Cushing's disease, also known as hypercortisolism, is an endocrine disorder characterized by excessive levels of the hormone cortisol circulating in the bloodstream. The most common causes are the long-term use of oral steroid medications or a tumor of the pituitary gland. Certain herbal remedies may help to restore normal cortisol production. Check with your physician about the best course of treatment for you.
Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., authors of “The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine,” propose that excessive hormone release impairs the body’s ability to appropriately respond to stress. Both Panax ginseng and Siberian ginseng are regarded as adaptogens, which means that they enhance the body’s ability to cope with physical and mental stress. Specifically, the authors state that ginseng counteracts the negative effects of elevated serum cortisol levels.
According to MayoClinic.com, ginseng is generally well tolerated and produces few side effects. However, people with a known sensitivity to plants in the Araliaceae family may experience an allergic reaction. In addition, ginseng may cause a drop in blood sugar and should not be used by diabetics. Ginseng may also interfere with other drugs, including blood thinners. Since certain compounds in ginseng may exert hormonal effects, this herb should not be used if there is a history of a hormone-related condition, such as breast or prostate cancer.
The extract of magnolia bark is used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve anxiety and stress. This herbal remedy is also touted as a weight loss aide due to its ability to regulate cortisol production. One study published in the Jan.-Feb. 2006 issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine reported that magnolia extracts, in combination with Phellodendron amurense extracts, reduced cortisol levels in overweight, premenopausal women who tend to eat more in response to stress and anxiety.
Magnolia extracts should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing. Long-term use may cause thyroid problems. Talk to your doctor before using this herbal medicine.
Kampo medicine, also known as the Han Method, is a component of traditional Chinese medicine developed during the Han dynasty and now adopted in Japan and Taiwan. While Kampo integrates several modalities such as acupuncture, it is heavily based on combination herbal remedies. Researchers at the Oita University Hospital in Japan tested the effects of two Kampo herbal remedies on serum cortisol levels under stress-induced conditions. Specifically, the team investigated the activity of Sho-hange-ka-bukuryo-to and Nichin-to, both of which contain the herbs Pinelliae tuber and Zingiberis rhizome. The results, which were published in the Oct. 27, 2004 issue of Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, showed that the Sho-hange-ka-bukuryo-to formula decreased blood cortisol levels, but the Nichin-to formula did not. Individually, the herb Pinelliae tuber had no effect on cortisol levels, while Zingiberis rhizome significantly reduced serum cortisol levels.
Kampo medicines are standardized and regulated as pharmaceutical agents in China and Japan, but are not in most Western countries. Seek a qualified health care practitioner experienced in the formulation and administration of these herbal remedies.
- The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition; Michael Murray, N.D., Joseph Pizzorno, N.D.; 1998
- Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Effect of a Proprietary Magnolia and Phellodendron Extract on Weight Management; Garrison R, Chambliss WG; 2006 Jan-Feb;12(1):50-4
- Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin; Comparison of the Effects of Sho-hange-ka-bukuryo-to and Nichin-to on Human Plasma Adrenocorticotropic Hormone and Cortisol Levels with Continual Stress Exposure; Katagiri F et al.; 2004 Oct;27(10):1679-82