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Dietary Supplements: B Vitamins and the Adrenal Glands


February 27, 2010 | Published by

Why You Need Vitamins During Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Commonly, people experiencing adrenal fatigue are not taking in sufficient essential nutrients to meet the increased nutritional demands of stress. When your adrenal glands respond to stress, the metabolism of your cells speeds up, burning through many times the amount of nutrients normally needed. By the time you are in a state of adrenal fatigue, your cells have used up much of your body’s stored nutrients and are in desperate need of new supplies just to continue to function, let alone rebuild.

Superior nutrition is essential to your ability to handle and recover from stress, as well as remain healthy during stressful times. Good quality food is the best source of nutrients – there is no substitute. However, well designed nutritional supplements can be an important adjunct to a nutritious diet by replenishing depleted nutrient stores, supplying additional nutrients during periods of higher demand, and providing nutrients or combinations of nutrients that are difficult to get adequately through food alone.

Supplements designed especially for adrenal fatigue can play an important role in nourishing, supporting and strengthening your adrenals and the other glands and biochemical pathways involved in the stress response. When properly formulated, they fortify the tissue structure of the adrenals, facilitate healthy adrenal function, support production of appropriate levels of adrenal hormones, and promote effective biochemical communication among the glands that interact to respond to stress and maintain homeostatic balance.

B Vitamins and Adrenal Function

Your adrenal glands manufacture a number of hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, aldosterone, estrogen and testosterone that regulate many processes in your body as well as help you cope with stress. This hormone production system is referred to as the adrenal cascade. Each of the eight B vitamins that make up vitamin B complex is essential in varying quantities throughout the adrenal cascade, as well as in many other processes from mood to DNA synthesis to energy production. Most B vitamins act as coenzymes, which means that they help form enzymes to become catalysts in biochemical transformations throughout your body.

Three Major Bs in the Adrenal Cascade

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is one of the most important of the B vitamins to the adrenal cascade. Large amounts of niacin are necessary to form the molecular structure of certain coenzymes critical for almost all of the steps in this cascade.

B5 (pantothenic acid) is another essential contributor in the adrenal cascade and is converted in the body into acetyl-CoA, a substance critical to the conversion of glucose into energy. It is present in all cells but in higher quantities in the adrenals because so much energy is needed to produce the adrenal hormones.

B6 (pyridoxine) is also a coenzyme in several of the biochemical pathways in the adrenal cascade and plays a role in the functioning of the hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal (HPA) axis that modulates adrenal activity and the stress response.

Although proportionately larger quantities of B3, B5 and B6 are used in adrenal hormone production, all of the B vitamins help generate energy and work in concert with each other. Therefore, the presence of the complete B complex is necessary for each individual B vitamin to optimally do its job. Their relative ratios are especially critical to how well they are able to support adrenal function.

Vitamin B Complex – Optimal Ratios for Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

When buying a stress supplement containing B complex, the key is to look for one that has the B vitamins in the proper proportions for the human body to utilize, and specifically for the relative ratios that the adrenals need. The stress formulas that are composed of equal amounts of the B vitamins are not metabolized efficiently. An optimal formula for stress and adrenal fatigue should provide, per day, approximately:

  • 75-130 mg of B3 (niacin)
  • 700-1200 mg of B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • 90-150 mg of B6 (pyridoxine)
  • 15-25 mg of B1 thiamine)
  • 15-25 mg of B2 riboflavin)
  • 300-500 mcg of B7 (biotin)
  • 600-1000 mcg of B9 (folic acid)

Because some people do not absorb vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) well in a regular vitamin supplement format, it may be preferable to take this in a separate 200-400 mcg sublingual supplement.

B Vitamins – Form Matters

Another important factor to consider is the form of each B vitamin in the supplement because this significantly affects the way it is metabolized and how fully it can be utilized by your body. For example, when vitamin B2 is provided as both riboflavin HCL and riboflavin-5’-phosphate, you get an immediate effect from the active HCL form which does not need to be broken down in your body, plus a delayed effect from the 5-phosphate form which has to be converted in your liver into the active form. The same goes for vitamin B6 when it is provided as both pyridoxine HCL and pyridoxine-5’-phosphate. This dual action means that the supply of these B vitamins lasts longer. Also, a small percentage of the population has difficulty metabolizing the regular vitamin B6 (pyridoxine HCL) and requires the pyridoxyl-5’-phosphate form to fully activate the enzymatic pathways in the adrenal cascade.

