Adrenal Support Supplements: A Guide to Safe and Effective Use

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


Read Part 1 Now!

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.

Read Part 1 Now!

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


Dr. Lam’s Key Questions

Add it to juice or take it straight and wash it down with a mouthful of water.

The antioxidant properties of Holy Basil can help reduce the damaging effects of stress and aging on the body.


Adrenal support supplements

DrLam.com
5 -
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.




34 Comments

  • Marsha Allred says:

    This article has been VERY helpful for me. Three years ago I was told to supplement with adrenal supports but was not told it should be for a short period of time. Because the stress I had been experiencing continued I also continued with the supplements-thinking – have stress need supplements. Long to short anxiety began to overtake my life..especially at 3 in the morning when I would awaken with a tremendous surge of cortisol – needing to run – which I would do, in place, at 3 a.m. This surge would continue until around 8 p.m. the following evening. Basically, I would lose 48 hours. Three doctors had no idea how to help me. Energy drinks, energy inducing herbs and even Vitamin C would precipitate the surges. It felt like being a prisoner in hell. I’ve had to do my own research and am making gradual improvement. Phosphatidyl Serine and Chamomile have been helpful in calming my adrenals, and I am now looking into hops and passion flower, which I read some about. I’ve extremely cautious of adding anything because even a recent dose of CoQ10 had a bad effect. Sugar is also VERY negative. You are one of VERY FEW who has ANY understanding of this danger AT ALL! Your message is VERY important for people in the dangerous position I have been in. Thank you – keep up the message – there’s no telling how many people, frightened and at a loss, shift to anti depressants or worse..just to maintain their life.

  • Julianna Neo says:

    Hi Dr Lam,
    I’ve read a lot of your articles and it seems you do not recommend much of glandular or herbs. What DO you recommend then?

  • Cindy says:

    I have AFS which has now affected my thyroid – I have most symptoms of low thyroid. I almost started taking natural supplements for my thyroid until I read your articles and saw the importance of treating the AFS if that is believed to be the cause of the secondary hypothyroidism. I think my AFS is on the more severe end, especially because it is is causing symptoms of hypothyroidism. It certainly feels to be on the severe end and with the long term stress in my life it also makes logical sense. All that said, what do you recommend for more severe AFS since the glandulars and adaptogens are not the best solution?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      The more severe your condition, the body tend to be more fragile, weak, and sensitive. Remember that AFS is part of the body’s overall neuroendometabolic stress response.
      Click NeuroEndoMetabolic Symptoms of Stress for more information. There are 6 components to this that has to be investigated. Depending on what component(s) are problematic, we have to then formulate the right plan. Supplementation therefore is not straight forward. What works for one may well backfire for another and worsen you. If your AFS has already progressed to a point that your thyroid is affected, you should not self navigate unless you are experienced and seek professional help. The toolbox for various supplements are listed in my book. Glandular and herbs have their use, if you do it right, and that is the key.

      • Cindy says:

        Your articles are so readable, thank you for all the wonderful information. I also read the article you recommended and see that indeed it is very complex. I have symptoms from each of the responses – metabolic (sugar and salt cravings, the beginning of dyslipidemia, weight gain (a bit of exercise causes me to gain weight)), detoxification (EMF, chemical sensitivies, recurrent crashes), inflammatory (leaky gut, forehead rash, constipation, possibly some SIBO, IBD has improved actually), neuroaffective (anxiety, frequent panic attacks in sleep, some depression, memory issues, poss neurotransmitter imbalance), middle of night insomnia (I crash when I get into bed)), cardionomic (palpitations, minimal tachycardia). I’m generally healthy and in pretty good shape, used to love walking, doing yoga, a bit of bicycling. But I’ve had unbearable stress for a few years and it has really taken its toll. I’m trying to mitigate all this by getting to bed before 11, doing pleasurable things, walking on my treadmill regularly, doing mild yoga again, eating well and usually organic – thinking mostly about my gut health. Exercise usually exhausts me, although I can feel the overall benefits. I gain weight so easily. I crave sugar and salt like never before. I eat Stevia and coconut sugar but was buying cakes etc – I’ve stopped that now. The thyroid issues are hair loss, dry skin, lethargy, really stiff muscles and joints, thin outer third of eyebrow, low basal body temperature and more. I take Biostrath for B vitamins, D & K, C, fish oil, magnesium, some Gaba, black cohosh for some hot flashes. I feel quite desperate to get my body back on track. I will definitely buy your book soon, but can you recommend supplements to start with?

        • Cindy says:

          Oh I take turmeric too – I mix turmeric, organic raw honey, cinnamon and coconut oil in a jar and keep it in the fridge and have a tsp each day.

