Supporting Adrenal Function with Adaptogenic Herbs
Jill Stansbury
Paul Saunders
David Winston


adrenal function


Adaptogens are plant derived compounds that normalize endocrine function and promote adaptation to environmental stress. Adaptogenic herbs modulate stress responses, enhancing energy production and sleep quality and improving immune function. Eleuthero Root (Eleutherococcus), Holy Basil (Ocimum), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola) have been used for the treatment of stress, fatigue, sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol levels, adrenal deficiency, low DHEAS and alterations in DHEAS/cortisol ratio, chronic infection, impaired memory, and exercise intolerance. Adaptogens have been used as single agents or in combination with other plant-derived products such as Panax quinquefoliusWithania somniferaGlycyrrhiza spp, Schisandra chinensis, and Gynostemma pentaphyllum. Other herbs that have shown efficacy as adjuncts to adaptogens include Scutellaria laterifloraMatricaria recutita, Tilia spp, Hypericum perforatum and Melissa officinalis, which are known for their calming effect on the nervous system. Eleuthero root and rhodiola have been associated with anxiety and insomnia, although these effects have not been validated in clinical studies. Adverse effects of Eleutherococcussuch as increased blood pressure in hypertensive patients and heart palpitations have occurred as a result of inappropriate dosing. Overall, adaptogenic herbs are safe and no known drug interactions exist with the exception of a few cases of accidental misidentification of the herb, and their broad range of beneficial effects supports their development as valuable agents for the treatment of a variety of conditions.



