Nearly one-third of Americans report feeling stressed on the majority of days–and even more (by some accounts around 80%) of Americans suffer from adrenal fatigue at some point in their life.
What do stress and this adrenal dysfunction have to do with each other? Pretty much everything–which is why adrenal support supplements may help almost anyone fight off brain fog, stress, and immune system imbalances so they can feel their best.
To understand how we need to dive a little deeper into the adrenal fatigue phenomenon, and then we'll highlight some of the best supplements to help nip adrenal dysregulation in the bud.
Let's jump in:
Adaptogens are a class of supplements designed to support the body's stress response.
Many proponents of adaptogens focus on herbal blends but overlook the power of medicinal mushrooms and nootropic supplements.
A combination of adaptogens and nootropics may be best to help fight adrenal fatigue.
Why You May Need Adrenal Support Supplements
Your adrenals, small glands responsible for producing cortisol and adrenaline, are crucial in regulating your body’s energy and stress response. In fact, the adrenal system has a hand in hormone production, can affect mood, and can even impact things like appetite and weight loss. Because its functions are so diverse, it's important to have a handle on your adrenal response.
Unfortunately, many people experience chronic stress, a phenomenon that may lead to adrenal fatigue. Acute stress (or short-term stress) is a normal, healthy part of the body's threat response, and it helps to regulate neurochemicals that help with motivation, energy, and cognition. These are all things that are necessary to get things done, whether you're under stress because you have an assignment due or because you're running from an angry bear.
However, chronic stress can result in these chemicals, including cortisol, being dysregulated, something that's linked to a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Certain nutrients, like vitamin C and magnesium, may help to support normal HPA axis function. On a broader scale, supplements known as adaptogens may help to regulate HPA axis function and cortisol levels while under stress.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue can be caused by a variety of potential factors, like environmental and dietary influences, emotional stressors like grief, trauma, or anxiety, and autoimmune conditions.
Caffeine is another common factor. Although caffeine consumption itself cannot cause adrenal fatigue, it’s known to worsen it. That’s because caffeine stimulates cortisol production which can further tax the adrenals. Caffeine is, of course, vastly over-consumed in the U.S., and most people who suffer from adrenal fatigue (low-energy) rely on it, which can make matters worse.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is crucial to the body's stress response because it acts as a regulator. During a stressful experience, the brain quickly triggers the first phase of the stress response, something known as the "fight or flight response." This phase involves the release of catecholamines into the bloodstream, which are catalysts to a number of functions, including increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and inflammation.
In the next phase of the stress response, the HPA axis releases cortisol. Cortisol's job is to decrease this inflammation, mobilize glucose for energy, and suppress the function of non-vital organs in order to funnel support to the brain and organs necessary for carrying out a complete stress response.
In other words, phase one lights the stress fire that motivates you to get out of trouble, while phase two (the cortisol) helps to regulate the body and bring it back to homeostasis. So, in short, cortisol is incredibly important for keeping the body out of a prolonged stress state, and cortisol dysregulation is the building block for chronic stress.
What are adaptogens?
Simply put, adaptogens are adrenal support supplements. Typically, adaptogens are a type of herbal dietary supplement, but some adaptogenic supplements come from basic nutrients or even from mushrooms.
Many herbal adaptogens have been found useful for regulating HPA axis function, which can help improve mental work capacity and relieve fatigue during stressful periods. Many mushrooms have also been found to help to regulate the body’s reaction to physical, biological, and chemical stress, and protect against stress-related damage, which can have a long-term, negative impact on health.
Unfortunately, many of these herbs, mushrooms, and stress-regulating nutrients are not a part of our regular diets, so many people turn to adrenal support supplements instead:
Best Adrenal Support Supplements
Many suggestions for adrenal support supplements focus on the most common adaptogenic herbs and nutrients based on limited research and historical use. However, they often leave out one important option that may have a major impact on the body’s stress response–adaptogenic mushrooms.
So, in an attempt to offer a more complete list of adrenal supplements that may help you get over that adrenal fatigue hump (or simply support a more balanced stress response), we covered all of the most common adaptogenic herbs and nutrients plus the most powerful mushrooms and nootropic supplements available in supplement form.
