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You've probably already heard about the incredible benefits of intermittent fasting—weight loss, increased energy, and mental clarity are just a few. But, how do intermittent fasting and adrenal fatigue mix?
If you keep up with my videos, you know just how vital intermittent fasting is to achieve optimal health. But, if you have an adrenal body type , adrenal weakness, or high cortisol, can you still fast? Well, some people might tell you no, if you have adrenal fatigue you shouldn't be fasting. But I disagree. In this article, I will fill you in on why.
In this article:
- What is Adrenal Fatigue?
- So, is Intermittent Fasting Bad for the Adrenals?
- How You Should do Intermittent Fasting
- Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting and Adrenal Fatigue
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Before we get into why I believe you should still be fasting even if you have adrenal weakness(1), let's go over everything you need to know about what adrenal fatigue is.
The adrenals are two small triangle-shaped glands, also known as suprarenal glands. One of these glands sits right on top of each of your kidneys. The adrenals produce different hormones many of which you just can't live without. In fact, these hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are among 50 other hormones that drive almost every bodily function.
The main purpose of the suprarenal glands is to manage stress. This doesn't just mean emotional stress. This means all stress—physical, mental, emotional, and even infections.
These incredibly important glands prepare the body and adapt it for a stress state(2). The crazy thing is that all of the stress you experience accumulates since birth. So these glands might still be reacting right now in present time to an injury that you had years ago. If the stress in not extracted, the suprarenal glands won't function properly.
There's a real problem right now when it comes to diagnosing adrenal fatigue. The problem is that no official diagnosis even exists right now. You're either considered to have incredible adrenal function or complete adrenal failure. What about a middle ground?
In 1998 Dr. James L. Wilson proposed the condition "adrenal fatigue"—finally giving this middle ground so many people experience a true name.
The idea behind adrenal fatigue is that it occurs when the adrenals become over stimulated by chronic stress over time. This overstimulation is believed to lead to inconsistent cortisol levels (the “stress hormone") in the bloodstream(3). These levels may be too high, or in some cases too low. Either way, these inconsistent levels affect the body in a number of ways.
Almost everyone will experience this condition at some point in his or her life, that is if you haven't already. It's important to be aware and prepared for it. More people need to know about this "middle ground" before they're inevitably blindsided by it.
The Adrenal Body Type
The first problem with what I call the adrenal body type, is you start to develop belly fat(4). This fat is really just potential energy (that sounds better) stored around the organs, otherwise known as visceral fat.
What causes this belly fat is your adrenals being overactive. Chronic stress is triggering cortisol production in the suprarenal glands, and they're becoming overactive and fatigued(5). Cortisol actually activates fat being stored in the belly(6). See how this all ties together?
Really, at this point your adrenals are fatigued, and your body is put in survival mode. It's storing that fat because it thinks it needs to feed itself(7). The fat accumulates and begins to give you a sagging belly. If you have this sagging belly, your body is not actually surviving too well.
It's not just about weight loss either. Another issue with this body type that I want to quickly mention is the effect it has on your cognitive function. This condition will cause you to think excessively. You're mind is just constantly going and trying to solve problems. Eventually, this will affect your focus and even your memory(8).
Also, the bigger the problem you have with your suprarenal glands, the more your tolerance to stress will diminish. This will cause you to become irritable and less patient(9).
I just wanted to give you a quick overview of the adrenal body type right now. But, if the above describes you, or you're interested in more information about it, definitely check out more of my videos on the subject or even my book.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
If you have adrenal problems or an adrenal body type, you may notice symptoms like:
- Sagging belly(10)
- Discomfort in the joints, back, and neck(14)
- Brain fog(15)
- Receding hairline(16)
- Need afternoon naps(17)
- Salt, cheese, chocolate, and sugar cravings(18)
Your day might look something like this:
- You wake up, and you can't function yet without your morning cup of coffee or a significant amount of caffeine(19).
- You finally get an energy boost later in the morning.
- After that, you feel your energy levels crash again around 2 pm.
- Now, you finally get that second burst of energy around 6 pm.
- Only to lose it and crash about 9 pm.
- Your day ends with your energy peaking at 11pm, making you lay in bed with your eyes wide open.
So, is Intermittent Fasting Bad for the Adrenals?
Alright, so now you know a little bit about what adrenal fatigue is, let's get into if it's bad to do intermittent fasting if you have this condition.
The short answer to this question is no. I don't think intermittent fasting is bad for the adrenals. In fact, I believe that if you have adrenal weakness, you absolutely should still be taking advantage of fasting.
Well, normally, when you begin fasting, your blood sugars come down(20). But, if you have a pre-existing hypoglycemia or low-blood sugar situation, the adrenals will start to work harder to stabilize your blood sugars because of one of the purposes of adrenals is to increase cortisol when your blood sugar starts to go low and counter this drop in blood sugar(21). That’s why another name for cortisol is glucocorticoids because it is a glucose hormone that helps release glucose from the system and helps normalize your blood sugar levels.
Really, this is a protective mechanism against blood sugar levels dropping to low(22).
Why people seem to think fasting is bad for these glands is because if you have hypoglycemia, you may notice symptoms of low blood sugar as you transition into fat burning.
But it's crazy to think that this is a problem. It's simply your adrenals just doing their job. It's a normal function. Just like when you exercise, you stimulate the hormone testosterone. That is a normal function, just like stimulating the suprarenal glands during fasting is normal.
Moreover, fasting has incredible benefits for the entire body ranging from cognitive function to thyroid function, supporting insulin sensitivity(23), and much more. Really, intermittent fasting actually benefits people with adrenal issues or those with an adrenal body type.
- Fasting actually helps extract a tremendous amount of stress, like oxidative stress, from the body(24).
- It also helps decrease inflammation(25). So, just with that, the need to release cortisol will be a lot less because you're not going to have that inflammation plaguing your body(26).
- Overall, your immune system will start working better, which will take some stress off of your suprarenal glands(27).
How You Should do Intermittent Fasting
What seems to happen is that someone with a blood sugar situation will try fasting, and when they do, they start to feel bad. But, then they eat, and they feel better. The conclusion is that fasting is stressful for the body, including the adrenals.
This is simply not the case, as I outlined above. The reaction is normal, and you just need to be sure you're fasting correctly to help avoid any problems.
The symptoms you may experience if you have hypoglycemia and are trying fasting are happening because you're transitioning your body to fat burning(28).
This is something that you're body is not used to, and it takes time to adept. Many people experience different symptoms when they begin fasting and trying to allow their body to become keto-adapted. This transition could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks(29), so don't get discouraged.
This issue is pretty easy to solve. Here's what you need to do.
- Add more fat and more vegetables to the meals that you are eating. This will help carry you to your next meal.
- Take your time. Get into the process of fat burning gradually(30). Don't rush it. For example, start with no snacks, then try two meals, and then maybe go to one. Just go through the process gradually. Restrict yourself more as you feel comfortable. If you do it gradually, it will become easier and easier with time.
Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting and Adrenal Fatigue
People may say that fasting is not good for the adrenals, but that isn't true. I believe it may actually be a fantastic tool to take advantage of to support healthy adrenal function.
If you have discovered that you experience adrenal fatigue, or that the adrenal body type describes you perfectly, don't abandon intermittent fasting. Instead, give it a try!
It may really help your situation.