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Need to Know
For fast reading, scan through the topic headings in BOLD BLACK, important conclusions in BOLD BLUE, and "Must Know" in BOLD RED. To jump to specific sections in this article, click on the respective in the Table of Contents.
Information presented here is for general educational purposes only. Each one of us is biochemically and metabolically different. If you have a specific health concern and wish my personalized nutritional recommendation, write to me by clicking here.
Adrenal Fatigue Glandular and Herbal Therapy
Glandulars refer to raw animal glandulars and non-glandular tissues or extracts of these tissues that are normally dried and ground.
There are many tissues, organs and glands in the body of animals. Commonly available glandulars include the following: thyroid glandular, adrenal glandular, thymus glandular, testis, and ovary. Less frequently used glandulars are from the pituitary, kidney, liver, pancreas, spleen, lung, heart, brain, uterus and prostate.
An herb is a plant valued for flavor, scent, or other qualities. Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes. Certain herbs can be beneficial for recovery from Adrenal Fatigue, while other herbs can be quite detrimental, delaying or preventing the healing progress.
The use of glandulars and herbs for Adrenal Fatigue is widespread. Due to the lack of standardization and research, there is common consumer misinformation and misuse. While the proper use of glandulars and herbs has its place as part of the adrenal recovery program, its use must be under proper judicious guidance for best results because of frequent atypical responses elicited when such compounds are used. Glandulars and herbs, while exhibiting desirable adaptogenic and tonic properties, may become stimulatory in nature when entering a body whose adrenal function is compromised. The more advanced the Adrenal Fatigue, the more prominent the stimulatory effects appear. This is most commonly noted in those with advanced adrenal weakness. For this reason, what seems to be harmless use by one person can be toxic to another.
This article will look at the most commonly used glandulars and herbs used in the Adrenal Fatigue setting and discuss their various attributes.
Healers in the past (and currently) used tissue extracts as one armamentarium in the fight against disease. For instance, extract of bone marrow has been used for the treatment of anemia. Desiccated thyroid is still used by many alternative practitioners in the management of hypothyroidism. Many people take glandulars as a perceived source for natural hormones. In fact, the use of glandular therapy forms the foundational elements and components of modern day prescription of hormones including thyroid, prednisone, and estrogen.
Glandular therapy began with the discoveries made by Swiss physician Paul Niehans, M.D. in the 1920s. Dr. Niehans went on to develop live cell therapy at his clinic in Montreux, Switzerland. Thousands of patients came to his clinic as a last resort. His therapies became famous for rejuvenating all that came to see him: wealthy businessmen, royalty, presidents, and celebrities. Live cell therapy is still practiced in Europe. It is estimated that 5,000 German physicians utilize cell therapy and millions of patients have benefited over the last 50 years. By the mid 1930s, adrenal cell extracts in liquid and tablet forms were produced by several companies. By the late 1930s they were being used by tens of thousands of physicians. As recently as 1968, they were still made by some of the leading pharmaceutical companies.
These extracts are used to replenish and eventually normalize adrenal function. An advantage over cortisol hormone replacement is that adrenal cortical extracts can be discontinued once they have done their job of repairing adrenal function.
Glandulars can theoretically come from any animal, but most often they are derived from cow (bovine), while others come from pig (porcine) and sheep (ovine).
Use and Safety
The different glandulars and glandular extracts have various properties and uses. Thymus and spleen extracts may influence the immune system. Thyroid extracts can help with low thyroid. Adrenal extracts may have anti-inflammatory activity. Testis extracts may influence androgen levels, and ovary extracts may influence estrogen levels.
One of the primary set backs in the modern day use of glandulars is the difficulty of standardized testing and thus lack of research. Modern scientific studies involve isolation of variables into one variable to be involved in a double blind experimental setting. This is clearly not possible in the case of glandulars, which contain enzymes, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, neurotransmitters and a host of nutrients in addition to the tissues within the gland. Testing would not be conducted on any single substance or hormone, such as cortisol or thyroxine, but a number of different substances that are present within each glandular extract.