Here are the best adrenal support supplements for your stress-reducing wellness regimen:
Adrenal glands function on vitamin C. In fact, they contain more vitamin C than most other glands in the body, and research suggests that they secrete more vitamin C during a stress response. According to a 2001 study, high-dose vitamin C may help to lower blood pressure, improve salivary cortisol recovery, and improve overall stress responses compared to the control group.
- Immune boosting
- Possibly lowers blood pressure
- Improves cortisol recovery
- Improves overall short and long-term stress response
Thanks to the processing of grains and a lack of nutrition in modern foods, it’s estimated that up to 20% of people suffer from a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiencies have been implicated in a range of conditions, like depression, ADHD, insulin resistance, anxiety, and fatigue. Some evidence suggests that magnesium supplementation may help to soothe anxiety and regulate the stress response by supporting the health and function of the HPA axis.
- Possibly improves various health conditions, including some mental and cognitive conditions related to adrenal fatigue
- May soothe anxiety
- Supports HPA axis function
Cordyceps is one type of mushroom that has been studied for its potential adaptogenic effects. Human trials are limited, but one animal trial suggests that cordyceps can help reduce stress markers while increasing the ability to handle stress-related activities. Another similar study confirmed these results, stating that cordyceps may be useful for combating stress-related fatigue.
A 2014 human trial examined the use of cordyceps in combination with another herbal remedy said to have adaptogenic effects–Rhodiola crenulata. This study also confirmed stress-relieving effects and an improvement in fatigue levels after only 2 weeks of dosing. Another study combined cordyceps with reishi mushroom and found the pair to help reduce the effects of physical stress on athletes caused by overtraining.
Although these studies do shed some light on the potential stress-regulating effects of cordyceps, more evidence is needed to understand the full extent of its adaptogenic nature.
To learn more about Cordyceps, you may want to read:
- Reduce stress markers while improving cognition while under stress
- Prevent stress-related fatigue
- Improve physical performance
- Negate physical effects of stress during exercise
Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as lion’s mane, is another mushroom thought to offer adaptogenic effects. One study found that Lion’s Mane may help reverse stress-related changes impacting crucial neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin. It may also help reduce certain inflammatory markers known to increase when experiencing stress.
Another study suggests that Lion’s Mane may prevent the downregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) when experiencing a stressful event, which may help decrease the chances of experiencing stress-related depression.
One study even found that Lion’s Mane extract may encourage the growth of new nerve cells and may stimulate faster healing within the nervous system, which may help to reduce the impact of stress-related damage to the brain.
To learn more about Lion's Mane, you may want to read:
- Improves cognition
- May prevent stress-related depression
- Stimulates neurogenesis to heal the brain
Some evidence suggests that maitake may have significant brain-boosting and antidepressant effects thanks to its interactions with AMPA receptors or neuroreceptors that help to regulate emotions. It’s also known to have a fair amount of beta-glucans, which may also offer significant antidepressant effects.
One trial found that when maitake was combined with ashwagandha, it could significantly decrease cortisol production (or the stress response) in animal models. More research is needed to verify maitake’s adaptogenic potential.
- May balance cortisol production
- May help manage or prevent stress-related depression
Reishi is known to have a beneficial impact on the adrenal system, or the hormone system responsible for the secretion of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. In addition to the research cited above where reishi was found to be successful in preventing stress-induced damage in athletes caused by oversharing (when paired with cordyceps), there are a few limited studies to help us understand the potential adaptogenic benefits of reishi mushrooms.
A 2020 animal study found that supplementing with reishi may help reduce inflammation in the brain caused by decreased oxygen exposure. The study also implied that reishi may help to protect against certain instances of nerve and memory damage.
Another animal study found that reishi could help prevent stress-induced anxiety. One other study found that reishi could help reduce exercise-induced damage to muscles, again indicating that it may help lower the body’s stress response to certain stimuli.
