyle with quality food, exercise, and adequate sleep.
The plants and herbs that can help to heal adrenal fatigue are listed below.
Ashwagandha (Withania somniferia) is also known as Indian ginseng, and winter cherry is native to India and North Africa.
Classified as an “adaptogen,” ashwagandha can help your body to regulate it’s “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. Ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years, and it’s one of the key herbs in Ayurveda.
This herb can help to increase energy levels, reduce stress and improve concentration — key things that are needed for people with adrenal fatigue (2).
Some studies have also shown that ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels in people with chronic stress. In one study, people taking the highest dose of ashwagandha experienced a 30% reduction in cortisol (3).
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Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), is an herb that often is regarded to be helpful in decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress.
A recent study found that after three weeks of taking chamomile supplements, participants noticed a decrease in depression and anxiety (4).
In this 2009 study, participants ingested 220-mg capsules that contained pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extract.
To enjoy the soothing taste and aroma of chamomile, you could also try chamomile tea. For best results, however, speak to a naturopath about proper supplementation.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant of the ginger family. A yellow spice powder is obtained from its roots, and it has been used in India for years as a flavourful spice and for its medicinal properties.
Recent studies have confirmed that the compounds found in turmeric called curcuminoids have medicinal properties (5).
The most important curcuminoid found in turmeric is curcumin. To reap all the benefits of curcumin, you need to take a high-quality supplement as curcumin only makes up 3% of the content of turmeric (6).
Like some of the other plants and herbs listed here, curcumin has natural anti-inflammatory properties. This means curcumin helps to fight harmful bacteria while blocking the molecules in your body that can increase inflammation (7).
As a bioactive substance, curcumin can fight inflammation at the molecular level. Curcumin can also improve brain function by boosting the production of serotonin and dopamine. This can improve your mood, particularly if your body is fighting adrenal fatigue (8).
Commonly known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero helps to reduce physical and mental fatigue.
As its namesake suggests, this plant is native to Siberia, but it now grows in countries all over the world including China, Japan, Korea, Canada, and the USA.
Products containing eleuthero may also list its Latin or scientific name, Eleutherococcus senticosus.
While some studies have shown this plant to be beneficial in fighting chronic fatigue (9), it’s the ability for eleuthero to help the adrenal glands more efficiently produce hormones that can help with healing adrenal fatigue.
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), also known as tulsi, helps to reduce cortisol production which can help people who haven’t had adrenal fatigue for a long time.
Unlike rhodiola and eleuthero, holy basil isn’t a stimulant so it can be particularly helpful in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression without the energy spike that can come from stimulating herbs like ashwagandha and eleuthero ginseng.
This is important for restoring the effective function of the adrenal glands as they need to rest and calm to produce the hormones required for adequate stress responses and energy levels.
If you’ve had adrenal fatigue for a long time, however, caution needs to be exercised with taking holy basil as it can further suppress the proper functioning of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (10).
This is where it becomes particularly important to seek advice from a naturopathic doctor about your symptoms before you begin taking supplements.
Grown in cold, mountainous regions across Europe and Asia, rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that can help to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
As an adaptogen, rhodiola helps to increase the body’s ability to resist stress.
A recent study found that rhodiola improves the symptoms that often accompany stress such as fatigue, exhaustion, and anxiety (11).
In the study, 101 participants experiencing stress took 400mg of rhodiola per day for four weeks. The study found improvements in fatigue, exhaustion, and anxiety after just a few days, and these symptoms continued to improve throughout the study.
Rhodiola can also help to fight fatigue. A four-week study with 60 participants found that a 576mg dose of rhodiola improved the participant’s attention spans and reduced fatigue (12).
The South African red bush, rooibos has been found to balance cortisol levels (13).
This is particularly helpful for restoring the healthy functioning of the adrenal glands.
Along with balancing cortisol levels, rooibos can also help to reduce inflammation and free radical damage in the body (14).
Healing these symptoms is essential for people with adrenal fatigue to calm the body’s “flight or fight” response.
Swiss Chard and Spinach
Apart from herbal supplements, the fruits and vegetables that we eat can also have a positive impact on reducing stress and fatigue.
Green leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard and spinach are excellent sources of magnesium, iron and vitamin C. These vitamins are crucial for the effective functioning of your adrenal glands and immune system.
Magnesium, one of the highest occurring nutrients in green vegetables, has been found to reduce anxiety and stress (15).
This occurs as magnesium improves communication in the HPA-axis, regulating the body’s “flight or fight” response in stressful situations.
In a controlled, randomized study of adults with depression, 450 mg of magnesium on a daily basis improved the participant’s mood as effectively as antidepressant drugs (16).
It’s important to note that in this study the participants were taking an oral supplement but including a range of green leafy vegetables in your diet can also improve your magnesium intake.
Adrenal fatigue can be debilitating to your health and productivity.
By implementing a range of healthy changes to your lifestyle and ensuring your adrenal glands get the vitamins and minerals needed to recuperate, you can heal your body and start to restore your energy levels.
Remember, as adrenal fatigue takes time to develop, it can take time to heal so be gentle on yourself and focus on what’s best for your healing.
Before you start taking any medicinal plants and herbs and supplements, make sure you talk to a naturopathic doctor or alternative health professional to appropriately tailor your treatment.