For example, let's look at brain tissue. If brain tissue were consumed, one would expect to ingest hundreds of different components that are present within brain tissue. One of these components would be the long-chained fatty acids EPA and DHA. It is quite likely that the omega-3 oils could improve brain function. I won't even discuss the potential benefits of other components in brain glandular such as sphingomyelin, phosphatidylserine, etc.
Glandulars contain many substances including hormones. The major problem that arises is not knowing how much of these hormones or other substances are available in these extracts since they can vary from batch to batch and animal to animal. Also, since there are so many substances within these glandulars, it is difficult to know which of the substances is having a therapeutic influence and how they interact with the myriad other substances in the body. Because they have so many substances in them it is difficult to determine and measure what kind of effect they may have in the long run when ingested as a supplement. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that glandulars do possess healing properties if used properly based on antidotal evidence for over 80 years.
The best glandulars usually comes from freeze-dried extracts from organic cows raised in New Zealand. There has been no Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in New Zealand. Organic fed cows are raised on grass and aren't fed any dead animal products (the source of Mad Cow Disease). They are government inspected and raised without the use of pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Reputable glandular products are subject to in-process and finished product testing. These tests include microbial contamination tests to assure acceptable total bacteria counts and the absence of disease-causing bacteria.
1. Desiccated Thyroid Glandulars
Desiccated thyroid is the dried and powdered thyroid gland. During the process of preparing this glandular, the fat and connective tissue are removed. Desiccated thyroid is often from hogs, but may also come from cows and sheep.
Desiccated natural thyroid is available as a prescription drug for the management of low thyroid. Pharmaceutical preparation is standardized and contains both thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Two products, Armour thyroid tablets (porcine) and Thyrolar (bovine) are FDA-approved drugs.
Natural desiccated thyroid drugs have been available since the late 1800s, but fell out of favor in the 1950s, with the introduction of the heavily marketed synthetic levothyroxine. More recently, however, these drugs have become increasingly popular with patients and practitioners, in part because some patients feel better on these drugs. The primary brands are Armour Thyroid, made by Forest Laboratories, Western Pharmaceuticals' products Naturethroid and Westhroid, and Bio-Tech's Bio-Thyroid.
Prescription desiccated thyroid drugs are NOT the same as over-the-counter thyroid glandular supplements. There are countless over the counter thyroid extracts marketed as dietary supplements. Many probably do not have any significant hormones in them, but many do. Choosing the right product becomes a trial and error exercise for many.
Many with Adrenal Fatigue are taking prescription thyroid medication. The use of thyroid glandular in an Adrenal Fatigue setting is therefore usually not necessary. In fact, concurrent use of thyroid glandular and prescription thyroid replacement may lead to hyperthyroidism. If indeed the thyroid needs support, there are many other more gentle nutrients (such as kelp, iodine, tyrosine) which can serve as first line support to start. Low thyroid function secondary to Adrenal Fatigue usually improves by itself once adrenal function is normalized.
2. Adrenal Glandulars
Adrenal glandular are widely promoted and used for Adrenal Fatigue. Many report a sense of increased energy when previously fatigued and a sense of calmness when previously anxious after taking glandular. These adaptogenic properties, however, are usually demonstrable in those with mild Adrenal Fatigue and not in those with advance adrenal weakness. Those with advance Adrenal Fatigue are often stimulatory. While this may be considered as a desirable outcome at first as energy returns, there are significant side effects if taken long term. Taking adrenal glandulars chronically to sustain energy is one of the common reasons for adrenal recovery failures due to addictive and withdrawal side effects of these compounds.
First and commonly, the body may develop tolerance, and over time, more glandular are needed to produce the same effect. Second, at high dose, these glandular may actually trigger and precipitate adrenal crisis as the body's ability to handle the stimulant reaches maximum tolerance level. Sufferers may experience a "wired and tired" feeling resulting in insomnia and hyper-irritability along with extreme fatigue. Third, withdrawal and rebound symptoms may surface when the glandular are stopped, evidenced by even greater fatigue. Fourth, glandular may trigger a series of paradoxical and undesirable effect, ranging from extreme fatigue, palpitation, blood pressure sensitivity, anxiety, among others.
