Updated: Apr 20
The main reason people have a hard time recovering from stress is that the adrenal system gets overworked and undernourished. Too much stress from life, allergenic foods, or lack of sleep combined with not enough nourishment of the adrenal glands wears us out. Nutritional supplements can provide extra nourishment to help the adrenal glands to function and to deal with stress.
The first step to heal your adrenals is to remove additional stressors on the adrenal glands which I addressed in "how can I recover from adrenal fatigue". The next step is to enjoy food to nourish the adrenal glands, explained in scrumptious meals for adrenals. After those fundamentals, nutritional supplements with vitamins, herbal adaptogens and glandulars are helpful to nourish and strengthen the adrenal glands.
Vitamins & minerals
Vitamin C is used to make cortisol, so it gets used up in times of stress which means we need to consume more. Vitamin C is also important in the immune system which means during times of stress you may use up all your vitamin C to make cortisol and not have enough left to fight sickness. To help with adrenal fatigue and immune health, consume Vitamin C rich foods which include fresh citrus, strawberries, red bell peppers. Vitamin C supplements usually come in a capsule, tablet or powder of ascorbic acid combined with bioflavonoids.
B complex vitamins are essential for energy and can be used up during times of stress, contributing to exhaustion with adrenal fatigue. Vitamin B12 must be consumed in a sublingual form (absorbed in the mouth) while the others can be taken in any form. Vitamin B5 is specific to the adrenal glands while the other B vitamins are more important for energy. Vitamin B2 turns urine bright yellow – don’t be alarmed it’s fine and can help with energy. I recommend a low dose liquid B complex to get all the B vitamins in one dose. This can be taken during times of extra stress and exhaustion then set aside to use as needed. Nutritional yeast and brown rice are good sources of most B vitamins, while vitamin B6 and B12 are plentiful in animal foods.
Magnesium is an important mineral for stress because it relaxes tense muscles. Your body uses magnesium to relax muscles and the opposing mineral, calcium, to tense muscles. Magnesium is depleted by stress, caffeine, and many different medications. Magnesium is plentiful in leafy green vegetables and whole grains, but food is not enough to correct a deficiency if your muscles are tight because of stress. Choose a magnesium combination with chelate, glycinate, taurate or malate for better absorption. Avoid magnesium oxide and limit magnesium citrate which can overflow into loose bowels.
Eleuthero is my favorite adrenal herb. Before I studied herbs, I was in a difficult job and I found if I made a tea with 3 eleuthero tea bags, I could feel my stress slip away. Eleuthero helps the adrenal glands to adapt. During times of stress the adrenals can overreact, causing that shock to the brain when you simply drop a pan. The adrenals can stay on, causing continued stress an hour after you’ve picked up the darn pan. Eleuthero acts on the adrenals to make them more flexible so you get the stress response only as needed for real stress then the stress response shuts off when not needed.
Other adaptogenic herbs include Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Cordyceps, and Schizandra. These can be consumed in teas, tinctures, or capsules to help calm your adrenals while still allowing them to react when needed. They can be used in cooking such as astragalus in immune boosting soup here or schizandra in a homemade soda here.
Licorice is a strong adrenal herb that specifically increases cortisol by reusing it, instead of adapting like the other herbs. Licorice is especially helpful when the adrenals are completely exhausted. While raising cortisol, licorice can also raise blood pressure – this is helpful for adrenal fatigue but should be avoided if you already have high blood pressure. Deglycerized licorice is also available as a supplement for gut health, but the glycyrrhizin, cortisol recycling part, has been removed to make it safe for long term use and safe for high blood pressure.
A healthy animal adrenal gland can be used in capsule form to support your own adrenal gland. Most glandular is derived from New Zealand free-range, grass-fed cows raised for meat. The animal must have healthy adrenal glands to support your adrenal glands. These are available in capsules alone or in combination with the other herbs and vitamins above and can make a dramatic improvement in adrenal health.
Supplements can be helpful to jump-start any healing protocol after addressing food and lifestyle factors. For adrenal fatigue, I use a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbs and glandular to match each person’s unique needs and preferences. To talk about your specific adrenal needs set up a time to talk about supplements here.