Panossian A, Wikman G, Kaur P, Asea A. Adaptogens exert a stress-protective effect by modulation of expression of molecular chaperones. Phytomedicine 2009; 16(6-7):617–22.
Bleakney TL. Deconstructing an adaptogen: Eleutherococcus senticosus. Holist Nurs Pract 2008; 22(4):220–24.
Cicero AF, Derosa G, Brillante R, Bernardi R, Nascetti S, Gaddi A. Effects of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus maxim.) on elderly quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gerontol Geriatr Suppl 2004(9):69–73.
Ambroziak U, Bednarczuk T, Ginalska-Malinowska M et al. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency - management in adults. Endokrynol Pol 2010; 61(1):142–55.
Breslow MJ, Ligier B. Hyperadrenergic states. Crit Care Med 1991; 19(12):1566–79.
Sebaai N, Lesage J, Vieau D, Alaoui A, Dupouy JP, Deloof S. Altered control of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in adult male rats exposed perinatally to food deprivation and/or dehydration. Neuroendocrinology 2002; 76(4):243–53.
Golotin VG, Gonenko VA, Zimina VV, Naumov VV, Shevtsova SP. [Effect of ionol and eleutherococcus on changes of the hypophyseo-adrenal system in rats under extreme conditions]. Vopr Med Khim 1989; 35(1):35–7.
Wiegant FA, Surinova S, Ytsma E, Langelaar-Makkinje M, Wikman G, Post JA. Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans. Biogerontology 2009; 10(1):27–42.
Chen TS, Liou SY, Chang YL. Antioxidant evaluation of three adaptogen extracts. Am J Chin Med 2008; 36(6):1209–17.
Davydov M, Krikorian AD. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look. J Ethnopharmacol 2000; 72(3):345–93.
Gaffney BT, Hugel HM, Rich PA. The effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus and Panax ginseng on steroidal hormone indices of stress and lymphocyte subset numbers in endurance athletes. Life Sci 2001; 70(4):431–42.
Gaffney BT, Hugel HM, Rich PA. Panax ginseng and Eleutherococcus senticosus may exaggerate an already existing biphasic response to stress via inhibition of enzymes which limit the binding of stress hormones to their receptors. Med Hypotheses 2001; 56(5):567–72.
Deyama T, Nishibe S, Nakazawa Y. Constituents and pharmacological effects of Eucommia and Siberian ginseng. Acta Pharmacol Sin 2001; 22(12):1057–70.
Brekhman II, Dardymov IV. New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. Annu Rev Pharmacol 1969; 9:419–30.
Aicher B, Gund H, Schultz A. Eleutherococcus senticosus: Therapie bei akuten grippalen infekten. Pharm Ztg 2001; 41:11–8.
Facchinetti F, Neri I, Tarabusi M. Eleutherococcus senticosus reduces cardiovascular stress response in healthy subjects: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Stress and Health 2002; 18(1):11–7.
Maslov LN, Lishmanov YB, Arbuzov AG et al. Antiarrhythmic activity of phytoadaptogens in short-term ischemia-reperfusion of the heart and postinfarction cardiosclerosis. Bull Exp Biol Med 2009; 147(3):331–4.
Park SH, Kim SK, Shin IH, Kim HG, Choe JY. Effects of AIF on Knee Osteoarthritis Patients: Double-blind, Randomized Placebo-controlled Study. Korean J Physiol Pharmacol 2009; 13(1):33–7.
Jung CH, Jung H, Shin YC et al. Eleutherococcus senticosus extract attenuates LPS-induced iNOS expression through the inhibition of Akt and JNK pathways in murine macrophage. J Ethnopharmacol 2007; 113(1):183–7.
Asano K, Takahashi T, Miyashita M et al. Effect of Eleutherococcus senticosus extract on human physical working capacity. Planta Med 1986;(3):175–7.
Dowling EA, Redondo DR, Branch JD, Jones S, McNabb G, Williams MH. Effect of Eleutherococcus senticosus on submaximal and maximal exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28(4):482–9.
Eschbach LF, Webster MJ, Boyd JC, McArthur PD, Evetovich TK. The effect of siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) on substrate utilization and performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2000; 10(4):444–51.
Niu HS, Liu IM, Cheng JT, Lin CL, Hsu FL. Hypoglycemic effect of syringin from Eleutherococcus senticosus in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Planta Med 2008; 74(2):109–13.
Azizov AP. [Effects of eleutherococcus, elton, leuzea, and leveton on the blood coagulation system during training in athletes]. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1997; 60(5):58–60.
Soya H, Deocaris CC, Yamaguchi K et al. Extract from Acanthopanax senticosus harms (Siberian ginseng) activates NTS and SON/PVN in the rat brain. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2008; 72(9):2476–80.
Agrawal P, Rai V, Singh RB. Randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther 1996; 34(9):406–9.
Devi PU, Ganasoundari A. Modulation of glutathione and antioxidant enzymes by Ocimum sanctum and its role in protection against radiation injury. Indian J Exp Biol 1999; 37(3):262–8.
Sood S, Narang D, Thomas MK, Gupta YK, Maulik SK. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn. on cardiac changes in rats subjected to chronic restraint stress. J Ethnopharmacol 2006; 108(3):423–7.
Singh S, Taneja M, Majumdar DK. Biological activities of Ocimum sanctum L. fixed oil--an overview. Indian J Exp Biol 2007; 45(5):403–12.
Singh S, Majumdar DK. Evaluation of the gastric antiulcer activity of fixed oil of Ocimum sanctum (Holy Basil). J Ethnopharmacol 1999; 65(1):13–9.
Sood S, Narang D, Dinda AK, Maulik SK. Chronic oral administration of Ocimum sanctum Linn. augments cardiac endogenous antioxidants and prevents isoproterenol-induced myocardial necrosis in rats. J Pharm Pharmacol 2005; 57(1):127–33.
Gupta P, Yadav DK, Siripurapu KB, Palit G, Maurya R. Constituents of Ocimum sanctum with antistress activity. J Nat Prod 2007; 70(9):1410–6.
Gholap S, Kar A. Hypoglycaemic effects of some plant extracts are possibly mediated through inhibition in corticosteroid concentration. Pharmazie 2004; 59(11):876–8.
Maity TK, Mandal SC, Saha BP, Pal M. Effect of Ocimum sanctum roots extract on swimming performance in mice. Phytother Res 2000; 14(2):120–1.
Sen P, Maiti PC, Puri S, Ray A, Audulov NA, Valdman AV. Mechanism of anti-stress activity of Ocimum sanctum Linn, eugenol and Tinospora malabarica in experimental animals. Indian J Exp Biol 1992; 30(7):592–6.
Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on noise induced changes in plasma corticosterone level. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1997; 41(2):139–43.
Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on the changes in central cholinergic system induced by acute noise stress. J Ethnopharmacol 2005; 96(3):477–82.
Ravindran R, Rathinasamy SD, Samson J, Senthilvelan M. Noise-stress-induced brain neurotransmitter changes and the effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) treatment in albino rats. J Pharmacol Sci 2005; 98(4):354–60.
Samson J, Sheela DR, Ravindran R, Senthilvelan M. Biogenic amine changes in brain regions and attenuating action of Ocimum sanctumin noise exposure. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2006; 83(1):67–75.
Sakina MR, Dandiya PC, Hamdard ME, Hameed A. Preliminary psychopharmacological evaluation of Ocimum sanctum leaf extract. J Ethnopharmacol 1990; 28(2):143–50.
Mediratta PK, Sharma KK, Singh S. Evaluation of immunomodulatory potential of Ocimum sanctum seed oil and its possible mechanism of action. J Ethnopharmacol 2002; 80(1):15–20.
Singh S, Rehan HM, Majumdar DK. Effect of Ocimum sanctum fixed oil on blood pressure, blood clotting time and pentobarbitone-induced sleeping time. J Ethnopharmacol 2001; 78(2-3):139–43.
Joshi H, Parle M. Evaluation of nootropic potential of Ocimum sanctum Linn. in mice. Indian J Exp Biol 2006; 44(2):133–6.
Jaggi RK, Madaan R, Singh B. Anticonvulsant potential of holy basil, Ocimum sanctum Linn., and its cultures. Indian J Exp Biol 2003; 41(11):1329–33.
Kelly GS. Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev 2001; 6(3):293–302.
Chen QG, Zeng YS, Qu ZQ et al. The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats. Phytomedicine 2009; 16(9):830–8.
Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L extract in mice. Phytother Res 2007; 21(1):37–43.
Kucinskaite A, Briedis V, Savickas A. [Experimental analysis of therapeutic properties of Rhodiola rosea L. and its possible application in medicine]. Medicina (Kaunas) 2004; 40(7):614–9.
Arbuzov AG, Maslov LN, Burkova VN, Krylatov AV, Konkovskaia I, Safronov SM. [Phytoadaptogens-induced phenomenon similar to ischemic preconditioning]. Ross Fiziol Zh Im I M Sechenova 2009; 95(4):398–404.
Maimeskulova LA, Maslov LN, Lishmanov I, Krasnov EA. [The participation of the mu-, delta- and kappa-opioid receptors in the realization of the anti-arrhythmia effect of Rhodiola rosea]. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1997; 60(1):38–9.
Mattioli L, Funari C, Perfumi M. [Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. extract on behavioural and physiological alterations induced by chronic mild stress in female rats]. J Psychopharmacol 2009; 23(2):130–42.
Qin YJ, Zeng YS, Zhou CC, Li Y, Zhong ZQ. [Effects of Rhodiola rosea on level of 5-hydroxytryptamine, cell proliferation and differentiation, and number of neuron in cerebral hippocampus of rats with depression induced by chronic mild stress]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 2008; 33(23):2842–6.
Olsson EM, von SB, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med 2009; 75(2):105–12.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.