Why A Keto Low Carb Diet Plan Is Not Good For Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

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Keto – The Perfect Diet For Everyone – Or Is It?

You’ve probably read all the fantastic reports of the Keto low carb diet plan. I’m sure you know, as I do, lots of friends who’ve taken to the latest diet craze, the keto diet, and lost a ton of weight and are feeling the best they have in years.

Your keto following and newly skinny friends claim they have loads more energy, their hair and skin is great and they’ve shed stubborn pounds which they say previous weight loss attempts just would not budge. Not only that but,  they can eat lots of yummy foods normally considered unhealthy such as bacon and cheese etc., and still continue losing unwanted pounds.

Unfortunately, since you’ve had this frustrating adrenal fatigue syndrome thing your waistline keeps expanding. Before adrenal fatigue you could exercise regularly and excess weight was never a problem. However, recently you just don’t have the energy to exercise, you can barely get through a normal work day.

Additionally, your cravings for sweet and fatty food is out of control as you eat all the wrong foods in an attempt to bolster your flagging energy levels. Particularly around 3pm each afternoon you can’t ignore the cravings for unhealthy snacking. The vending machine goodies in your office are a huge temptation that are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Lately, you’ve been considering doing this keto diet thing, it seems to get great results for so many people providing rapid weight loss and appetite control.

But, before you go ahead and attempt the keto diet, take a minute or two to consider some of the points made in this post and why embarking on a keto diet with adrenal fatigue may not be such a great idea.

What Is A Ketogenic Diet?

It’s a very low carbohydrate diet which incorporates moderate protein levels and high levels of fat.  This specific diet shifts your metabolism to run off ketone bodies and fatty acids rather than carbohydrates for fuel.

Once this change takes place in your body it is referred to as being ‘keto adapted’ or ‘fat adapted’. The high quantity of fat allowed on the diet also provides a good level of satiety which helps with controlling your appetite and reducing feelings of hunger.

adrenal exhaustion low carbohydrate diet

This particular way of eating has been shown to have a number of benefits such as reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity.

In people with specific health conditions a ketogenic diet can be beneficial. A study of obese people shows a significant overall reduction in triglyceride levels on following the ketogenic lifestyle. It is also thought to be beneficial to those suffering from conditions such as Cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Seizure Disorders.

There is no doubt that some benefits of going keto are difficult to argue with. If you follow a low carbohydrate, high fat diet it will effectively control blood sugar and deliver fast weight loss results.

Due to the carbohydrate restricting aspects of the diet which recommends no more than 50 grams of carbs per day, and sometimes as low as 25 grams, a keto diet dramatically reduces sugar intake. For example 50 grams of carbohydrate is approximately equivalent to eating only two medium size apples per day.  No surprise, as with all restrictive diets, long term it can be difficult to keep your carb levels this low.

How Does A Keto Diet Work?

Our bodies normally use sugar or glucose as fuel. When you consume carbohydrates they are broken down into glucose to provide energy production. However, the human body also has the capability to use ketones as fuel for energy production.

Ketones are produced as byproducts of the body breaking down fat and this process happens when carbohydrate intake is restricted.

If your body does not have  sufficient levels of glucose from carbohydrates and glycogen levels become depleted, blood sugar and insulin levels are lowered. In this state your body needs an alternative source of fuel and it uses fat. Once your system reaches this fat burning state it is referred to as ‘being in ketosis’.

There are several things that can cause your body to enter a state of ketosis including starvation, when you go on a fast, and when following a low carbohydrate/ keto diet.

When you follow a ketogenic diet you are purposely reducing your carbohydrate intake in order to enter a state of ketosis and push your body to use fat for energy. To produce glucose from fat makes your body work harder and uses more energy than creating glucose from carbohydrates. Your body recognizes this additional work as a stressor.

Why Keto May Not Be A Good Idea If You Have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

Adrenal fatigue is caused by unrelenting stress in many forms. Stress can come from bad relationships, working in a job you hate, financial worries, working long hours, making poor quality food choices, an underlying infection etc. Pushing your body with a ketogenic diet when you are already in a depleted energy state places additional stress on your adrenals.

keto and low carb diet plan - adrenal glands

As well as low energy and periods of fatigue, weight gain especially around the midsection can be an issue if you are struggling with adrenal fatigue. However, using a ketogenic diet for weight loss when you have adrenal fatigue is not a good idea. In fact it can worsen symptoms you already have.

Typical Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue Include:

  • Finding it difficult to come fully awake in the morning.
  • Waking regularly around 3am every morning with difficulty getting back to sleep.
  • Experiencing an energy slump mid afternoon.
  • Craving salty and sweet snacks.
  • Feelings of anxiety.
  • Falling hair and nails that break easily.
  • Being unable to exercise with the intensity you normally use.
  • General feelings of fatigue.
  • Mood swings.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Lowered immune system.
  • Weight gain, particularly around the midsection.
  • Inability to handle stressful situations.