Because of these possible side effects, the general consumer should use adrenal glandular on a short term basis provided that the Adrenal Fatigue is in a very mild or beginning state. The more advance the Adrenal Fatigue, the more one should stay clear of adrenal glandular and its use is best left to the experienced clinician.
Due to the lack of standardization, there are many products on the market available to the consumer. Not all are created equal. Perhaps the most potent product is called Isocort. Isocort is a popular over-the-counter freeze-dried adrenal cortex glandular supplement containing herbs and medium chain triglycerides that may have cortisol like properties. It's advertised as providing a standardized, stable, and "gentle" dose of the adreno-cortical substance equivalent to 2.5 mg of cortisol per tablet. Ingredients of Isocort are listed are as follows: Freeze-Dried Adrenal Cortex (soluble fractionation) from New Zealand Sheep. Echinacea Extract (trace amount). Prunus and Lomatium dissectum root isolate (kreb concentrate-2%) in pellet base of lactose and lactase. No cortisol is actually listed in the ingredients. Clinically, prescription steroids such as Cortef or hydrocortisone are far more effective on a dose equivalent basis as compared to Isocort if a strong steroidal effect is desired, though isocort does seem to produce steroidal-like properties. Isocort and Isocort equivalents are popular because it can stimulate the body, leading to increased energy and reduce fatigue. Long-term intake exposes the body to side effects common with other glandulars. Additionally, long term ingestion of echinacea (an Isocort component) is not indicated. Isocort should be taken with great care and under supervision of an experienced health care professional even though it is available as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement.
3. Thymus Glandular
Thymus extracts can have substances that influence the immune system, but it is very difficult to know what kind of short term and long term effect these glandular have on the immune system. There are countless immune substances in the body and it is extremely difficult to predict all the potential interactions when ingesting a thymus glandular. Furthermore, there could be wide variations in response between different people.
Testis and Ovary Glandulars
Testis and ovary extracts may contain testosterone and estrogen, respectively. Some have tried to use these for libido support. They are normally not indicated because there are much better ways to support hormonal function that can be more closely monitored.
Adrenal glandular should be part of the total adrenal recovery toolbox. It can be effectively used short term to enhance energy production in very mild Adrenal Fatigue cases due to its adaptogenic properties. The more advanced the Adrenal Fatigue, the more such glandular tends to lose its adaptogenic properties and become stimulatory in nature from a clinical perspective. Inappropriate use of glandulars is one of the most common adrenal recovery mistakes. This is often masked by a brief period of enhanced energy only to be followed by worsening fatigue or requirement of high doses to keep up the same energy output. Proper guidance is necessary under professional care to avoid long term side-effects, addiction, and withdrawal problems commonly associated with glandular intake.
The following are the six commonly used herbs for Adrenal Fatigue recovery:
1. Licorice Root
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra and Glycyrrhiza uralensis) is grown in Europe and Asia. Licorice is a highly prized Chinese medicine. It is used in almost all of the Chinese patented herbal formulas. Licorice is the most well known herb for adrenal support. It is an anti-stress herb known to increase energy, endurance, and vitality and act as a mild tonic. Licorice is known to naturally fortify cortisone levels and it has been used to help decrease symptoms of hypoglycemia, a common side effect of decreased adrenal function. It causes increased production of aldosterone, a hormone that is frequently deficient in advanced Adrenal Fatigue. A rise in blood pressure may be experienced in those who are normal. Licorice candy does not offer the same benefits as preparations made from the root, but can cause an increase in blood pressure.
Licorice can soothe nervous stomachs and stimulate both blood circulation in the heart and arteries and production of interferon-like substances by the immune system.
