Intense prolonged stress whether emotional or physical can lead to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is essentially a collection of signs and symptoms, which result when the adrenal glands are functioning below the optimal level. Symptoms such as fatigue, salty and sweet cravings, low resistance to stress, mood changes, mental fogginess, weight changes, sleep disturbances and loss the your male mojo or low libido are all seen in adrenal fatigue.

The Stress Response

Historically the stress response known as the “fight-or-flight” response was critical for protection. When faced with a tiger or giant snake our pupils dilate to allow in more light, our heart rate and blood pressure increase and blood is shunted to our muscles to allow us to run away.  While the initial alarm reaction is beneficial short term, ideally these periods of stress should be short and infrequent.  When the stressful situation is very intense or more so continuous over a period of time the adrenals become exhausted and there is a breakdown of the recovery phase, which would normally follow the alarm reaction.

How Stress Causes Illness

There is a conclusive relationship between stress and illness. What factors in as important is the individual perception of the stress and ability to cope with it.  Stress contributes to disease by changing the physiological effects of hormones throughout our bodies, driving inflammation and leaving our bodies in states of lower resistance.

The Role of Adaptogens

The goal of adaptogens in treating adrenal insufficiency or fatigue is in reinvigorate vitality, improve energy, support the immune system and develop coping strategies to manage stress. The way adaptogens work is they support the adrenal glands to be more resilient by reinforce the innate wisdom or capacity of the body to withstand stress and guard against disease. While adaptogens may be an important aspect to your health plan it is also important to consider the hostile environment you are living in. No herb, supplement or therapy can mask the effects of a toxic environment.

The Specifics:

Primary botanicals for treating adrenal fatigue need to be chosen based on the individual symptom picture. Every adaptogen is unique and the individual’s experience needs to be taken into consideration. Long term use of one adaptogen may reduce the effectiveness. Always consult your Naturopathic Doctor prior to starting any product.

Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng) is very yang in nature meaning it warms the body, promote movement and physiological functioning. It increases energy and has an anabolic effect of improving muscle and reducing fat during exercise. DUring exercise it also spares glycogen stores allowing for a longer duration of exercise ability. This herb is very stimulating and thus should only be used in those with vitality. Caution with caffeine and long-term use may lead to hypertension.

Codonopsis sinensis is specific for immune system functioning. It is a great herb for treat those suffering with recurring or chronic infections. A human study showed 64% improvement in sexual hypofunctioning vs 33% with placebo.

Schisandra chinensis improves physical work capacity, sharpens the mind, assists in maintaining high mental performance under extreme stressful conditions, and decreased fatigue. It is also a sexual tonic to boost libido in both sexes.

Rhodiola rosea is more specifically a CNS adaptogen. It may be helpful for those with more of an emphasis on mental concentration and focusing issues. Depending on the dose this herb can be stimulating or a relaxant. New research has suggested Rhodiola may be beneficial as a weight loss agent.

Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha)- is a milder adaptogen. Focus on healthy aging, graying of hair, chronic inflammatory disease, and nervous exhaustion. Historically, this herb is known as “promoter of learning and memory retrieval” and has also been used for psoriasis, wasting, rheumatic pains and impotence due to devitalization.

Eleutherococcus (Siberian Ginseng) – is not only an adaptogen but also has effects on the immune system like Codonopsis. It improves performance and stamina, as well as aids in recovery after excess sexual activity.

Glychrizza (Licorice Root)-  is also a well know anti-inflammatory and antiviral herb. Assists in maintaining healthy cortisol levels,  may reduce salt cravings, improves mood, and aids in balancing water retention. This herb should be used with caution due to its potentials to raise blood pressure and interact with other medications.


  1. Godfrey, Anthony. Principles & Practices Of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine. Toronto, Ont.: CCNM Press, 2010. Print.
  2. Godfrey, Anthony and Paul Richard Saunders. Principles & Practices Of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine. Toronto: Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine Press, 2010. Print.
  3. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Print.
  4. Mitchell, William A. Naturopathic Applications Of The Botanical Remedies. Seattle, WA: Mitchell, 1982. Print.