It’s All About Cortisol

The stress hormone, cortisol is produced by the adrenals to help us become alert when facing imminent danger. For example if you are being chased by a rabid dog, cortisol helps rev up your system giving you an extra shot of energy so you can run for your life and escape the danger.

carb cycling adrenal fatigue

However, our modern fast paced lifestyles mean we are constantly dealing with stress from many different areas of life. Our poor adrenals get little chance to rest, constantly pumping out cortisol until they are worn out.

Cortisol levels vary in a natural rhythm during the day, being highest in the morning to wake us up and lowest at night to help us drop off to sleep and get a full night’s restorative rest.

However, if we are constantly exposing ourselves to stress by eating a poor quality diet full of processed food with little nutrition, working long hours, taking insufficient rest and sleeping poorly, cortisol production becomes dysregulated.

Dysregulated cortisol is responsible for the typical symptoms of mid afternoon energy slumps, inability to sleep through the night and resistance to weight loss that typically mark adrenal fatigue syndrome.

As well as helping us respond to stress, cortisol has an important role in maintaining our blood glucose at optimum levels. By using glycogen (carbohydrate) stores from your liver, cortisol helps bring blood glucose up to normal levels if you have gone without eating for several hours.

But, if you have not consumed sufficient carbohydrates cortisol breaks down muscle to get the glucose required to bring blood glucose levels back to optimal levels..

Another function of cortisol is lowering insulin’s response to blood sugar.  This means that if cortisol is constantly high due to stress, insulin does not remove sugar from the blood for transport into the cells. The kicker is…….you want this sugar in your cells as this is what gives you energy.

Instead of being delivered into your cells, it is stored as fat. In the case of adrenal fatigue, as a protective measure this fat is commonly stored around the vital organs of the mid section. This is what creates that annoying and stubborn ‘muffin’ top effect adrenal fatigue sufferers just can’t seem to get rid of.

In addition to placing additional stress on your adrenals a study found a keto or very low carbohydrate diet can elevate cortisol levels. As explained, when cortisol levels are constantly elevated it has several detrimental effects on your health including placing stress on the adrenal glands. And stress is the main contributing factor of adrenal fatigue syndrome.

What all this means is just at a time when you need to do everything possible to reduce stress on your body to heal your poor worn out adrenal glands, a keto diet will have the reverse effect. Keeping cortisol constantly high placing even more stress on your adrenal glands. 

Carbohydrates play a very important role in maintaining the right balance of cortisol in the body. If you are consistently stressed out, not eating the right amount of carbohydrates at the right times can make the problem worse.

Eating carbohydrates can help to keep the correct cortisol balance in your system. And eating carbs at the right times is also important for adrenal health. For example you need cortisol to be low to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. So, including carbohydrates in your evening meal can help make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

Adaptogenic herbs can also be useful in adrenal fatigue. They help your body’s response to stress and manage cortisol.

What About Intermittent Fasting?

Many people recommend intermittent fasting as part of a keto diet claiming it serves to control insulin levels and lead to greater weight loss. Usually, this is carried out by eating all of your daily food during an 8 hour period and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. Most followers of intermittent fasting commonly eat between the hours of noon and 8pm.

do low carb diets raise cortisol

If you have adrenal fatigue it is recommended that you eat several small meals regularly during the day. By eating in this way you send a message to your adrenals you are not under stress from starvation and they can quit pumping out cortisol. As you can see, this is in contradiction of the intermittent fasting guidelines.

One meal which is of real importance if you have adrenal fatigue, is breakfast. Skipping breakfast forces your body to use stored nutrients and reduces your energy which is not a great way to start your day. You need to do everything possible to conserve and build your energy levels if you have adrenal fatigue.

If you need some help, here are 5 Fast Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Adrenal Fatigue they combine the right balance of protein, carbs and healthy fats. Each breakfast is quick and easy to make and will ensure you get your day off to a good energetic start.

Eating breakfast within about 30 minutes of waking is also recommended if you have adrenal fatigue.

As you can see, intermittent fasting could really be an issue for someone with adrenal fatigue and if you exercise in this fasted state,  as many people do, you’ll deliver a double whammy stress effect to your adrenals.

Here’s The Thing

Right about now, you are probably thinking “If I can’t do keto, how am I going to lose this weight”? Honestly, you’ll struggle to lose any weight until you heal your adrenals. Once you start giving your adrenals the love and care they need your weight will start to normalize.

It’s so tempting to go hard core on the treadmill at the gym and follow a restrictive diet in an attempt to lose weight. Particularly when it seems you keep gaining weight despite your best efforts to lose it.

But, take it from someone who’s been there, that attitude will simply result in worsening adrenal fatigue and more weight gain as your energy levels spiral downward and adrenal function diminishes.

To heal from adrenal fatigue you need to identify where the stress in your life is coming from and take steps to remove it. If you cannot remove the stress immediately,  finding ways to be less stressed and manage your response to the stress will help greatly.

Eating a BALANCED diet which includes healthy carbs, fats and protein will provide your body with nutrients it needs to heal. Try eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with two small snacks in between. This helps keep blood sugar levels balanced and lets your adrenals know you are not in danger so they can take a rest from constantly pumping out cortisol.

