If you have adrenal fatigue, recovery is so important since the constant tiredness can be debilitating to your work, family, health and social life. You wake up tired in the morning, you feel like you need a nap around 3pm and you feel wired but tired at night rendering yourself unlikely to sleep well during the night. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? This is all too common for those suffering with adrenal fatigue.
Stress is Very Common
It is estimated that 75-90 percent of visits to primary care physicians is related to either acute or chronic symptoms of stress. (1) Stress is the natural response of the body when it feels that it is in danger. For example, imagine that you are about to be attacked by a bear. The body shuts down processes like digestion and pumps out stress hormones to make you more alert to run for your life. Once the danger has passed, the stress hormones decrease and everyday processes like digestion resume.
This scenario is called the “fight or flight” response and it is critical for dangerous situations. However, in today’s fast-paced society with long commutes, deadlines, financial obligations, sedentary lifestyles, constant access to the internet, marketing messages and social media and overuse of computers and mobile phones, the “fight or flight” response is happening all day, every day. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for developing adrenal fatigue, which is the underlying culprit to many chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and immune insufficiency. (2)
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The adrenal glands, walnut-shaped organs that are found above the kidneys, are responsible for producing stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. When released in the right amounts, all of these hormones serve a useful purpose. For example, cortisol is naturally high in the morning, as one of its purposes is to keep you alert. It continues to decline throughout the day and cortisol is lowest at night, when you want to wind down to sleep.
When you have adrenal fatigue, however, the production of cortisol could be too high or too low at different times of the day. For example, if you feel wired at the end of the day and cannot fall asleep, this is because cortisol is too high at night. This causes a vicious cycle in which you wake up feeling tired with decreased levels of energy throughout the day.
Feeling tired is only one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Other symptoms include:
- Overeating/eating unhealthy foods
- Craving salty foods
- Waking up feeling tired in the morning
- Increased energy at night
- Overuse of stimulants like caffeine
- Inability to handle stress
- A weakened immune system
Before you start taking sleeping pills or other medications you typically use to calm your nerves, there are natural supplements you can try, along with dietary changes, that will boost optimal adrenal functioning. This will help you to sleep better, gain energy and enhance immune function.
The 6 Best Supplements for Adrenal Fatigue:
1. Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
Ashwaganda, also known as Indian ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb known to decrease symptoms of stress.
In animal studies, ashwaganda counteracted the symptoms associated with extreme stress, including changes in blood sugar, adrenal weight and cortisol levels. (3,4). It also decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety-associated behaviour. (5) Ashwaganda is being studied as a means to counteract stress stemming from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Results look promising in that the herb stimulates stem cell proliferation and improves red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet parameters. (6,7)
Since ashwaganda seems to have a calming effect, it is recommended to take this supplement before bedtime. Get recommended ashwaganda here.
2. Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb that is known for its ability to affect hormones like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
In a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, sixty subjects with stress-related fatigue were given a standardized proprietary Rhodiola rosea product (576 milligrams of Rhodiola rosea) or placebo in two daily doses (morning and lunchtime) for twenty-eight days. The Rhodiola group experienced improved concentration associated with decreased stress related fatigue and significant decreases in salivary cortisol compared to the placebo group. (8)
Other studies have shown Rhodiola to improve fatigue and mental performance in physicians on night duty as well as improved physical fitness, psycho-motor function, mental performance and general well-being in students. (9,10) Get recommended Rhodiola here.
3. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
Since licorice can boost cortisol production, this supplement is best taken in the morning when cortisol levels should be at their highest. However, for some people licorice can be too energizing and affect sleep. So it can be important to know your cortisol levels with salivary testing to see where you are at and look over it with a naturopathic doctor or experienced nutritionist. Get a recommended licorice tincture here.
4. Holy Basil Leaf
Holy Basil leaf is another herb that is documented for its stress-relieving, neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing effects in animal studies.
In a human study , participants given 300 milligrams of Holy Basil extract over thirty days saw marked improvement in cognitive function as well as salivary cortisol levels. (12) Get recommended holy basil here.
5. Phosphatidylserine (PS)
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in cells that plays an important role in muscle metabolism and immune function. It has been shown to balance cortisol overproduction, especially following intense exercise. Several studies done on male athletes showed that PS decreased the production of cortisol after intense exercise. (13, 14) Get recommended phosphatidylserine here.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is a precursor to neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Stress causes the depletion of these neurotransmitters. This is associated with a stress-induced performance decline in animals. Supplementing with tyrosine will reduce the decline of dopamine and norepinephrine and can improve performance in times of stress. (15) Get recommended Tyrosine here.
