BURNOUT: Herbs and Supplements that Heal

August 25, 2016


In the chapters above, you have learned how poor sleep, diet, food intolerances and sensitivities, toxic products, and stress all have a role in burnout.  However, you have also now been given the tools to begin the healing. 


Supplements are the only items we have not yet discussed, but they are a very important component to getting better as stress can deplete your body's sources of needed vitamins and minerals.  In addition, there are herbs and supplements that can help you improve your sleep, and your ability to cope with stress. 


However, before you take herbs and supplements, it is always advised that you speak to your physician or your natural healthcare practitioner.  As with medications, herbs and supplements are potent substances and you need to make sure that what you are taking does not interfere with anything else.  In what follows, is information on herbs and supplements that may be useful for use as you overcome burnout.  Speak to your healthcare provider to determine which ones are best suited for your particular situation as well as dosage levels, as it can depend on what stage of burnout you are in. 


  • Melatonin


    Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by a gland in your brain, and it controls your sleep-wake cycles.  Your sleep cycles are regulated by exposure to light and darkness.  Melatonin increases as it gets darker, telling your body it is time to sleep.  It naturally decreases as it gets lighter outside, telling you to wake up.  It can also promote a more relaxing, quality sleep.  There are a number of different conditions for which melatonin supplements are used, one of which is insomnia.  Sometimes, those who have trouble sleeping also have lower levels of melatonin.  


    When you are stressed or to the point of burnout, it can be difficult to sleep.  This is where melatonin supplements can be beneficial for use before bedtime, or if you are a shift worker experiencing burnout. 


    It is important to get advice on a quality melatonin supplement, as well as the dosage and time to take it.  You never want to drive or operate machinery after taking it, as your alertness can be affected. 


  • L-Theanine


    This is an amino acid that is found in green tea.  You can also find it in supplement form.  It is known for its calming and relaxation effects, and is an option for people with anxiety.  If you are not getting a restful sleep, it can also be helpful to consume.  It also promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine, which are chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain that also help with reducing anxiety. 


  • Omega 3


    Omega 3's were discussed in the "Diet" chapter.  It is suggested that you supplement with fish oil to get EPA and DHA.  Fish oil has so many health benefits, but when it comes to your adrenal glands, it has been found to suppress constant adrenal activation when people are undergoing mental stress.


  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)


    Coenzyme Q10 is found in all your body's tissues and organs, and is involved in making cellular energy.  Your heart is one organ that needs a lot of CoQ10.  It is common to see low levels of CoQ10 in people with burnout and adrenal fatigue, therefore CoQ10 supplementation may need to be considered. 


  • Probiotics


    Probiotics were already mentioned in the "Diet" chapter, but here is a bit more information. 


    When you are under stress, your digestive system is also negatively affected.  This stress decreases functioning of your stomach and small intestine.  When your food takes longer to pass through your intestines, it produces toxic by-products resulting in overgrowth of yeast and bacteria in your gut.  These toxins can enter your body's bloodstream, which also affect your immune system.  Therefore, it becomes important to restore your body's internal environment as it is a source of internal stress that is negatively impacting the functioning of your adrenal glands and the stress response and release of cortisol.  In fact, a study in 2012 published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, illustrated that the use of probiotics can reduce the stress response when you get the gut flora back into balance. 


  • Multivitamin/mineral Supplement


    In a moment, separate vitamins will be discussed, however, you should definitely be taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral.  By high quality, this means one that is bioavailable, and gets absorbed in your system.  Some people still believe that you should be able to get all of your daily vitamins and minerals in the food you eat. 


    However, there are many reasons why you may not be getting all the nutrients you need from your food.  A couple of reasons for this include the distance that food must travel before it gets to your plate, as well as nutrient-depleted soils in which plants are grown.  These are just two factors that influence the vitamin and mineral content of your food. 


    Another thing to consider is that it is not enough to get minimum levels of vitamins and minerals.  You want to be getting optimal levels for your body.  That is where adding a high-quality multivitamin/mineral combination can help you achieve that. 

    It is interesting to note that the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for vitamins and minerals is only a guide to prevent vitamin deficiency such as rickets or scurvy.  Many natural healthcare practitioners would agree that these are the minimum requirements, but not necessarily the optimal levels in individuals. 


    If you are taking a multivitamin/mineral, ask your natural healthcare professional (ex. Naturopathic doctor) whether he/she recommends you increase particular vitamins/minerals over and above what your multivitamin/mineral is already providing. 


    Some of these other vitamins may include:


  • Vitamin C


    Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it does not get stored in your body and you therefore need to replace it on a daily basis.  You find it in citrus fruits and foods like tomatoes, oranges, and papaya and green leafy vegetables. 


    You have probably heard that when you feel that you are coming down with a cold, you should take a Vitamin C supplement.  Its role in improving your immunity has long been known.  However, it is less known for its beneficial effects on your adrenal glands.  Vitamin C is actually found in high amounts in your brain and adrenal glands, and is involved in the production of the adrenal hormone, cortisol, for example.  More vitamin C is excreted in your urine when you are stressed, so that is why it is also important that you replenish your stores of this important vitamin. 


