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The 6 Best Adaptogens to Combat Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Holtorf Medical Group

Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of the population suffers some degree of adrenal insufficiency or fatigue. Sadly, many of those experiencing such disruption are not aware that adrenal imbalances or dysfunction are the cause.

Even if a person is fortunate enough to recognize adrenal issues or be diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency their condition may not be improved through standard treatment. Fortunately, it may be possible to naturally improve adrenal health, protect against adrenal malfunction, and support general wellness through the use of adaptogens.

What are the Adrenals?

The adrenal glands are two small, but powerful structures located just above each kidney. They are responsible for regulating numerous processes including metabolism, blood sugar, immune activity, blood pressure, and perhaps most notably, the body’s stress response. The adrenals are able to impact these many processes through the production and coordination of over 150 hormones.

Because of its broad influence, any sort of adrenal malfunction can result in system-wide dysfunction. Perhaps the best example of this is adrenal fatigue.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

When the body experiences stress, the adrenals secrete a collection of hormones to induce an appropriate response. These stress hormones, prime among them being cortisol, trigger various mechanisms that enable heightened awareness, increased energy level, greater focus, and other stress-related mechanisms. In the short term, each of these factors help the body survive stressful situations. However, chronic activation of these mechanisms leads to adrenal fatigue.

If a person maintains a heightened level of mental or physical stress for an extended period, the adrenals are forced to continuously release various hormones. If this situation is sustained, the adrenals will eventually become depleted resulting in a significant drop in the ability to handle stress. As adrenal function continues to decline other areas impacted by the adrenals may begin to fail. Such disruption leads to the manifestation of many different symptoms including:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Easily exhausted
  • Fatigue that is not alleviated through rest or sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of libido
  • Moodiness
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • New food sensitivities or allergies
  • Poor reaction to stress
  • Recurring infections
  • Sleep difficulties or insomnia
  • Swollen ankles


Typically, treatment of adrenal fatigue focuses on alleviating symptoms through the use of various medications and hormone supplements. This is generally effective in the short term, but the benefits often do not remain. Interestingly, studies suggest that adaptogens may be an effective addition or alternative to traditional adrenal therapies that may provide lasting results.

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a class of herb that has system balancing qualities. Many adaptogens have been used for centuries to alleviate stress and support better hormone balance. These impressive herbs can be identified through their impressive beneficial attributes.

Adaptogens improve the individual’s ability to cope with physiological stressors, provide stimulating effects for both single-use and long-term use, and help normalize bodily functions. Additionally, adaptogens are considered to be exceptionally safe and have minimal risk of adverse side effects.

Can Adaptogens be Used to Treat Adrenal Dysfunction?

There are many different adaptogens available that can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. Studies have identified several adaptogens that help manage stress and may significantly improve adrenal fatigue.


Rhodiola rosea is a specific strain of rhodiola that provides multiple adrenal-related benefits. Excess cortisol, a major component of adrenal fatigue, can cause widespread disruption throughout the body. Rhodiola rosea limits the release and production of cortisol when the body experiences stress. For those suffering from chronic stress, this can help prevent an adrenal crash and a worsening of their condition. Studies also suggest that patients who supplement with rhodiola rosea often exhibit improved energy levels and greater concentration.


Maca is a root that contains a high volume of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, and beneficial amino acids. Maca encourages hormone production during periods of deficiency and limits production in times of excess. Extended use of maca is associated with better hypothalamic and pituitary function, which further supports adrenal balance. Other benefits of eating and supplementing with maca include restored libido, fertility, mood, and improved symptoms of adrenal fatigue.


Ashwagandha is a strong-tasting root that has anti-inflammatory, blood pressure regulating, immune boosting, and cancer prevention qualities. This popular supplement also supports thyroid function by improving serum values of thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Because the thyroid and adrenals have significant influence over one another, improving thyroid function in this way can also lead to more balanced adrenal activity. Additionally, studies show that ashwagandha is effective at normalizing stress hormones, alleviating anxiety, and increasing energy levels.


Ginseng provides exceptional support to the adrenals by significantly limiting the effects of chronic stress. The powerful herb facilitates this by regulating the activity of the HPA axis, which is responsible for controlling many of the influential adrenal hormones. Ginseng may also limit the occurrence of autoimmune disease, and mood-related disorders such as depression and anxiety that contribute to the development of adrenal fatigue.


Eleuthero has been used for thousands of years as a stress reliever. The inherent stimulating qualities of eleuthero boost energy level and balance nervous system activity. Furthermore, studies show that eleuthero contains fatigue-fighting and fat-burning compounds that may improve physical performance and weight regulation. Other benefits of eleuthero include normalizing immune function, stabilizing blood sugar, improving concentration, and even alleviating symptoms of menopause.

Licorice Root

Not only is licorice root the source of the widely recognized flavor, but it also provides several health benefits. Studies show that supplementation with licorice root improves the regulation of various stress-related hormones including cortisol. Licorice root may also improve energy level, physical endurance, and bolster immune function.

Find these adaptogens, and other adrenal-supporting ingredients, in our doctor-formulated supplement, Adrenal Repair.

Use Adaptogens to Treat Adrenal Fatigue

There are many approaches to improving adrenal function including hormone therapies, lifestyle changes, and medications. However, perhaps one of the best methods for achieving lasting improvement of adrenals is through the use of natural adaptogenic herbs. The adaptogens discussed above have a long history of therapeutic use. Adaptogens may be used to safely reduce the impact of numerous physiological stressors, improve hormone balance, and support many other areas of wellness. If you are interested in naturally supporting your adrenals and doing away with stress, consider incorporating adaptogens into your health regimen.

At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to utilize innovative treatments, like adaptogens, to help design a treatment protocol that is personalized to you. If you are experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue, contact us to see how we can help you!


  1. Kent Holtorf, MD. “Diagnosis and Treatment of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis Dysfunction in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia (FM).”
  2. Edward C. Wallace, N.D., D.C.. “Adaptogenic Herbs: Nature’s Solution To Stress.”
  3. I I Brekhman, I V Dardymov. “New Substances of Plant Origin which Increase Nonspecific Resistance.” Annual Review of Pharmacology. Vol. 9:419-430. April 1969.
  4. Alexander Panossian et al. “Adaptogens exert a stress-protective effect by modulation of expression of molecular chaperones.” Phytomedicine. Volume 16, Issues 6–7, June 2009, Pages 617-622.
  5. Jayant N Dhuley. “Effect of ashwagandha on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Volume 60, Issue 2, March 1998, Pages 173-178.
  6. N. Singh et al. “Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha), a Rejuvenating Herbal Drug Which Enhances Survival During Stress (an Adaptogen).” International Journal of Crude Drug Research. Volume 20, 1982 – Issue 1.
  7. Anuradha Grandhi et al. “A comparative pharmacological investigation of Ashwagandha and Ginseng.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Volume 44, Issue 3, December 1994, Pages 131-135.
  8. Al-Dujaili EA et al. “Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal SULT2A1 activity.” Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2011 Apr 10;336(1-2):102-9.
  9. Wiegant FA et al. “Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans.” Biogerontology. 2009 Feb;10(1):27-42.
  10. Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. “Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults.” Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010 Aug;25(6):462-71.
  11. Deepak Rai et al. “Anti-stress Effects of Ginkgo biloba and Panax ginseng: a Comparative Study.”
  12. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS. “7 Adaptogenic Herbs or Adaptogens that Help Reduce Stress.” Dr. Axe.

Holtorf Medical GroupThe Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.

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