Adrenal Support Supplements: A Guide to Safe and Effective Use

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH


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Testes and Ovary Glandulars

Adrenal support supplements can have a profound effect on Adrenal FatigueTestes 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. The proper use of adrenal support supplements can have a great impact on hormonal function.

Glandulars as Adrenal Support Supplements

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.

Adrenal Support Supplements: Herbs for Adrenal Fatigue

The following are six commonly used herbs as adrenal support supplements 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 preponderance 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.

adrenal support supplementsAyruvedic 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 adrenal support supplement becomes 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 in the context of adrenal support supplements. 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 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 for a short term in order 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.

Herbs, glandulars, and other adrenal support supplements can be used to help Adrenal 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 bioflavonoids 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.

Conclusion of Adrenal Support Supplements

Herbs and glandulars are widely used as adrenal support supplements and touted as possessing adaptogenic properties and also are marketed as tonics. They are popular with those with very mild Adrenal Fatigue due to their stimulatory properties to increase energy and reduce fatigue. The weaker the adrenals, the more pronounced are these stimulatory effects. Stimulants are the equivalent of hitting the gas pedal on a car and “flooding the engine”. 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 for paradoxical or unusual reactions (such as excessive stimulation, excessive fatigue, cardiac palpitation, unstable blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability) as inappropriate use warning signs, which is a very common mistakes in adrenal recovery.

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© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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Adrenal support supplements

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I was interested to read your observations on how acupuncture, massage and various herbal supplements can be too much for someone suffering from adrenal fatigue to cope with. I share this view, since they all caused additional crashes when I tried them, before I knew I had AFS.