Licorice was prescribed for Addison's disease until the 1930s. Deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) is made by removing the glycyrrhizin. For positive adrenal effects, only real licorice should be used, not DGL.
Long-term use of licorice containing more than 1 gram of glycyrrhizin (the amount in approximately 10 grams of licorice root) daily can cause increased blood pressure and water retention (edema) (Schambelan 1994). It should not be used in pregnancy.
Side effects of licorice include headache, hypertension, lethargy, upset stomach, diarrhea, facial puffiness, edema, increased fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and grogginess. It may potentiate the effect of warfarin and digoxin therapy. These side effects are more prominent in those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue. The weaker the adrenals, the more stimulatory the side effects can be anticipated. Most of the side effects are associated with what appears to be the loss of adaptogenic properties, resulting in a propederance of stimulatory properties.
2. Ashwagandha Root and Leaf (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is an ancient Indian herb with a history of therapeutic uses. Known as a tonic for all kinds of weaknesses, ashwagandha is famous for its direct benefits for the adrenal tissue and function of the adrenal glands. Ashwagandha promotes strength and vigor while also regarded as a rejuvenator and mild aphrodisiac.
Ayruvedic physicians use ashwagandha as the treatment of choice in rheumatic pains, inflammation of joints and other related conditions. Ashwagandha is considered to be an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body return to normal levels. For instance, if cortisol is too high, ashwagandha lowers it. If cortisol is too low, ashwagandha raises it. Under a normal therapeutic dosage, ashwagandha side effects are not present if it is used more than 180 days, with intermittent holidays if high dose is used. It is generally well tolerated and without any significant side effects. No significant drug interactions have been found.
Some people have complained of slight drowsiness after using it while with a majority of people have had no trouble at all if they are constitutionally strong. Those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue may find this herbal compound become stimulatory, increasing energy. Like licorice, the stimulatory properties tend to be exaggerated and may become too pronounced in a setting of advanced adrenal weakness, leading to anxiety and a sense of being "wired". As such, it should be closely monitored if used in such settings.
3. Korean Ginseng Root (Panax Ginseng)
Generally, Panax ginseng is more suitable for men than women. Korean Red is a type of ginseng with which some women have experienced adverse affects. Women can experience an increase in facial hair and acne. Men taking too much ginseng can experience symptoms of aggressiveness, irritability, or sexual excesses. Korean ginseng is a natural remedy for Adrenal Fatigue that men can start taking in small doses and gradually increase it. It's probably best for women to avoid its use altogether. Side effects include insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, breast pain, diarrhea, vertigo, and anxiety. As with other herbs, its stimulatory properties tend to be more pronounced in a body that is decompensated with weak adrenals.
4. Siberian Ginseng Root (Eleutherococus senticosus)
Siberian Ginseng Root is good for both men and women. The main benefits of Siberian ginseng are increased resistance to stress, normalized metabolism, and regulation of neurotransmitters. Siberian ginseng counteracts mental fatigue and is known to increase and sustain energy levels, physical stamina and endurance.
Siberian ginseng is also an anti-depressant that helps improve sleep, diminishes lethargy, lessens irritability, and induces a feeling of well-being. Like siberian ginseng root, its use in an Adrenal Fatigue setting should be limited to mild cases and short term to avoid stimulatory side effects that invariably overwhelms the body and worsens the overall condition over time.
5. Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale)
An adaptogen for the adrenals, ginger root helps modulate cortisol levels, normalize blood pressure and heart rate, burn fat, and increase energy and metabolic rate. Ginger also stimulates digestive enzyme secretions for proteins and fatty acids.
Ginger root may contain aristolochic acid, which can cause serious kidney/urinary system disease (e.g., renal fibrosis or urinary tract cancer). Symptoms include an unusual change in the amount of urine or blood in the urine. Liquid preparations often contain sugar and/or alcohol. Caution is advised for those with diabetes, alcohol dependence or liver disease. Ginger is not recommended for use during pregnancy. It is not known whether this product is excreted into breast milk. Consult your doctor before breast-feeding.