Vitamin B3 as niacin can cause an unpleasant hot flushing above certain doses, but when it is provided as inositol hexaniacinate, it does not cause flushing and is also better tolerated by your body. The metabolism of vitamin B12, cyanocobalamin, is complex and B12 can be difficult to absorb, especially for people with low levels of hydrochloric acid in their stomachs. Taking the active form, methylcobalamin, sublingually bypasses this problem and may provide the best results for many people.

B vitamins are water soluble which means that much of supplemental Bs are fairly quickly lost through sweat and urine. To make the most efficient use of these vitamins and to produce calm, steady results, find a true sustained release supplement that makes them available gradually over a period of hours.

Natural or Synthetic B Vitamins

Many people are concerned about whether their vitamins are “natural” or synthetic. Almost all vitamin B supplements contain synthetic B vitamins, especially if they are in high enough amounts to make a difference to someone experiencing stress and adrenal fatigue. The real question to ask about supplemental vitamins is if they are bio-identical, meaning do they have the exact same structure as those that occur naturally in food. Bio-identical synthetic B vitamins can be used effectively to help reinvigorate adrenal function and perform all of the other functions B vitamins normally have in your body. If you find a B complex from completely natural sources, it will contain much lower amounts of each B vitamin, or the individual amounts will not be listed.

Food Sources for B Vitamins

The best food sources of B vitamins include the following: whole grains, brewer’s yeast, pollen, miso (a Japanese soup stock), Marmite (a vegetable concentrate paste), liver, certain raw nuts, sprouts and rice bran syrup. These all contain natural forms of B complex.

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  • Alicia says:

    Can you recommend a brand that has all of these in these proportions? I’ve been looking for some time now…. & a good source for the sublingual b12? Thanks!

  • gary says:

    Frankly, the dosages that you recommending for adrenal fatigue are preposterous. I once followed such a prescription of taking B vitamins (ref. Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Balch) and I wound up with a severe copper and iron imbalance, which eventually caused problems with my thyroid. I urge readers to follow the disclaimers provided on an excellent website ( and click on B vitamins at the top of the page) and be far more conservative in their use of B complex. If a person undiagnosed with diabetes were to follow the advice regarding high B complex intake, they could find themselves in serious trouble, and the same would hold for hyperthyroid individuals, those suffering from thyroiditis, and a host of other autoimmune conditions to include rheumatoid arthritis.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your candid feedback; here is a response from Dr. James Wilson:

      Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience but I think this has colored how you are evaluating our formulas. My suggestion is that you read Dr. Roger Williams groundbreaking book, Biochemical Individuality, to learn more about your individual nutritional requirements and how they can vary from other people.

      You stated that the doses we were using in our formula were “preposterous.” What is your experience in working with people with adrenal fatigue? I developed these formulas carefully after a decade of academic training, followed by another decade of formal clinical training and based on my direct work with thousands of patients over many years. The beneficial responses have been nothing short of wonderful for most of the people taking our products for adrenal fatigue and other products related to stress. The many physicians who use these products with their patients have also had overwhelmingly positive results, even compared to other brands of adrenal fatigue products.
      As to the quantity of ingredients used in our adrenal fatigue formulas, they are certainly modest compared to dosages of the same nutrients used in orthomolecular medicine. In case you are not aware of this bright group, orthomolecular physicians are a progressive group of physicians who have, for decades, used higher doses of nutrients to help restore health to their patients.

      As to your allegations that people taking our products with specific ailments could experience negative effects, I have had people suffering from each of the same illnesses you mention either tell me at medical conferences where I lecture or seek me out to say how much benefit they get from taking our products. I remember specifically one prominent lawyer with rheumatoid arthritis who both wrote and spoke with me of the positive effects he was experiencing using our products. I do not recall our company ever receiving any complaints of this nature. Of course, we would advise anyone who experiences what they believe to be adverse effects from taking a product to either reduce or eliminate the product and wait for symptoms to subside, and/or consult a knowledgeable physician.

  • Ben says:

    Hello Dr Wilson
    I got skin rash using your Adrenal Stress formula.
    Because I was already supplementing with cod liver oil, I’m pretty sure I was already high in Vitamin A and your formula has preformed Vitamin A which caused Hypervitaminosis A after a couple of weeks of use of 3 tablets per day. Skin rash started disappearing after I stopped taking your formula and cod liver oil. Your formula may be good for people with low vitamin A but people like me need a version without vitamin A. I trust you so I’d like to use your formula if you could provide us with a version without vitamin A. I’m glad I finally found your website which made me realize all my problems are because of adrenal burnout. If all the doctors were like you, we would be a way healthier nation than we are now. Thanks for being who you are.