          • Cindy says:

            I forgot to mention I started getting whopper whopper headaches in January. I wake up with them and I’m completely disabled by them. I can barely get out of bed to get some Advil. I throw up forcefully a few times all day (sorry to be gross). Up to 11 Advil all day and I still can’t get out of bed until after about 7 pm still with the headache but able to get up. You know I’m out like a brick when I have no appetite at all. I sleep all day too with the headaches – like tired like I’ve never felt unable to keep my heavy eyes open and out cold. The first two or so I had I thought I might not wake up. I was getting them at least weekly, coincidentally either a Saturday or Sunday, then they became more frequent. My doctor advised I take a medical leave from my work, I’m a teacher. At CT scan was apparently normal. I have a referral for a neurologist but it will be awhile before I can get an appointment (I’m in Canada). Really, it is stress.

  • Neil says:

    Hi,

    Would echinacea also be stimulating for someone with Advanced AFS?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      echinacea has anti-viral type properties intrinsically and are not stimulatory in general unless there are underlying issues.

  • J says:

    hello, What about tulsi tea? i was reading at your website about adrenal fatigue and adaptogens I used it for three days and each day I drank only two sips so very minimal because I did not know how I would react to them. I felt good on one hand, but on other hand I experienced just increased anxiety and other symptoms. how is thiss.posible? I slept better , but could not finish my exercises (airobics) what is normally the case . can it also have the reverse effect on body ? Cose of that i quit using it. I am very sad, i was doing well you read so much online and you dont know what to do so you ‘try’ things out. I lost my job cose of AF and dont have any cash to seek help i am not sure what to do.. its 3 years now.. I a really sad 🙁

    • Dr.Lam says:

      What you experienced is not unusual. both positive and negative effect can occur with herbs, depending on what the intrinsic characteristics, the way it is processed etc. People who are sensitive or weak are the ones that experiences these. it reflects underlying problem that is triggered. you should focus your attention to solve that, and these types of reactions should spontaneous resolve.

      • J says:

        Dear dr Lam,

        Thanks for your response. Can you explain to me how can I fix this so I can ensure that my body stops reacting thiss way? Do you have any info , videos, links for ‘ treat weaker “people ? As other approach is needed in my case and I cant find any information . Thank you very much It will mean the world to me

  • Neil says:

    Hi Dr Lam,

    Do you think even Licorice root is taxing on the adrenals, instead of healing? As it is known to increase cortisol so I thought it might bring someone with low cortisol levels eventually to a normal level?

    Thanks

    • Dr.Lam says:

      It is helpful in certain cases, but not in all. The more advance the condition, the higher the risk that it can make matters worse long term even though short term may be benefitial by masking the underlying unresolved issue being one of the factors. Advanced AFS is not only a matter of cortisol,and many factors are in place. Click NeuroEndoMetabolic Symptoms of Stress for more information. Overly focus on the adrenals is a deficient approach in these cases. That is why such compound may be useful on a trial basis for mild cases, but should be carefully considered in more advance cases.

  • Brandie says:

    My natural Dr told me I have adrenal fatigue and had me order deccisated adrenal from standard purpose, at first they made me feel great, then I became so moody I couldn’t stand myself. So I quit taking them, I personally think they were to strong 430mg bovine. Also I take wp thyroid every am and he said to take it with that. What else should I try?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Glandulars compounds has a tendency to be stimulatory, and for some people , the body does not like it. Thyroid is a medication designed to improve metabolism and it is stimulatory . You should be careful as one can get overly stimulated and crash.

      Dr Lam

  • Adriana says:

    How do you know if the adrenal glandular and herbs are stimulatory; what does that make one feel like? If it is just increased energy without the wired feeling, isn’t that okay even in Stage 3 AFS? How can you tell if you are overtaxing the adrenal?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Natural energy comes from within and is very smooth. If you pay attention to your body ,many will report that artificially generating energy is somewhat “hyped”, like drinking coffee or caffeinated soda. In severe cases, one can have anxiety, panic attack, irritability, heart palpitation, gastric distress, sweating etc. Being wired is quite late and advanced already. you know you are NOT overtaxing your adrenals when you can do your normal chores, exercise vigoriously, sleep good, and can handle stress. Not everyone is in tune to their body, and in fact, most people ignore the many signs that their body gives them. Each person is different.For some, its a bit of heart palpitation. Others, it can be insomnia. Compounds that are stimulating tend to bring on these subtle signs and symptoms earlier. One cannot compare one person to another. One has to learn to listen to their body over time . We teach that in our telephone coaching. Bear in mind that for most who are not used to listening to their body’s subtle signs, symptoms of feeling stimulated is already a late sign.