How To Eat To Enhance Optimal Adrenal Function
In addition to supplements that can help with adrenal fatigue, you can also tweak your diet in order to be cohesive with the natural cycles of adrenal hormone release.
Here are tips for how to do that:
1. Eat a high-protein, low carbohydrate breakfast. Although we have been taught to eat the most carbohydrates at breakfast, when it comes to adrenal health, the opposite is true. Carbohydrates decrease the production of cortisol in the morning, which is counter-productive to optimum cortisol production. Remember that cortisol levels should be at their highest in the morning to wake you up and keep you alert. Therefore, eating a high-protein breakfast with minimal carbohydrates is warranted. An example can be poached eggs with ½ a cup of berries.
2. Eat every 3-4 hours to maintain optimal blood glucose control. Cortisol helps to regulate blood sugar levels within the body. If you have adrenal fatigue, this is also negatively affected. Therefore, it is recommended to eat every three to four hours, mixing a protein source with a high-fiber carbohydrate, to maintain blood glucose levels within a healthy range. An example of a snack would be an apple with a few almonds.
3. Eat the highest quantity of carbohydrates at dinner. Again, this is opposite to what most people have heard in the past. However, eating more carbohydrates at dinner than at breakfast will decrease the level of cortisol, preparing you for a healthy night’s rest. Do not misunderstand this advice and think that eating a plateful of pasta is ok. You can add more sweet potatoes, carrots and squash to dinner to increase carbohydrates at dinnertime.
Stress is a ubiquitous ailment that plagues almost everyone at one point or another in a lifetime. Taking measures to keep stress under control like exercising, connecting with nature, good sleep, meditation and good nutrition are critical to improving symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue. Remember that real food and natural supplements can be game-changers to improving your health. Take the time to improve your diet and reap the benefits of decreased stress.
Testing Your Adrenal Levels
Although the symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be very telling, the best way to really know what is going on is to test your adrenals with a salivary cortisol test. This is the best way to know whether your cortisol is too high or too low and will help you know how to treat it. Unfortunately, most regular doctors don’t offer this test, so you can either ask for one from a naturopathic doctor or order one yourself here.
I get my adrenal test here and test every so often especially when I’m feeling extra fatigued and think something might be going on with my cortisol. I then go over the test with my nutritionist to figure out a plan of action and decide which supplements might be helpful. If you don’t have a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor yet, using the tools in the The Adrenal Fatigue Solution book to help you understand your cortisol test can be very helpful as well.
More Adrenal Fatigue Resources:
- Ketogenic Diet: Why It’s Risky for People with Adrenal Fatigue
- AVOID This Type of Exercise If You Have Adrenal Fatigue
- 6 Foods to Avoid on An Adrenal Fatigue Diet
- 6 Best Foods for Adrenal Fatigue
Do you want to heal your Adrenal Fatigue for good?
Are you tired of the guesswork involved in treating your adrenal fatigue?
Are you frustrated that your doctor doesn’t understand your condition?
Are you ready to stop feeling tired all the time and take control of your health?
The Adrenal Fatigue Solution contains everything you need to start treating your Adrenal Fatigue.
Karin B. says…“Before I read The Adrenal Fatigue Solution, I was pretty depressed—I was still sluggish and still struggling with this weight gain and still needing my supplements. Now I’m hopeful—I see how I’ve been exercising wrong for my energy level, and how my diet has been fighting against my supplements. Not all of these changes are going to be easy, but now I know how I can start to improve my own health. It’s so encouraging to know that I have more control than I realized!”
About Tina Christoudias, The Thyroid Dietician
Tina Christoudias is a Harvard-trained registered dietitian with nearly 18 years of experience as a nutrition counselor. Having had personal experience with hypothyroidism, she specializes in diet protocols for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism and has recently finished her book, Tired of Feeling Tired? She is a strong advocate of the Paleo diet and is currently getting certified as an autoimmune protocol certified practitioner.
- http://www.stress.org/americas.htm [Accessed March 13,2009]
- Monteleone P, Beinat L, Tanzillo C, et al. Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine response to physical stress in humans. Neuroendocrinology 1990;52:243-248. 89.
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