    • Ben says:

      After I made the above comment, I stopped taking cod liver oil and changed my diet to consume less Vitamin A from animal sources. Now, I have a room for Vitamin A in Dr Wilson’s Adrenal Stress Formula which satisfactorily completes my other supplements of Kal Trace Minerals, Vitamin D and fish oil. That’s all I need, only 4 supplement bottles lying around. So, please ignore my suggestion for an Adrenal Stress Formula without Vitamin A. However, I still wish to have more Biotin in a tablet, like 100% instead of 33%. By the way, my skin rash cleared completely.

  • Scottie Mitchell says:

    I know that it is beneficial, but it hurts my stomach. Is there anyway to get around that issue because I believe that it would be very beneficial to me.

    • Hi Scottie,

      Are you taking a supplement that contains licorice, or just licorice itself? Some people have issues taking licorice for different reasons, which is why Dr. Wilson created a licorice-free version of his herbal support formula or adrenal fatigue, Herbal HPA. It contains maca, ashwagandha, and eleutherococcus. You could be sensitive to licorice, or the form of licorice you’re taking.

      Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Team

  • stanley says:

    Hi Dr. Wilson,

    I eat a lot of kiwis and lemons instead of taking the synthetic vitamin c. Is that enough to meet my vitamin c needs for adrenal recovery?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Stanley,

      Food sources of vitamin C and bioflavonoids include highly colored vegetables and fruits such as green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and oranges – with the highest amounts of edible vitamin C found in sprouts (sunflower sprouts, alfalfa or clover sprouts, and all the sprouts of any seed or grain). Extracts from certain sour fruits such as the Kakadu plum, Camu Camu, rosehips, acerola and Indian gooseberry have also been used for their extremely high vitamin C content. In most plants, the younger the plant, the more vitamin C it contains per milligram of plant material. However, the amount of vitamin C in commercially available in foods is not sufficient to support the adrenals during stress or during the recovery phase. So if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, it is essential that you take a supplement containing sufficient vitamin C complex during the whole recovery period and extra vitamin C when you start to become fatigued or ill.
      You can find more on vitamin C and adrenal fatigue here:

      Hope this helps – thanks for your question!
      Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Team

  • Kate says:

    I am taking B-Complex but I am not sure it is free of yeast. I have many foods and yeast intolerance and Candida so I probably should find B complex totally free of yeast. If B made from yeast or from fermentation is that mean it has yeast? Do you know what bread I can buy?
    I can`t tolerate any adaptogens because they reduce cortisol and mine is low especially in the morning. I can`t take Licorise too as my family on my mother`s side has high blood pressure problem. Also, I can`t take much v. C as I have high oxalate problem and bad vision. I am taking only Panthetine 300 but probably it is no helping much now. Also, can I take it along or must add B complex? I have red intake of one B cause shortage of others. B complex is very strong for me so I take 1/2 and Multivitamins have many ingridients reducing cortisol too: Zink, Chromium, Melatonine, etc. Please, help!

  • James says:

    Excellent tips.

  • I had 1adrenal with tumour ( due to making excessive testosterone) removed 15 years ago. Never advised what to take, supplements etc. I have now realised I need more B vits. Have put up with anxiety stress nearly all my life now 79years old , Now I ask what dose to take for just one adrenal?does it make any difference?

    • Adrenal Fatigue Team says:

      Hi Christina,

      between 1 or 2 adrenal glands, the supplementation recommendations won’t vary much. The difference will likely be in how much you take daily. Another thing to consider is adrenal output. Sometimes those with one functional adrenal gland will need to take hormone therapy to compensate.

  • Solene says:

    I was wondering, when i take high doses of b complex I get very tired and feel even worse. Is this a sign that it is healing me and I should carry on taking it?

    • Adrenal Fatigue Team says:

      Hi Solene,

      We can’t speak for all B complexes, but that is not something you typically experience when taking our Super Adrenal Stress Formula. It would certainly depend on what type you’re taking how much, and how often, among other factors.

  • Lucy L Barrett says:

    Hi Dr Wilson
    have you ever heard of edema in feet/legs/chest from using the recommeded B5 as well as with the licorice, which comes on quick and lasts several days after discontinuing. i think it works and then it backfires on me. i am getting desperate. any ideas what might be going on.
    i thank you for your time and experience. Lucy

    • Adrenal Fatigue Team says:

      Hi Lucy,

      That is not a common reaction, but it could be that you have a sensitivity or allergy to one or both of those ingredients.

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