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Dr. Tori Hudson, Portland, Oregon, Blog Healthline Blog

by Tori Hudson, N.D.

Adrenal gland function and its production of hormones are vital performance tasks in our response to stress and our larger responses known as the general adaptation syndrome. Our initial response to stress, the alarm reaction, causes our adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and other stress-related hormones. The next phase, the resistance reaction, allows the body to continue to deal with stress over a longer period and hormones such as cortisol and other corticosteroids are secreted by the adrenal cortex. If the physical or emotional stressors continue and the resistance reaction is prolonged, then we are faced with the possible exhaustion of our general adaptation syndrome. Nutritional and herbal support for a person who displays symptoms of intense or prolonged stress, and/or a fatiguing of the ability to adapt to stress, can play a critical role in supporting our adrenal glands to adapt. An abnormal adrenal response, whether it is deficient or excessive hormone release, can be in large part addressed with key nutrients such as pantothene, B6, zinc, magnesium and vitamin C. These nutrients play a critical role in the optimal function of the adrenal gland and in the manufacture of adrenal hormones. Levels of these nutrients can be diminished during times of stress. Urinary excretion of Vitamin C is increased during stress. A deficiency of pantothenic acid results in fatigue, headaches, insomnia and more. Siberian and Panax ginsengs are referred to as general tonics or adaptogens. Both Chinese and Siberian ginseng can be used to restore vitality in individuals who are chronically fatigued or who have decreased mental and physical performance and/or stamina. These ginseng species have been shown to act as tonics and anti-stress agents, enhancing the ability to cope with both physical and emotional stressors. Individuals who take ginseng often report an increase in vitality, well being, increased mood, competence at work, mental and physical performance and reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. Rhodiola is well known amongst the Eastern Europeans for its ability to enhance energy, stamina and endurance. Rhodiola appears to increase the chemicals that provide energy to the muscle of the heart and to prevent the depletion of adrenal hormones induced by acute stress.

Ashwagandha is also a significant adaptogen providing adrenal and immune support, for increasing resistance to environmental stressors and as a general tonic. Ashwagandha contains several important active constituents including withanolides. Its mechanisms of action include pain relief, antioxidant effects, reducing inflammation, stimulating thyroid function, as well as respiratory and immune function. Some researchers have claimed that ashwagandha has an antistressor effect. It appears that it may suppress stress induced increases in dopamine receptors in the brain.

Astragalus has been used historically for strengthening and regulating the immune system, as a tonic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and to protect the liver. A lengthy list for sure. Although there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of all of these uses, there is preliminary research that it is positive in some areas. Astragalus extracts seem to be able to restore or improve immune function in immune deficient cases. It may be able to restore suppressed T-cell function in cancer patients. Abnormal liver enzyme tests have improved in people with chronic hepatitis when taking Astragalus. Astragalus is also thought to increase cardiac output and may be beneficial in individuals with congestive heart failure and compromised blood flow to the heart muscle.

We’re all familiar with our favorite spaghetti sauce that contains basil – an appetite stimulant, reduces flatulence, and can be helpful for stomach spasms and kidney conditions. This is called common basil. A relative of this plant, Holy Basil, has many more medicine properties. It is a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Holy basil has been gaining some attention due to experimental studies in humans on blood glucose. Elevated glucose levels were lowered by 21mng/dl; lowering glucose after a meal was also a positive effect of the basil. Many individuals with adrenal dysfunction have increased glucose levels due to the increased cortisol as a result of stress.

Shisandra is a plant most familiar to those who use Chinese herbs. In traditional Chinese medicine, schisandra is used for many common problems, including physical fatigue. Schisandra is used for improving immune function, recovery after surgery, increasing physical performance and endurance, and for increasing resistance to disease and stress. Schisandra is also possibly effective for improving concentration. It is thought that the variety of lignans found in the fruit are the active constituents in schisandra.

Maca, or Peruvian Ginseng, may be one of the most important plants having a diverse effect on the female reproductive system. Traditionally, it has been used for chronic fatigue syndrome, enhancing energy, stamina and overall energy. In the female reproductive system, its use for enhancing fertility, regulating the menstrual cycle, treating common menopause symptoms and to increase libido has been familiar to the traditional peoples of Peru and elsewhere for many a generation. Studies soon to be published, will be able to document some of its specific effects for menopausal women.

Key Clinical Indications: Diagnosed adrenal fatigue. Fatigue, low vitality, poor mental and physical performance, low stamina, fibromyalgia.

Naturopathic Principles: Eat a whole foods diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, good fats and proteins. Individuals with adrenal fatigue may have food sensitivities and food allergies, requiring a special diet. Others may need more protein in their diet. Individuals with fatigue may have insomnia, anemia, hypothyroid, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease or even a cancer. A diagnosis and a comprehensive approach is warranted when dealing with fatigue. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, environmental toxins. Practice stress management.

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  9. Agrawal P, Rai V, Singh R. Randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1996;34(9): 406-409.
  10. Upton R, ed. Schisandra Berry: Analytical, Quality and Control, and Therapeutic Monograph. Santa Cruz, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia 1999; 1-25.

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