You’re incredibly low energy, tired all the time, and dealing with a major lack of motivation — so what gives? There are plenty of reasons behind the way you’re feeling — and if you do any sort of Google search, you’ll send yourself straight into panic mode. (Seriously, don’t do it.) One possible theory, though? You might just be dealing with a case of adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue comes about for one reason: chronic stress. According to Harvard Medical School, the adrenals, which are two small glands above your kidneys, produce the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re under too much stress for a long period of time, the adrenals go into overtime, releasing more cortisol into your bloodstream and riling up your body. And if they burn out from overproduction, that’s when the problems start, leading to everything from the aforementioned sluggish energy levels to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, digestive issues, and more.
So, how in the world are you supposed to get your body back on track when depleted adrenals are wreaking havoc on your life? One of the best ways, according to functional doctors around the globe, is to take advantage of adaptogens — your adrenals’ soon-to-be best friends.
“Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and other non-toxic plants that, in theory, work to help protect your body from stressors, including biological, physical, or chemical ones,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. “In a nutshell, they’re supposed to help your body handle stress better.”
These adaptogens work to battle the everyday stressors that are causing your adrenals to deplete in the first place, helping them function normally again. While they’re just now becoming mainstream — showing up everywhere from the menu in trendy coffee bars to the supplement aisles at your neighborhood grocery store — they’ve been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. And studies are showing the new kids on the block have a pretty powerful effect on the body.
Don’t just stock up on any pick, though, when it comes to banishing adrenal fatigue. These are the adaptogens that have been shown time and time again to help calm down the adrenals — and get you feeling like yourself again. As with any supplement, just be sure to talk with your doctor before you begin taking them, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Maca is a cruciferous veggie in the same family as broccoli and cabbage, and its root has been used to create medicine for thousands of years. Because of its effect on the hormones, it’s able to bring the adrenals back to a balanced state and improve symptoms related to adrenal fatigue. That’s not the only way it can help give your body a boost, though.
“Maca may help decrease certain symptoms that can follow menopause, including anxiety and depression. It may also help improve sexual function, per preliminary research,” Gorin says.
Be careful, though, and make sure to consult your doctor. “If you have thyroid problems, hypertension, hormone-responsive cancer — including breast or prostate cancer — or if you’re taking birth control pills or are pregnant or breastfeeding, you might not be able to safely consume maca,” Gorin says.
Ashwagandha is one of the buzziest adaptogens of the moment for good reason: It’s a great way to help with both mental exhaustion due to working long hours or physical exhaustion from spending too much time in the gym. And its ability to help keep your adrenals in check is seriously impressive. It’s been shown to play a role in altering cortisol levels, protecting the body against stress.
3. Holy basil
Another great choice for battling adrenal fatigue is holy basil, an herb native to India that’s been used to treat all sorts of different ailments for thousands of years.
“Holy basil, also known as ‘tulsi,’ is supposed to have adaptogenic elements, helping you better respond to stress, per preliminary research,” Gorin says. “However, this isn’t an herb that should be used long-term or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Rhodiola rosea, which is a perennial flowering plant, has one primary duty: balancing the amount of cortisol in your body. On top of that, the adaptogen is also known for its brain-boosting benefits. It hasn’t just been shown to help enhance learning and memory, though — it’s also a mood-booster and even helps fight off depression.
5. American ginseng
Asian ginseng, a plant native to China and Korea, has been valued for its medicinal uses for 2,000 years. Even that long ago, it was used in Chinese medicine to help individuals replenish their energy levels, and today it’s been shown to help with that same purpose and beyond, enabling people to better handle stress. It’s also used to boost the immune system, fight off cancer, and help with depression and anxiety.
Right now, the horrible feeling of being totally drained isn’t fun. The good news, though? It isn’t going to last forever. With a little help from these stress-busting adaptogens, your adrenals will be back to functioning normally in no time, and any excess cortisol that tries to disrupt your feel-good vibes won’t even stand a chance.