- May reduce inflammation caused by stress
- May prevent muscle damage caused by exercise induced stress
L-theanine is the most common form of theanine, an amino acid that interacts with the body similarly to glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid that helps send nerve signals around in the brain.
L-theanine also positively affects the production of GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, which can have a positive impact on mood while lowering stress and improving sleep. Many experts believe that this relaxation effect, when paired with small doses of caffeine, helps to hone focus and improve learning, reaction time, and alertness. In fact, caffeine and L-theanine have some serious synergy–like improved reaction times, improved word recognition, and improved attention.
As an added bonus, especially for those in the depths of adrenal fatigue and despair, L-theanine may also help you reap the benefits of caffeine without any of the side effects (Bye bye anxiety or elevated blood pressure!). It may help prevent caffeine from dilating the blood vessels, allowing it to boost your energy without negatively impacting blood flow.
- May promote relaxation
- Can help negate side effects of caffeine
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is one of the most popular adrenal fatigue supplements around, mainly because it has been used for this cause for hundreds of years. The therapeutic properties of ashwagandha are primarily attributed to withanolides, bioactive compounds found in the plant’s roots.
One 2012 study found that ashwagandha helped to improve the stress response in adults with a history of chronic stress compared to the placebo group. Other applications of ashwagandha may include fatigue support and improved sleep in cases of insomnia, although research is limited.
Although ashwagandha is a popular herb used for supporting the adrenals, it has been linked to some hormone-related side effects, especially for men, so you should talk to your doctor before incorporating this herb into your wellness routine.
- May improve overall stress response
- May help combat side effects of adrenal fatigue like fatigue and insomnia.
Holy Basil Leaf (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy Basil Leaf, also known as Tulsi, is another powerful adaptogenic herb that you’ll find in many stress-supporting formulas. Some evidence links this herb to improved cognition and reduced salivary cortisol levels. Other evidence suggests that it could help to combat stress and related concerns, such as elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
In fact, in one 2012 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, subjects taking holy basil experienced a 39% improvement in self-reported stress symptoms over the course of six weeks.
- May reduce cortisol levels
- May help balance blood sugar and blood pressure when adversely affected by stress.
Ginkgo Biloba is an ancient herbal remedy derived from the Ginkgo tree, which is originally native to China but can now be found growing worldwide. Traditionally, Ginkgo has been used to treat a variety of different conditions, from brain and circulatory problems to cold symptoms and upset stomach.
Now, researchers are busy looking into Ginkgo’s nootropic and adaptogenic potential. A 2003 animal study, for instance, found that both Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba may be useful for managing stress, but that Ginkgo may be more useful for supporting the body’s response to acute stress. Unlike many of the adaptogens on this list, Ginkgo may be useful for the short-term stress response.
Most notably, Ginkgo may be useful in supporting cognitive function and promoting relaxation–both beneficial to those suffering from adrenal fatigue.
A 1996 study found a Ginkgo extract to be effective in treating Alzheimer’s Disease possibly due to its neurodegenerative effects. Another trial the following year offered a similar conclusion–the same Ginkgo extract was shown to be effective in stabilizing and improving cognitive function in dementia patients. This may insinuate Ginkgo’s ability to help repair stress-related psychological damage to the brain, though more research is needed.
A study from 2007 evaluated the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba for people with anxiety and found that the participants who took Ginkgo reported higher levels of anxiety relief than the placebo group.
- May help manage acute stress
- May promote neurogenesis to reduce long term impact of stress
- May improve anxiety related to imbalanced stress response
Get Lucid: All-in-one Adrenal Support
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We've combined many of the adaptogenic supplements above, like Cordyceps, Lion's Mane, Maitake, and Ginkgo Biloba with powerful nootropics like BCAA's, Alpha-GPC, and more to create a full-coverage, synergistic blend that's unmatched by other adrenal support supplements on the market. It's simple to use and comes in three delicious flavors–Colombian Coffee, Masala Chai, and Japanese Matcha.
There's not a more straightforward way to reap the benefits of modern nootropics–or to unlock your brain and body's true potential. Ready to become Lucid? Check out one of our three mushroom+nootropic blends.
Curious to know more? Read more about our ingredients below: