High fat- low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets are becoming increasingly popular. But should those with adrenal fatigue jump on the keto bandwagon?
Before you dive into the keto universe, know that the ketogenic diet is not a cure-all. And for those dealing with adrenal fatigue, the ketogenic diet may do more harm than good.
What is a ketogenic diet?
The majority of humans use sugar (glucose) as fuel. That means that your body uses glucose (usually from carbohydrates) for energy production. But humans have the ability to burn a different source for fuel – ketones (also known as ketone bodies). Ketones are produced when you eat extremely low amounts of carbohydrates and your body has to break down fat for energy.
When your body doesn’t have enough glucose on hand to produce energy, it looks for an alternative source of fuel. The alternative source? Fat. And when your body starts burning fat you enter the state of ketosis.
Ketosis can happen when a person fasts, after prolonged exercise, during starvation, or when eating a low-carb/ketogenic diet. People following a ketogenic diet specifically reduce their carbohydrate intake for this reason – to force their body to use fat for energy. Check out this post for more information about the ketogenic diet.
Adrenal fatigue and ketosis
Adrenal fatigue occurs in response to prolonged or intense stress. When under stress, your body elevates cortisol levels. If your cortisol levels remain elevated for too long, your brain tells your adrenal glands to decrease cortisol production. This results in what conventional medicine doctors refer to as HPA axis dysfunction, but we know as adrenal fatigue.
Research suggests that there are 4 main causes of adrenal fatigue. These include:
I’ve written at length on each of the four causes of adrenal fatigue. Please click the links above to learn more about each specific cause.
Since adrenal fatigue is caused by different forms of prolonged stress, do not follow a diet or nutrition plan that will cause your body any more stress. If even the thought of changing your diet to keto stresses you out, you need to avoid dramatic dietary changes for now.
With that said, there are specific situations where those suffering from adrenal fatigue will benefit from a ketogenic diet.
The adrenal fatigue diet
The most important step in an adrenal fatigue diet is to ensure you are eating whole foods. If your food rots, it’s a whole food. If your food can sit on your shelf for months, it’s (likely) not a whole food.
Whole foods aside, I also recommend the following dietary suggestions for those with adrenal fatigue:
Eat adequate protein
- It is absolutely essential you start your day with a protein source.
- Avoid high levels of carbohydrates first thing in the morning (yes, that means giving up your muffin/bagel).
Eat frequently during the day
- Those with adrenal fatigue generally do better eating small meals/snacks frequently throughout the day.
Avoid excess potassium intake
- Have you ever felt dizzy after standing? This is a common occurrence in adrenal fatigue. Avoid foods high in potassium to better balance your blood pressure.
- Bananas, figs, raisins, and potatoes should be avoided.
Add some salt to your diet
- Extra salt can help keep your blood pressure up.
Consume modest amounts of caffeine
- No more than 1 cup of coffee each day.
These are the very general principles you should follow if you have adrenal fatigue. Please remember that these recommendations don’t take your unique circumstances into account.
If you’re looking for a more personal approach to nutrition, or, if making these changes don’t improve your adrenal fatigue symptoms, I recommend you check out my online course, Stop Feeding Fatigue. This course will teach you how to create a personalized nutrition plan that will help you overcome fatigue for good!
As for the ketogenic diet… it can be the best diet for adrenal fatigue. But only in certain cases.
Should you go keto if you have adrenal fatigue?
Well, that depends. Some of you should absolutely go keto. This is because it will make a dramatic difference in your energy levels. For others, the keto diet may bring about even higher levels of fatigue.
In practice, I find that if adrenal fatigue is caused by imbalanced blood sugar, the keto diet will help you.
How do you know your blood sugar is the cause of your fatigue?
You’re going to have to test it with a glucometer. You can purchase a glucometer from your neighborhood pharmacy without a prescription.
Next, you’re going to want to start tracking something called your fasting blood sugar. Take this reading shortly after you wake up. If possible, try to go for twelve hours without eating. For example, if you have dinner at 19:00 on Thursday evening, check your blood sugar at 07:00 Friday morning.
Your fasting readings should be between 4.0 – 5.0 mmol/L. If your reading is:
- less than 4.3 mmol/L, you’re trending towards low blood sugar
- more than 5.0 mmol/L, you’re trending towards high blood sugar.
