Fatigue is fatigue, right? Not exactly. Exhaustion and the urge to sleep are common threads, but fatigue can have a variety of causes, each with its own surrounding health challenges.
Problems with the adrenal glands, which produce hormones including adrenaline and steroids, can make a person feel chronically tired. The theory is that the adrenals overproduce the stress hormone cortisol and trigger a domino effect of hormonal imbalances, resulting in fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is different from adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease), which is marked by adrenal gland dysfunction from injury or pituitary gland problems.
Drugs can address specific fatigue symptoms including those experienced in adrenal fatigue, but adaptogenic herbs can bring better balance to the underlying hormonal system. Adrenal fatigue is neither widely understood nor recognized in the healthcare community, and the use of such herbs relies heavily on the known properties of the herbs and history of traditional use.
Among the early but growing body of research on adaptogenic herbs, many native Asian plants (Araliaceae family) including ginseng were found to help bring homeostasis (internal equilibrium among physiological processes). Korean ginseng, Siberian “ginseng" (not true ginseng), licorice and ashwagandha are among the adaptogenic herbs outlined in a 2009 Alternative Medicine Review article (14(2):1114-40).
Additional research has indicated several other herbs with adaptogenic benefits that can be helpful in addressing stress in adrenal fatigue. Holy basil, maca and the Asian berry—called five flavor fruit—use different mechanisms to tackle adrenal fatigue, including management of cortisol, blood sugar, adrenal gland size and key neurotransmitters.
For more details on adrenal fatigue and the science on adaptogenic herbs, check out the special Digital Magazine “Adaptogens," which also includes articles on the many other health benefits of adaptogens, as well as a deeper look at ashwagandha.