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Adapta what? Naturopath Tess Doig gives us the low down on adaptogens.

Exhausted, irritable, overwhelmed with life?

These can all be signs of becoming burnt out or also under chronic adrenal stress. The common naturopathic term for this is ‘Adrenal Fatigue’, but we have a new fancy name called Hypothalamus- Pituitary- Adrenal Axis Dysregulation aka HPA Aix Dysregulation. Hmmm sexy isn’t it..

Essentially what we are saying is the communication between the brain (specifically the two areas- hypothalamus and pituitary) and the communication with the adrenals is not working well, causing high or low, or unbalanced levels of cortisol being produced by the adrenals. The reason for the name change is essentially the adrenals have not stopped working, as in they are fatigued, they have just changed their pattern of cortisol output. Cortisol should generally be highest in the morning (around 6am) and lowest at night (10pm). When someone is under chronic stress, the message sent to the adrenals can cause constant high output, an abnormal pattern of low in the morning and high at night or just a constant low output. Because other hormones are also secreted by the hypothalamus and the pituitary other organs can also be affected including our thyroid, ovaries or testes, insulin release and hence blood sugar dysregulation and digestive function.

It can feel and look like 

  • Fatigue all day or in the afternoon
  • Waking tired 
  • Tired but wired
  • Moody swings- angry sad, teary
  • Over whelm 
  • Anxiety,
  • Depression 
  • Insomnia 
  • Foggy brain, poor concentration and memory
  • Changes to Menstrual cycle in women
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Low libido
  • Weight gain
  • Cravings for high energy foods such as sugary foods, caffeine, chocolate, fatty foods or alcohol

It is important to remember that if you are experiencing the above symptoms your body is not failing you… It is trying to send you are a message. And that is STOP!

Our body and mind always want to keep us safe, so when it is constantly perceiving a threat, it will try to stop you in your tracks and make you stay at home- which feels like fatigue, low mood, low libido etc. Once you have realised your symptoms are a cry for help, you then need to make some changes to help support your body and build it back up again.

One of my favourite ways to help people recover from feelings of burn out and stress, is with a class of medicinal herbs called, adaptogens.

Adaptogens are a group of herbs that help the body to essentially adapt to daily stressors. They rebuild, restore, and balance our nervous and hormonal systems, while some also help fight free radicals and damage to the gut that can occur when the body is under chronic stress. The benefits people feel from taking adaptogenic herbs are profound from decreased anxiety, improved sleep, better focus, more energy and many more.

Below I have shared my favourite adaptogenic herbs, and specific times they are most useful.


Also known as Ashwaganda, Withania is a traditional Ayurvedic herb with over 4000 years use. It is regarded as a tonic herb, rebuilding exhausted bodies, and those with chronic infections or low immunity. It is great in high cortisol states when a person feels ‘tired but wired”. It is also a fantastic herb if you also suffer with an under functioning thyroid as supports thyroid hormone production.

I use it in people when they say

  • “I am so tired but I just can’t sleep”
  • “ I feel nervous, anxious and on edge all the time”
  • “ I suffer with brain fog and am very forgetful”
  • “ I am suffering with fertility issues, low libido (men and women),  period problems (women) or erectile dysfunction (men)”
  • “ I’m a mum”
  • “I’m pregnant and feel anxious”
  • “ I have chronic fatigue, a thyroid condition or fibromyalgia”

Withania is a safe herb to use in 2nd and 3rd trimesters (avoid in 1st).

Holy Basil

Also known as “Tulsi” in Ayurvedic medicine, Holy Basil has thousands of years medicinal use. It has been said to calm the mind and spirit and promote longevity. It is useful in high cortisol, stressed out states as lowers cortisol levels. It is also high in antioxidants making it great when someone has been drinking, smoking or eating poorly to counteract free radical damage to the body. It is also useful in balancing blood sugars and supports a happy mood. It calms the nervous system when someone is feeling anxious or depressed.

I use it in people when they say:

“ I feel on edge, and jumpy”

“ I crave sugar, junk food or alcohol”

“ I just feel so stressed out!”

“ I have been smoking”

“ I can’t sleep at night”


Unlike some of the other adaptogen herbs, Rehmannia has the ability to raise cortisol levels when they have become too low, seen in stage 3 adrenal fatigue. It is known as an adrenal tonic, helping to rebuild an overworked gland. Rehmannia also has anti inflammatory properties making it a fantastic herb to use in auto immune and pain conditions. It combines well with another adaptogenic herb, Licorice.

I use it when people say:

“ I have an autoimmune condition”

“ I need coffee to get going in the morning”

“ I have muscle aches and pains”

“ I have taken a lot of steroid medications in the past”

“ I am always tired”


Rhodiola was said to be used by the Vikings before going to fight, to maintain endurance. It is a wonderful herb for improving physical and mental stamina. It helps support the adrenal glands to “cope” the stress, building a person’s resilience. It has also been used in treating mild depression.

I use it when someone says:

“ I can’t exercise for as long as I used too”

“I feel out of breathe a lot”

“ I feel flat, and low in mood”

“ I wake feeling exhausted”

“ I drink more than 2 cups of coffee per day”

“ I keep on getting colds”

Siberian Ginseng

Is also known as Eleutherococcus, Siberian ginseng is part of the Ginseng family. I find it has a milder action than Panax ginseng that can make people feel quite “buzzy”. It is a great herb to use when someone is suffering with exhaustion from a chronic illness or long term antibiotic use. It supports our body’s immune system, along with helping it cope with acute and chronic stress. It is also a great herb to use when someone feels depressed, flat and generally “can’t be bothered”.

I use it when someone says:

  • “ I am exhausted from being sick for so long”
  • “ I just can’t function at work like I used too”
  • “ I crash at 3pm”
  • “ I keep on getting colds and other infections”
  • “  I have taken a lot of antibiotics in the past”


Schisandra comes from traditional Chinese medicine, and has been used for centuries in aiding exhausted and stress out individuals. It is fabulous at improving a person’s mental and physical performance, and resistance to stress. It is also a great liver detoxifying herb, making it useful when someone has been previously using alcohol to cope with stress.  

I use it when people say

  • “ I drink wine at night to help calm me down”
  • “ I feel sluggish”
  • “ I can’t seem to focus at work”
  • “ I wake up sweating at night and can feel nauseous frequently”
  • “ I feel flat”

Not safe in pregnancy

These are just of the wonderful adaptogenic herbs, I get to use to support my patients. I find a combination of these with some diet and lifestyle changes such as eating regular meals with protein and good fats, cutting sugar from their diet, meditation, breathing exercises and adding yoga or pilates to their schedule, people recover well from burnout in a short space of time.


Want to learn more? You can connect with Tess via:

Instagram - @junowellness

Web - www.junowellness.com.au 


Have you tried our adaptogenic mushroom blends from Four Sigmatic?? If not click here to see how you can incorporate them into your life


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