Many of us have heard the terms “Adrenal Fatigue” or “Adrenal Exhaustion” and realize that chronic stress plays a role in this situation. Yet, the question still persists for most people, “What exactly do the adrenal glands do, and why are they important?”
The two adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney, and are a critical part of the endocrine system. Our adrenal glands produce numerous hormones that help regulate metabolism, affect chemical balance in the body, and impact other endocrine glands. One of the primary substances produced by the adrenal glands is cortisol. In addition, the adrenal glands secrete epinephrine, norepinephrine, aldosterone, and minimal amounts of sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. All of this activity happens in glands that are about three inches wide and a half-inch high!
Cortisol is one of the most well-known hormones produced by the adrenal glands. It is a steroid hormone that the body releases in response to a stressor, and it is consequently referred to as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol has a natural diurnal variation, being at its highest levels in the morning, and lowest levels in the evening. Small increases in cortisol can have beneficial effects on the body to deal with an immediate stressor, and its secretion is an integral component of the “fight or flight” response that can protect us in the face of danger. However, high levels of cortisol over a prolonged period of time can be detrimental to health. In our modern society, people often encounter stressful events daily with no reprieve, and this puts the adrenal glands in a constant state of alert. Cortisol causes a rise in blood glucose and inhibits insulin production. High cortisol levels may lead to weight gain by increasing fat storage. Elevated levels of cortisol also impact the gastrointestinal, immune, and cardiovascular systems to varying degrees.
In the face of the inevitable stress of contemporary life, what are our best options for adrenal support? There are several plants called adaptogens that generally have a long history of use, as well as current scientific research supporting their role in adrenal gland health. One of the most prominent of these adaptogenic plants is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Ashwagandha is a woody shrub that grows in semiarid habitats and has earned a modern spotlight after being used in India for thousands of years. It is considered to be one of the premier plants to maintain optimal cortisol levels in the face of chronic stress, which is key to keeping the adrenal glands functioning well. In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is known as a Rasayana, a term used for a group of plants classified as rejuvenate tonics that increase the body’s resistance to stress. Today, science is validating Ashwagandha’s traditional medicinal use with a patented extract called Sensoril.
It is an extensively researched and proven patented extract of ashwagandha root and leaf, which has been clinically shown to strengthen the body’s natural response to stress. It has been shown in current studies to reduce cortisol, enhance mood, and reduce stress and anxiety1. This plant, commonly known as the king of rejuvenating herbs, holds strong potential to support optimal adrenal gland health for people in modern life.
Rhodiola rosea is a well-documented adaptogenic herb known for its action (primarily upon the hypothalamus in the brain) of normalizing the body’s response to stress triggers and maintaining equilibrium within the hypothalamicpituitary- adrenal axis (HPA). Rhodiola has also been shown to enhance the transport of tryptophan and 5-HTP (serotonin precursors), as well as to help support mood. Pharmacologically, American ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius) is nonspecific in its effects and is capable of a normalizing action irrespective of the pathological situation. American ginseng has been shown to normalize the body’s stress response and is considered to have a calming effect on the nervous system. It may also help to strengthen the adrenal glands in individuals suffering from chronic stress.
Astragalus root is an important adaptogenic herb that, in studies, has been indicated to stimulate pituitary-adrenal cortical activity.
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is an adaptogenic herb. It is one of the primary botanicals used in Ayurvedic medicine to modulate a physiological stress response and increase adaptive energy. Traditional Ayurvedic use has been verified by numerous clinical studies. A variety of studies have also shown holy basil to support the health of the cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems.
Schizandra berry is known for its ability to help restore integrity to the adrenal glands and promote a greater sense of energy and stamina. The adaptogenic properties of this herb help improve the body’s response to stress and immune function.
Adrenal Response, from Innate Response Formulas, is a vegetarian formula that contains all of the above herbal extracts.
Adrenal Response Complete Care contains the same herbs, plus adjunctive nutrients, such as enzymes, antioxidants, and amino acids to provide complete adrenal support and restoration.
1. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High- Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262.