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6 Nutritional Supplements and Herbs For Adrenal Health

Many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have problems with their adrenal glands.  Although eating well, doing a good job of managing one’s stress, and getting sufficient sleep are probably the three most important factors when it comes to having healthy adrenals, sometimes supplementation can help to restore the health of compromised adrenals when combined with these other factors.  In this post I’m going to discuss six supplements and herbs which can benefit people with adrenal problems.

1. Vitamin C.  The adrenal glands have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body (1) [1].  Ascorbic acid is a cofactor required both in catecholamine biosynthesis and in adrenal steroidogenesis (1) [1].  As a result, anyone who deals with a good amount of stress needs to make sure they eat foods rich in vitamin C.  However, in my opinion it usually is a good idea to also have the person take a vitamin C supplement.  Most vitamin C is sold as ascorbic acid, but I usually recommend a whole food vitamin C supplement for two reasons.  The first reason is because ascorbic acid is just one component of vitamin C, and you want to consume the required cofactors as well.  The second reason is because ascorbic acid supplements are made from corn syrup, and most corn in the United States is genetically modified.

2. Vitamin B.  The B vitamins are also beneficial for those who are constantly “stressed out”.  Like vitamin C, in most cases there is little risk in taking a B complex supplement since the B vitamins are water soluble.  However, taking high doses of some of the individual B vitamins can cause problems.  Like vitamin C, some of the B vitamins also play a role in the synthesis of hormones important to adrenal health.  For example, vitamin B3 is involved in the synthesis of adrenal hormones.  Vitamin B5 is also important for adrenal health, and can aid in the secretion of the steroid hormones.  Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of norepinephrine.  When someone is stressed out these vitamins will become depleted, and so if someone is dealing with chronic stress then it usually is a good idea to supplement with a vitamin B complex.

3. Ashwagandha.  Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is one of the most beneficial herbs for the adrenals.  Although this herb can potentially stimulate thyroid hormone production in hypothyroid conditions, in most cases it doesn’t seem to exacerbate one’s hyperthyroid condition.  As a result, Ashwagandha can usually be used for adrenal support in both people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease.  If someone has elevated cortisol then giving Ashwagandha and Rehmannia can help to lower the cortisol levels.  However, Ashwagandha can also benefit people with depressed cortisol levels.  In addition to benefiting people with adrenal problems, Ashwagandha has many other benefits, as I have written about in my article “Ashwagandha and Thyroid Health [2]“:

4. Licorice.  Licorice is an herb I frequently recommend for those people who have depressed cortisol levels.  Glycyrrhizin is the main compound in licorice root, and is what helps to lower cortisol levels by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for the conversion of cortisol to cortisone.  However, licorice also can cause an elevation of blood pressure, and so it typically is contraindicated in those with hypertension.  Licorice also can help to decrease inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract as well.  For more information on Licorice you can read my article entitled “Licorice and Thyroid Health [3]“:

5. Eleuthero.  Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) is a great herb for those who deal with chronic stress on a daily basis.  Of course this describes just about everyone, but this doesn’t mean that everyone should take Eleuthero.  I usually recommend this herb to those patients who deal with a lot of stress AND do a poor job of handling it.  Of course the goal is to work on improving one’s stress handling skills so they don’t have to rely on taking Eleuthero.  There is some concern that taking Eleuthero might increase the production of thyroid hormone, but most people with hyperthyroid conditions do fine when taking it.  In fact, when I was following a natural treatment protocol for my Graves’ Disease condition I personally took Eleuthero for a number of months without any problem.  But of course everyone is different, and so if someone who has a hyperthyroid condition takes this herb and feels that it’s exacerbating their condition then of course I would advise them to stop taking it. For more information on Eleuthero check out my article entitled “How Eleuthero Can Help People With Thyroid and Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions [4]“.

6. Phosphatidylserine.  Phosphatidylserine is produced naturally by the body, although you can also get this from foods.  It can also be taken as a supplement.  It is important in maintaining cellular function.  I frequently will recommend this for those who have high cortisol levels.  Clinical studies show that phosphatidylserine can weaken the cortisol response (2) [5] (3) [6].  And although these studies involved giving phosphatidylserine to those who had high cortisol levels due to exercise-induced stress, in my experience it doesn’t matter what type of stress resulted in the elevated cortisol levels.

Which Of These Supplements/Herbs Should You Take?

As I suggested in the beginning of this blog post, while taking certain supplements and herbs can help with the recovery process, taking supplements isn’t a substitute for eating well, getting sufficient sleep, or managing stress.  These factors are without question more important than taking supplements.  In fact, in some cases just eating well and improving one’s stress handling skills can do wonders for the adrenals.  With that being said, sometimes it is can be beneficial to take one or more of the supplements I discussed.

If someone is dealing with chronic stress on a daily basis and is having a difficult time handling the stress, then in addition to working on their stress handling skills they might benefit from taking a vitamin B and vitamin C supplement.  Taking either Ashwagandha or Eleuthero can also be beneficial in helping someone to better deal with stress.  If someone has depressed cortisol levels (and they don’t have hypertension) then taking an herb such as licorice can be beneficial.  On the other hand, if high cortisol levels are an issue then they might want to consider taking Phosphatidylserine, or if they prefer an herbal approach then taking the herbs Ashwagandha and Rehmannia can also help to lower elevated cortisol levels.

As usual, I do think it’s a good idea to work with a competent natural healthcare professional, as they will evaluate your adrenals, and if you have compromised adrenals they will determine which of these supplements and herbs are best for you.  Of course I realize that many people aren’t going to take my advice and will self treat their condition, and if this describes you then just make sure you start with very small doses, especially when taking any of the herbs I mentioned.  Although most people do fine taking the herbs, everyone is different, and every now and then someone will experience a negative reaction.  For the most part vitamin B and vitamin C are safe to take, although I still would be cautious about taking very high doses of these on your own.

Plus, keep in mind that there are other supplements and herbs which can help with adrenal health.  For example, the herb rhodiola is an excellent herb which can benefit people with compromised adrenals.  Biotin can also be beneficial for adrenal problems.  Some people can also benefit from taking an adrenal glandular, although you usually don’t want to take these for a prolonged period of time.

In summary, there are numerous supplements and herbs which can benefit people with compromised adrenals.  Although eating well, getting sufficient sleep, and doing a good job of managing stress are all important factors, taking supplements and/or herbs can frequently help to speed up the recovery process.  While taking a vitamin B and C supplement usually won’t cause problems, I would recommend working with a competent natural healthcare professional before taking the herbs I discussed.  Even though most people do fine when taking the herbs I discussed, every now and then someone will have a negative reaction.