So many people suffer the effects of chronic stress in their lives, due to excess production of stress hormones by the adrenal glands. Effects are wide-ranging and involve (Head and Kelly, 2009):

  • The  immune system, particularly those immune cells that target cancer and viruses and also antibodies involved in the first line of defence against invaders
  • Blood glucose regulation
  • The digestive system, including disruption to digestive function and balance of beneficial bacteria
  • Disrupted sleep, for example through changes in the daily cycle of cortisol secretion and effects on serotonin and melatonin secretion.

Eventually the adrenals themselves may become stressed and unable to respond in an effective manner, a condition described as ‘adrenal fatigue’, leading to a symptomatic picture featuring chronic fatigue and emotional imbalances with low blood sugar and inability to sustain healthy function  (see www.adrenalfatiguerecovery.com and Wilson, 2010).

Ideally the sources of chronic stress should be dealt with as much as possible and a healthy diet followed, high in fruits, veg and whole grains, low in saturated animal fats and with sufficient beneficial omega-3 fats. Moderate exercise is also very important along with relaxation and meditation. In an ideal world, such as healthy lifestyle should be sufficient to regain a balanced stress response, however, more specific support is generally needed.

Useful herbs include:

  • Herbs called ‘adaptogens’ which support the adrenals and balance the stress response such as ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus sentiocosus) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Relaxing herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) that reduce symptoms of anxiety and aid sleep, generally through enhancing the effects of the relaxing neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)

Specific nutrients include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils that help to normalise cortisol levels
  • Specific amino acids such as 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) which is reduced by stress and is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin and therefore important for healthy sleep and L-tyrosine which, as a precursor, aids in alleviating stress-induced depletion of the stress hormone noradrenaline
  • Vitamins such as B vitamins (particularly B1, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate) and vitamin C which have many beneficial effects in stress such as supporting the adrenals, enhancing sleep, regulating cortisol, GABA and noradrenaline levels and Vitamin C
  • Minerals such as magnesium which is depleted by chronic stress.


Head KA and Kelly GS (2009) ‘Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety and restless sleep’ Alt med rev, 14(2). p.114-140.

Wilson JL (2010) Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Smart Publications, Petaluma CA