  • B Vitamins


    You may hear the B vitamins referred to as "Vitamin B complex."  These vitamins include B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12.  These vitamins are often taken together in a supplement form as they need one another to work well.  They are also water-soluble vitamins, so you need to replenish them daily.  B vitamins are important in your energy levels. 


    Vitamin B1 (Thiamine):

    This vitamin is important in energy production in your cells, as well as involvement in processing your body's glucose levels. 


    Studies have shown that deficiencies can result in depression and anxiety due to decreased serotonin levels (chemical messenger/neurotransmitter). 


    Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):

    This vitamin has a number of purposes, two of which are glucose metabolism and with helping support adrenal function. 


    Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 

    Vitamin B3 supplementation can be beneficial for those who need to raise their healthy-level (HDL) cholesterol.  It is also important in the production of adrenal hormones. 


    Niacin is important to allow your brain to form serotonin and dopamine (chemical messengers).  Serotonin is what is broken down into melatonin when it gets dark so that you get sleepy. 


    Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid):

    Although all of the B vitamins are important when you are experiencing burnout, Vitamin B5 may be one of the most important ones.  Like all of the other B vitamins, it has a number of roles.  However, in the case of burnout, it is notable for its role in reducing mental and physical stress and anxiety. 


    Vitamin B5 has been shown to increase the amount of adrenal hormones, as well as in preventing the adrenal glands' receptors from being overly responsive to situations. 


    Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):

    Again, Vitamin B6 is another B vitamin involved in the creation of your adrenal gland hormones.  It is also involved in the production of serotonin and dopamine (chemical messengers) in your brain. 


    Vitamin B7 (Biotin):

    This B vitamin helps process glucose, and metabolize proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your body.


    Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid or Folate):

    You have undoubtedly heard of folic acid, and its importance in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in women who are pregnant. 


    Folate is found naturally in foods, and folic acid is found in supplement form or in foods that have had B9 added to it (fortified). 


    Vitamin B9 is important in emotional health. 


    Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin):

    This vitamin is also important in the creation of adrenal gland hormones.  If you do not have normal levels, you are at increased risk of depression. 


  • Magnesium


    Because stress depletes magnesium levels in your body, you need to ensure that you replace this lost magnesium.  Magnesium is very important in ensuring you get a quality, restful sleep.  It helps to calm and relax your sympathetic nervous system (the one that is responsible for "fight or flight"), so therefore it is beneficial to take it before you go to sleep at night. 


  • Vitamin D


    This vitamin is found in food and fortified milk, but it can also be produced by your body when exposed to sunlight, so you may hear it referred to as the "sunshine vitamin." 


    Vitamin D was recognized years ago as important for prevention of rickets, and it is now also identified as important (in combination with calcium, magnesium, and appropriate levels of phosphorus) in the prevention of osteoporosis.  Low levels of Vitamin D also negatively impact your immune system's functioning. 


    In the case of your adrenal gland functioning, low Vitamin D may also play a role.  It appears that Vitamin D is also important in the production of adrenal gland hormones.  


    Herbal Support including Adaptogens:


    You may hear the term, "Adaptogens," used.  It refers to herbs that can help your body deal with and adapt to stress.  In particular, they can improve your adrenal glands and help reduce and prevent fatigue. 


    Here are examples of some Adaptogens -


  • Licorice Root


    Licorice has long been known for treating many ailments.  Licorice can help improve the function of the adrenal glands, by ensuring that more optimal levels of cortisol are available for use by your body.  This is important until your adrenal glands restore their function.  There are concerns that licorice root may elevate blood pressure, but most people with underfunctioning adrenal glands and burnout have lower blood pressure anyway.  However, it is still a good idea to monitor it. 


  • Siberian ginseng


    This herb has many important functions some of which include improving memory, mental and physical energy, and warding off stress.  It is also useful in prevention of the depletion of your adrenal hormones.  Like Licorice root, use caution with this herb if you have high blood pressure.  


  • Rhodiola Rosea


    This adaptogen herb helps balance your cortisol levels, and is important in cellular energy creation.  It is not recommended for those with manic depression or bipolar disorder, as well as pregnant or breastfeeding women. 


  • Ashwagandha  


    This herb improves your thyroid and adrenal gland functioning.  For years, it has been used to treat the fatigue associated with mental and physical stresses.  It has also been shown to be beneficial in people with anxiety and depression. 


  • Maca root


    This plant works directly on your body's endocrine (hormonal) system, positively impacting your adrenal glands, and allowing them to respond appropriately to stressful situations in the future.  It can be used long-term with no side effects, but like any herb or supplement, breastfeeding and pregnant women must consult with a physician before consuming anything out of the ordinary. 


    Note:  There are herbal supplements available that combine several of these herbs together in one supplement capsule (ex. Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha) for people suffering with burnout and poorly-functioning adrenal glands. 

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