If you don’t have access to a glucometer, the following symptoms can help you determine whether (or not) you have a blood sugar imbalance.
- Excessive urination
- Increased thirst
- Difficulties concentrating
- Blurred vision
Symptoms of low blood sugar (3):
- Weakness, drowsiness, and/or fatigue
Both high and low blood sugars are huge stressors. Should either continue for an extended period of time, the development of adrenal fatigue is probable. If your blood sugar readings are out of range, a keto diet may be the perfect solution.
If going full-blown keto seems too radical, check out my online course. I’ll show you how to balance your blood sugars without massive changes to your diet!
How does a keto diet help adrenal fatigue?
When your body digests carbohydrates, they become sugar (glucose). Therefore when you eat carbs, your blood sugar will go up. And in healthy individuals, it’s really not a problem. But carbs can cause problems for those with adrenal fatigue and/or blood sugar irregularities.
Insulin and cortisol are the yin and yang of your blood sugar:
- Insulin helps to lower your blood sugar.
- Cortisol helps to raise it.
In a perfect world, insulin and cortisol levels balance. But in adrenal fatigue, cortisol can drop to very low levels.
If your body struggles to produce cortisol (like in adrenal fatigue), it will be hard for your body to regulate your blood sugar. Especially when you eat carbohydrates. Here’s why:
- After eating carbs, your blood sugar rises.
- In response to elevated blood sugar, your body releases insulin.
- Insulin moves the sugar from your blood and into your cells and lowers blood sugar.
But sometimes your body releases too much insulin. This is called post-prandial hypoglycemia.
When this occurs your blood sugar drops to uncomfortably low levels. You may feel hungry, weak, lightheaded and irritable.
To fix the situation, your body calls on cortisol. Cortisol pulls the glucose molecules out of your cells and puts them back into your blood. Your blood sugar goes up and you feel better.
But what happens when you have adrenal fatigue and your cortisol levels are low?
If you have adrenal fatigue your body doesn’t have the cortisol necessary to raise your blood sugar. So, your symptoms remain. It becomes a vicious cycle – blood sugar irregularities cause low cortisol and low cortisol causes blood sugar irregularities.
Enter the keto diet.
When in ketosis, your body doesn’t rely on glucose (sugar) for energy. Instead, it relies on ketones (from fat). The ketones stabilize your blood sugar. It’s the perfect diet to break the blood sugar cycle. This is how ketogenic diets help adrenal fatigue.
If you tried keto but found the diet too restrictive, check out my online course. I’ll show you how to balance your blood sugars without radical nutrition changes!
Who shouldn’t try the keto diet?
It’s not that ketogenic diets are inherently dangerous, they just may not be effective for certain conditions. For example, those with type I or II diabetes will need to work with a knowledgeable healthcare professional while implementing a keto diet. Before jumping headfirst into a keto diet, try to uncover the cause of your adrenal fatigue.
If your main stressors are coming by way of sleep issues (I’m looking at your shift workers) or lifestyle stress (think relationships, finances, family, work, etc) the ketogenic diet will not cure your adrenal fatigue.
In all likelihood, trying to implement a ketogenic diet when you’re dealing with sleep disturbances and/or high levels of stress at work will backfire. The extreme dietary changes involved with the keto diet will only add to your stress. This will often make your fatigue levels worse.
Even if you are dealing with inflammation and/or blood sugar issues, the proper implementation of the ketogenic diet is in itself stressful. Do your best to get a friend or your family on board. Having a support system is essential to your long-term success. Or, check out my digital course – it’s a stress-free way to balance your blood sugar and overcome adrenal fatigue!
And, perhaps most importantly, take your time. If you’re eating a Standard American Diet, don’t try to go keto next week. Start with a fatigue reset diet. Start adding whole foods to your diet. Once you have a solid foundation, then look at implementing a keto diet.
The keto diet can be an incredible solution for certain types of adrenal fatigue. But it can make other types of adrenal fatigue worse. Go slowly. Listen to your body.
Remember, you’ll respond differently to the keto diet then your friend. Just because her fatigued improved does not mean yours will. If your adrenal fatigue worsens while on a keto diet, transition back to a whole food or fatigue reset diet.
The ketogenic diet is not a panacea for adrenal fatigue. But it may just be a successful means of treatment for you.
Learn more than your doctor about the foods that cause fatigue.