Always tired? Plant medicine can help.
Many of us complain of feeling exhausted. We often dismiss it as an unavoidable by-product of busy, modern life – nothing a good night’s sleep or a few days’ holiday won’t fix.
But what if it’s more than that?
It may be that you are suffering from hypoadrenia, more commonly known as adrenal fatigue syndrome or adrenal burnout. Symptoms are wide ranging; from difficulty waking up in the morning, constant tiredness, cravings for salty or sweet treats, no sex drive. It can even cause a pot belly.
What can cause adrenal burnout?
Adrenal burnout occurs when we have almost no reserves of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which are produced by the adrenal glands and are key for energy production. The adrenal glands produce more than 100 chemical messengers in our body that work together to fight inflammation, support immunity, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and dictate how far we convert food into energy or fat.
Normally a situation of stress prompts a response by our adrenals that gets us through tough times. But if our reserves are depleted, as they are with adrenal burnout, it’s like putting a foot on the car’s accelerator to avoid an accident and discovering you’re out of gas. A crash is inevitable.
Who is most at risk from adrenal burnout?
It can affect anyone, from children with school stressors, to busy parents juggling work and home-life, to the elderly suffering from chronic pain or illness. And everyone in between. Basically, if you are under prolonged stress that isn’t addressed, adrenal burnout is a possibility.
Adrenal burnout is particularly prevalent among those who are high achieving, goal obsessed and don’t prioritise down time. When symptoms occur, they fight back by exercising harder, rely on caffeine to get through the day and alcohol to relax. Basically, the exact opposite of what the body craves in order to rebalance. You can imagine this way of 'coping' leads to the situation worsening.
How to get a diagnosis
Adrenal issues are often only recognised when the adrenal hormone cortisol levels are in the extremes of too little (Addison’s Disease) or too much (Cushing’s Disease).
There are various arguments as to why the condition is not recognised, the most prevalent being that it is not viewed as a significant disease that can be treated with pharmaceutical medications. However, more than 2,000 medical journals and textbooks have been published exploring the effects of low adrenal function.
A diagnosis can be made via a simple saliva test to check your cortisol levels. Ask your GP or health practitioner to arrange the test.
The road to recovery
While there is no magic cure, you can rejuvenate your adrenal function naturally. Recovery involves a review of diet, exercise and lifestyle habits – nourishment is the over-arching theme. If you are in the ‘rush, rush, rush’ category, a change in mindset is needed too – to slow down.
Medicinal plants can be a great support, with two groups - adaptogens and tonics – being particularly helpful. Use medicinal plants to help your body find balance again. Many are scientifically researched to help modulate the body's stress response, to support the nervous system and provide nourishment to the adrenal glands.
Because medicinal plants are complex and contain many different phytocompounds (the active part), they can work simultaneously on multiple issues at once.
Change won’t occur overnight, but depending on severity and your lifestyle, recovery can take between three months and two years.
To recover from adrenal burnout: Licorice is the most important Western herb to restore adrenal function. Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Lavender, Chamomile and St. John’s Wort are also nerve restorative plants, which help the body to switch from an active mode into a relax and recovery mode. In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, traditional plant remedies Rehmannia, Withania, Astragalus, Shatavari and Siberian and Korean Ginseng are used to support adaptation to stress and recovery from burnout. See Rest and Relax Tea.
To cope with stress: St. John’s Wort is a nerve tonic and improves resilience, almost putting insulation around your nervous system. It clears cortisol, keeping keeping levels more consistent. This is important to stop cortisol levels spiking during the day and making it difficult to properly wind down in the evening and sleep well. As an additional benefit, research shows St John'w Wort keeps more of our happy neurotransmitters in the brain alive, which effectively lifts mood. See Stress Relief Tea.
To help with sleep: Valerian, Hops, and Passionflower improve both sleep quality and duration. They are non-addictive and work best when taken as a relaxing tea before bed. See Deep Sleep Tea.
To detox: Environmental toxins negatively affect the nervous system. Best practice is to support your detoxification organs every day with medicinal plants like St. Mary’s Thistle, Globe Artichoke and Dandelion. See Liver Detox Tea.
To improve digestion: Stress and worry can upset digestion, however Peppermint, Aniseed, Fennel and Chamomile will help digestive function. See Digestive Ease Tea.
To improve immunity: When we feel overworked, stressed and tired our immune response goes down. A regular dose of immune strengthening medicinal plants such as Thyme, Echinacea and Angelica Root will help to get your immune system strong, especially important if you feel run down. See ViroGone.
Does this sound like you?
Do you feel like you’re suffering from adrenal burnout? Now is the time to get some support from a health professional. Or better still, a holistic team including your GP and a medical herbalist who can both support you in your journey to wellness.