Supplements such as Vitamin C help heal adrenal fatigue. And herbs can also help with balancing cortisol, read more about researched adaptogens and how they help cortisol balance here.

Putting It All Together

After reading this article, hopefully you understand the ‘mechanics’ of why a low carb keto diet plan can be unsuitable if you currently have adrenal fatigue syndrome. A plan for managing your stress and eating a healthy and balanced diet can set you on the right track for recovery. And stubborn weight loss, particularly that annoying belly fat will follow once your adrenals are healed.

Please feel free to leave a comment below. 

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  1. Thank you for putting this information out there, and explaining the importance of balance and the downside of Keto, especially with adrenal fatigue, which is becoming more and more prevalent.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue is becoming more prevalent. The upside is that more is becoming known about it. When I first suffered from it several years ago very little was known about it making diagnosis and treatment difficult. I find personally that keto or very low carb diets are detrimental to my health. At the time I had adrenal fatigue I had been following a very low carb lifestyle and along with several other stressors I think this contributed to my adrenal fatigue. Strangely I’ve had some people say they find improvement from adrenal fatigue by following a keto diet. The purpose of writing this post was to share that keto and very low carb diets are not suitable for everyone.

  2. Some parts of this article I can agree with. However, from doing 20+years of rotating shift work, I became insulin resistant moving me into the direction of metabolic disease/ Diabetes. So eating carbs was doing a number on my endocrine system and no matter what I tried it did not work. Keto has helped me in numerous ways from loosing weight to increased energy and more. I am a prior-collegiate athlete, personal trainer, physical scientist, and advocate for improved health. I’m not a fan of doing any type of alternative nutrition program that can’t be maintained as a regular nutrition program. I’m more akin to intermittent fasting than keto but I do both. It has helped my sleep, although I go through waves of interrupted sleep, I take adaptogens (for both energy and sleep), B vitamins, omega-3 (with Epa and DHA), CBD oil, Cod Liver Oil, vitamin c, enzymes, minerals… My keto nutrition plan consists of mostly green leafy vegetables, berries, bananas (every once and a while), organic, sustainably sourced poultry and fish, on occasion no dairy frozen desert or some other home made keto desert. Although I toy around with my threshold of ketosis, if I steer away, it’s not that far. There’s absolutely no way that I’m shoving anything in my stomach past 5 pm, I don’t care if it’s a water sandwich topped with ketchup and mustard (#humor). I will blow up like the good year blimp. I don’t believe that keto is bad for people with Adrenal Fatigue. I believe that the information that many people are using to execute keto is bad. Heavens knows that my body will scream at me and send me down a river if I ever loose myself in a sea of carbs over good, healthy, and sustainably sourced fats, moderate protein, and low carbs.

  3. I have to agree with ATizzy, after years of Adrenal Fatigue I gained some relief from symptoms by cutting out gluten and most processed foods, but it simply wasn’t enough. The big revelation for me was when I lost my fear of saturated fats and eggs. Suddenly I felt calmer, less hungry and sleep without anxiety attacks. The battle I still fight is with sodium as it is still hard to keep it right. I know when it drops as my eyes and nose get dry. The big takeaway from doing either a Keto or Adrenal Fatigue diet is to avoid the simple carbs as much as humanly possible.

  4. I have to agree w/ Atizzy and Catherine. I have nothing but fantastic results on Keto with weight-loss, migraines , allergies, depression, sleep, and anxiety. I found I’m calmer, clearer in thinking, and have the energy for workouts. Many experts I follow say we do not need to eat any carbs. Our bodies make glycogen from fat either stored or from diet. The problem is when on Keto we pee out most of our electrolytes. So we have to be mindful of that and eat more salt, potassium and magnesium. This will cause problems with your whole system including the adrenals if you are not aware of this. Usually eating keto friendly foods will help but you may need to be more liberal on the salt intake by sprinkling more salt on your food or drinking bone broth. I have found eating more salt on keto helps the adrenals with fatigue. I have found that I personally I need to supplement my electrolytes but most don’t need to. I have suffered from adrenal fatigue for most of my life due to childhood trauma. Keto and supplementing my electrolytes have made my sleep, mood, weight loss and energy much better than eating a diet high in carbs ever did. All the blood sugar highs and lows caused more stress and havoc to my body. You can’t eat too much low carb greens/ veggies but it’s very easy to eat too much sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. These bad carbs are not good for you at all and cause many health issues. I also fast now and find that’s better than eating many meals in a day. I feel by all the research I have done eating keto maybe a cure all and I don’t think the medical establishment wants you to know this. If people are healed there will be no patients or any money coming in.

  5. My mom, my husband and myself have all fixed our Adrenal Fatigue with a ketovore diet. All feel amazing, all bloodwork and other testing are fantastic now. The problem is, people do moderate protein with high fat when it’s suppose to be moderate fat, high protein. And most don’t know they’re suppose to take electrolytes. Of course when it’s not done correctly, it’s not going to heal you. People don’t do their research and then blame the diet when they shouldn’t be.


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