      Dr Lam

  • Christina says:

    Help for Help Help! I found you after I obviously used Ashwaganda innapropriately for AF.
    Made me so tired but also some calm and good effects, maybe a bit more energy at times. Only took for a week and then stopped with bad insomnia two nights after .
    I cant even take any B vit anymore – esp B5- WHY OH WHY!!! Never used to be like that.
    How can I get better without B’s???
    I’m taking a high dose of vit C (maybe about 7000mg a day – no bowel probs ) and although I maybe notice some stimulation at times , on the whole I’m drwan to it and my nails have grown more as a result and no more bladder/urinary infections. That’s when I first experimented with it – and it worked for those infections – but am I doing the wrong thing for adrenals?
    Please help, I’ve tried calling but I’m in Australia and I keep missing the call.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      There are ways to deliver the proper nutrients at the right dose to your system when your body is hypersensitive. A comprehensive plan is needed as any wrong move will result in the body getting even more sensitive. We deal with this issue on a daily basis. Our office is open during office hours pacific time.

      Dr Lam

  • Christina says:

    Help Help help! I’m sick of doing the wrong thing- all Vit B’s (B 5 recently) make me so tired so depressed ! I scored highh on your AF test but I’m not bedridden.
    Took Ashwaganda recently – NO!!! Mostly made me way too tired with brief moments of calm and sometimes short bursts of energy.
    Had to stop.
    Now what ? How can you help a person who can’t take anything?
    I always used to take Vit b no problem.
    Tyrosine made me really tired.
    How can I fix adrenals without vit B??? I did have a hair mineral analysis that showed low adrenal and low thyroid.
    My hair loss is driving me crazy – I’m a menopausal woman.
    Bioidenticals made me sick too.
    It’s the liver isn’t it? In some way it must be .
    I’m currently taking about 7ooo mg of vit c is that too much? It made my nails grow back so I figured it has been good.
    Please help.

  • Victor Henslog says:

    How would one control the symptoms of aggressiveness associated with Korean ginseng root ?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      The best is to avoid these stimulatory compounds to begin with. Once you have it on board, it takes time for them to be metabolized. Drinking lots of fluid helps. For symptoms control, do the Adrenal Breathing Exercise is excellent.

      Dr Lam

  • Manny says:

    When is the best time to use adaptogens like the ones mentioned in this article? Is it best to use them on an “as-needed” basis?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      All adaptogen should be used only as temporary basis with clear exit clause placed in the comprehensive plan ahead of starting. The best is not to use at all.

      Dr lam

  • Sallie Hays says:

    I’ve tried using many different adaptogenic-type herbs, all of which do seem to provide more stimulation than relief, as you have described here. When you have a more sever case of adrenal fatigue, why is it that your body tends to behave that way when the herbs are meant to be calming?

    • Dr. Lam says:

      there are many reasons, and we believe that depending on the constitution of a person, the bias that the body directs itself is usually towards the path of maximum weakness. In other words, if you are weak, the adaptogens will be directed towards a more stimulatory bias. This does not happen to every one, and knowing which side of the coin you land can only be derived after detailed history. That is why having a really experienced practitioner who is versed in advance stages of AFS is critical as the wrong approach can actually make you worse. We do not have a laboratory test to accurately predict which direction it will go, so that is the best we can do at this time. Much more research is needed and that will take decades. Adaptogenic herbs can have its place for sure, but it can also turn on a person quickly in a small number of people. sometimes it is not the herbs itself but a combination of factors that generate the ultimate negative outcome, and this is more often the case. Without detailed attention to the circumstances, most people are not astute enough to pick it up, and most people feel discouraged and frustrated. They embark on a road with such compound and feel better to start only to backfire later on.

      Dr Lam

  • Anonymous says:

    useful , thanks .

  • aina baron says:

    I have advanced AF and have been prescibed progesterone creme 2xday plus a variety of vitamins especially vitamin C. i have had two strokes in past six months so am on apaxaban and
    another drug to lower my heart rate re atrial fib. Would u recommend any other herbal treatment in my case. I am hypoglycemic so have to eat often. My blood pressure is usually normal but does go up a bit in the evening sometimes if I am tired.pls advise if there is anything else I could do to help my self. jThank you Aina B

    • Newsletter says:

      At your age with a history of atrial fib, you have to be very careful with any compounds that may have stimulatory properties. this can include Vitamin C, an excellent compound on its own otherwise . The key is dosage and delivery system. Atrial fib can be organic or due to adrenal fatigue. if it is trigger by AFS, then you need to fix the AFS and atrial fib will often get better and that is good . your situation is complex. I have many articles on line you can read for free. If you have an inquisitive mind, read my 500+ page book Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome which will give you a complete and detailed picture. The body has wonderful self healing mechanism if it is given the raw material, and that depends on the stage of AFS you are in. you can find out more by taking my free AFS test on line and let me know in more detail and i will try my best to give you more information.

      Dr Lam.

    • Anonymous says:

      I had AF pretty badly and I finally went to a naturopath and started feeling better the next day! He gives me only what my body is asking for and I feel so much better. Good luck.

      • Newsletter says:

        Good for you. Matching the body’s needs with proper dosage and timing is key. Do make sure you are aware of the pros and cons of what you are taking. I have an article called Glandular and Herbal therapy and Adrenal Fatigue you can search online on my site which maybe helpful. if you email me directly, i can sent you the article.

        Dr Lam