Just about everyone feels stressed at some point. But if you’re so burned out that you drink five or more cups of coffee daily—or a couple of high-caffeine, venti-size brews—to get through the day, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from adrenal exhaustion. The odds are even greater if you also feel a little dizzy when you stand up quickly, a sign of low blood pressure, which often accompanies adrenal fatigue.
Still controversial, this condition is misunderstood by most people (and doctors). The adrenals are two tiny glands that rest atop your kidneys. Among other functions, they manufacture cortisol, a hormone that insulates the body against stress. Although stress initially triggers a rise in cortisol, prolonged stress can leave the adrenals unable to create adequate levels, causing either ultralow cortisol all day or an upside-down pattern of low cortisol in the morning and high at night. Caffeine often becomes a crutch to get going early in the day, forcing the adrenals to work even harder when they’re already maxed out.
Give your adrenals some TLC by eating a high-protein, low-carb diet (slowly and mindfully), and considering these supplements, which can support adrenal function and help your glands recover.
The top herb for adrenal exhaustion, licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, which inhibits cortisol breakdown, thereby helping to restore normal levels of this hormone. The herb also boosts levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), another stress-fighting hormone. It’s important to monitor your blood pressure while taking licorice root because in some people it raises blood pressure. For adrenal exhaustion, take nondeglycyrrhizinated (nonDGL) licorice root tincture at night. The more common deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) capsules, often taken for digestive issues, have the adrenal-support constituent removed.
Dose: Follow label directions. Do not use if pregnant.
This herb is an adaptogen, a remedy that helps your body cope with stress, in part by protecting the brain and enhancing resilience. A recent study by British researchers found that taking rhodiola reduced stress feelings after just three days, with benefits continuing during the four-week study.
Dose: 300 mg daily of a standardized extract.
Sometimes called Siberian ginseng, this herb works as an adaptogen by protecting the brain and reducing inflammation (often part of the stress response). Studies show it can also boost athletic performance and enhance seniors’ well-being.
Dose: 200 mg daily.
Your body needs this B vitamin to make adrenal hormones, and people with adrenal exhaustion usually need more of it than a typical high-potency B-complex capsule contains.
Dose: 500 mg pantothenic acid twice daily, in addition to a multivitamin or B-complex supplement.
This herb, also known as Indian ginseng, has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. Researchers conclude that it fights stress, helps people feel rejuvenated, and improves cognition.
Dose: 500 mg daily.
This nutrient helps your body create adrenal hormones. Too much vitamin C loosens stools; if this occurs, simply take less.
Dose: At least 1,000 mg three times daily.
It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new supplement.