The adrenal fatigue diet is meant to help those with “adrenal fatigue” (AF), a condition first described in 1998 by Dr. James L. Wilson, a chiropractor and naturopath who posited that an overstimulation of the adrenal glands due to chronic stress leads to inconsistent cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone (sometimes called the “fight or flight” hormone), and an overload of it can give rise to adverse side effects for your health, like increased blood pressure, reduced immune function, and elevated heart rate. The following article details adrenal fatigue, and the possible dietary solutions to it.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Unlike disorders of the endocrine system caused by physical damage, adrenal fatigue (or hypoadrenia) is often considered by many health care professionals as a middle-ground, catchall term for those somewhere between normal endocrine function and total endocrine failure (as in conditions of adrenal insufficiency such as Cushing’s syndrome or Addison’s disease). Dr. Wilson’s description of adrenal fatigue is illustrated by a typical day:
- You wake up and are unable to function without a considerable amount of caffeine.
- You feel an increase of energy during the early part of the day, but then your energy levels crash around 2 pm.
- Your energy rises around 6 pm, falls again around 9 pm, and peaks one final time around 11 at night.
Because the symptoms are so difficult to diagnose as specifically adrenal-related, adrenal fatigue is often overlooked and goes untreated. With underperforming adrenal glands and elevated cortisol levels, your blood pressure may be improperly regulated and your immune responses delayed. Addressing these symptoms could make a vast improvement to your health, whether or not it’s a currently recognized medical diagnosis among doctors.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include the following:
- Low blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Hair loss
- Digestive issues
- Body aches
- Brain fog
Adrenal Insufficiency Symptoms
Adrenal fatigue is closely associated with adrenal insufficiency, and the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:
- Stomach pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
In severe cases of adrenal insufficiency, you may experience the following more extreme symptoms:
What Is the Adrenal Fatigue Diet?
Your adrenal glands are located on your kidneys and produce a multitude of hormones needed for regulating the body. The adrenal fatigue diet is a natural, food-based approach to relieving the stress on your adrenal glands and improving your adrenal health.
As a welcome side effect, following the adrenal fatigue diet plan for weight loss is effective (you can even follow an adrenal fatigue and keto diet if you really want to shed body fat). An adrenal fatigue diet can be vegan too, if you replace the animal sources of protein with plant-based protein.
The adrenal fatigue diet promotes healthy blood pressure and improves stress levels and proper functionality of the adrenal glands. It’s similar to most balanced diets, and includes whole grains, vegetables, and high-protein foods, with a goal to naturally increase your energy levels and shore up your nutrient supplies.
Though the effectiveness of the adrenal fatigue diet on your actual adrenal functioning is still being tested (mostly because doctors are still researching adrenal fatigue itself), you won’t find anything in this diet that isn’t already a healthy recommendation. A healthier diet and lifestyle is known to lead to improved health and mental well-being, and the adrenal fatigue diet can get you there as well as any other diet.
Foods to Eat for Adrenal Fatigue
Eating a well-balanced diet of whole foods is one of the best ways to keep your body healthy. Any doctor would recommend that you aim for a well-rounded ratio of healthy fats, lean proteins, and high-quality carbohydrates.
One tip is to increase your vegetable intake to ensure that you get the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as foods high in B vitamins (especially B5 and B6), vitamin C, and magnesium to support the optimal functioning of your adrenal glands. Here are examples of foods to focus on eating if your aim is to counteract adrenal fatigue.
- Grass-fed lean meats
- Leafy greens vegetables
- Colorful vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-sugar fruits
- Sea salt (in moderation)
- Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc.)
On top of eating well, it’s recommended that you try to up your water intake and stay hydrated, as dehydration can increase your stress levels and result in your adrenal glands producing excessive cortisol.
Foods to Avoid With Adrenal Fatigue
These foods should be avoided not just in cases of suspected adrenal fatigue, but in any healthy diet. Cutting back on the following foods, as well as drinks high in refined sugar, will improve your adrenal function and help keep your blood sugar levels in a safe range, lowering your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Stay away from:
- White sugar
- White flour
- Fried food
- Fast food
- Processed food
- Any artificial sweeteners
Timing your meals properly is also important, as doing so helps regulate your blood sugar and support your adrenal glands. For instance, be sure to eat an adrenal fatigue diet breakfast (don’t skip), and eat regularly as your day progresses forward. Skipping breakfast and/or lunch forces your body to use its stored nutrients and can reduce your energy levels. Eating regular, balanced meals and a few healthy snacks in between can help you maintain your energy, your cortisol levels, and your adrenal hormones throughout the day.
Food for Adrenal Support
The adrenal fatigue diet has been successful in restoring energy levels and regulating blood pressure, mostly because healthier eating habits and lifestyle changes invariably lead to improved well-being and a stronger immune system. If you notice feelings of low energy for a long period of time and suspect it might be related to your adrenal glands, you can adopt this diet without fear, because it doesn’t require any major changes or restrictions beyond what any health care provider or nutritionist would recommend to an otherwise healthy individual. Should your symptoms persist after starting this diet, or if they become worse, visit a doctor for blood tests and specific medical advice. Short of that, do yourself and your adrenal glands a favor by adopting the adrenal fatigue diet!