6. Ginkgo leaf (Ginkgo Biloba)
Ginkgo Biloba comes from the Ginkgo tree, and is one of the oldest living tree species. The Chinese have used Ginkgo for thousands of years for various ailments, including lung congestion, asthma, circulation support, anti-aging, and libido support. It is well recognized for its positive effects on brain functions including enhanced mental alertness, reduced brain fog, enhanced memory, and reduced mental fatigue.
The adrenals suffer from a tremendous amount of oxidative stress, especially when producing excess cortisol during the stress response. This leads to a significant increase in free radicals within the same adrenal cells that make the needed hormones. Ginkgo leaf possesses strong anti-oxidative properties to sequester free radical production, thereby protecting the adrenal glands, the brain and the liver from free radical damage.
Ginkgo also contains several bioflavinoids that improve blood flow to the brain, ears, eyes, heart and extremities. Its side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, headache, increased risk of bleeding, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, and increased fatigue.
Herbs and glandulars are widely used and touted as possessing adaptogenic properties and marketed as tonics. They are popular with those with very mild Adrenal Fatigue due to their stimulatory properties to increase energy and reduce fatigue. These stimulatory effects are more pronounced the weaker the adrenals. Stimulants are the equivalent of giving too much gas and "flooding the engine" in a car. It puts further stress on the adrenals to work harder and produce more energy, and ends up further depleting the adrenal glands. While there may be short-term benefits, this often produces a false sense of well-being that over time tends to fail. While the use of glandulars and herbs have their places in adrenal recovery, their use must be judicious to avoid over stimulation, addiction, and withdrawal concerns. Short-term use in very mild cases is acceptable, but it is best to proceed under the supervision of an experienced adrenal expert if adrenal weakness is pronounced. Always be on the alert of paradoxical or unusual reactions (such as excessive stimulation, excessive fatigue, cardiac palpitation, unstable blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability) as warning signs of inappropriate use, which is one of the most common mistakes in adrenal recovery.
Ref: AFANDHERBS (Rev 131008)
About The Authors
Michael Lam, M.D., M.P.H., A.B.A.A.M., is a western trained physician specializing in nutritional and anti-aging medicine. Dr. Lam received his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California. He also holds a Master’s degree in Public Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging Medicine where he has also served as a board examiner. Dr. Lam is a pioneer in using nontoxic, natural compounds to promote the healing of many age-related degenerative conditions. He utilizes optimum blends of nutritional supplementation that manipulate food, vitamins, natural hormones, herbs, enzymes, and minerals into specific protocols to rejuvenate cellular function.
Dr. Lam was first to coin the term, ovarian-adrenal-thyroid (OAT) hormone axis, and to describe its imbalances. He was first to scientifically tie in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) as part of the overall neuroendocrine stress response continuum of the body. He systematized the clinical significance and coined the various phases of Adrenal Exhaustion. He has written five books: Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome - Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs, The Five Proven Secrets to Longevity, Beating Cancer with Natural Medicine (Free PDF version), How to Stay Young and Live Longer, and Estrogen Dominance. In 2001, Dr. Lam established www.DrLam.com as a free, educational website on evidence-based alternative medicine for the public and for health professionals. It featured the world’s most comprehensive library on AFS. Provided free as a public service, he has answered countless questions through the website on alternative health and AFS. His personal, telephone-based nutritional coaching services have enabled many around the world to regain control of their health using natural therapies.
Dorine Lam, R.D., M.S., M.P.H., is a registered dietitian and holistic clinical nutritionist specializing in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and natural hormonal balancing. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health in Nutrition, and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Loma Linda University, in Loma Linda, California. She is also a board-certified, Anti-Aging Health Practitioner by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. She coauthored with Michael Lam, M.D., the books Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome - Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs and Estrogen Dominance and numerous articles on Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Her personal research and writing focuses on the metabolic aspect of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. She is married to Michael Lam and is an integral part of the telephone-based nutritional coaching team helping people overcome Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
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