Adrenal Fatigue, Revisited

My sleep sucks a few times a week.  This is one of those nights.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about adrenal fatigue, and I’m starting to think that chronic stress – physiological, emotional, dietary – has gotten me to where I am now, in the throes of metabolic syndrome, no libido, tired.  My cortisol testing over the past few years confirm this.  My body shape – excess belly fat, skinny legs – also confirms this.  I’m glad I learned all I did about my gut situation – it has taught me what I need to do to avoid falling into a pit of despair.  However, nothing I’m doing is going to help until I get my adrenal situation under control.

I’ve learned throughout the last several years of experimentation that carbohydrates actually do lower stress hormones, as Ray Peat says.  If you feel terrible when you eat carbs, chances are there are stress hormones covering up a problem that needs to be addressed.   Low carb eating – over my adult life in general, but over the past year in particular – has caused additional stress on my body.  I’m not sure if people vary in this way, of if they’re just not burned out yet.  When I was in my 20s and 30s I could get away with low-carbing and multitasking and I still looked great.  Are there old low-carbers who still have a lot of energy?  How many years of calling on your adrenal glands for energy does it take before your blood sugar will no longer stabilize and you can’t go more than 2-3 hours without eating after a normal meal?

I’ve decided to phase out the hormones I’ve been supplementing.  A little research (here’s an example) indicates that licorice root, which I’ve been taking since February, isn’t great to take if you have high blood pressure and shouldn’t be taken long term.  My blood pressure has been not well controlled lately – averaging in the 140s over 90s, despite still taking 2 medications to treat it.  DHEA, which I’ve also been taking for 10 months, can cause hair loss.  I’m less concerned about this one because I’m taking a pretty low dose.  The bottom line is I’m not having the effects I want from these things so it’s time to get off of them.  Ray Peat says pregnenolone is safe, even in high doses and even long term.  I’m inclined to believe him so that will be the last to go.

I recently read Alan Christianson’s book The Adrenal Reset Diet, after hearing him on a podcast.  He recommends eating carbohydrates – specifically low-glycemic starches like beans and brown rice – in increasing quantities throughout the day, as well as using specific supplements, saying no/avoiding stress, and avoiding food intolerances in order to heal adrenal dysfunction.  I like the theory behind it and I’m taking steps to implement his suggestions.  He and Ray Peat are the only ones I’ve heard talk about how low-carb diets are stressful to the body, and of course this matches up with my own experience.

So my immediate priority – for now – is determining which supplements I can get rid of, avoiding stress, and learning to eat in a way that gives my body a break.  For me that will mean avoiding the things my food intolerance test said were problems (basically eggs and dairy), accepting no additional projects or assignments at work (which I tend to do to keep things interesting), and eating some starchy carbohydrates at every meal.  I’ll start doing yoga again too.


6 thoughts on “Adrenal Fatigue, Revisited

  1. Really, it’s a question of stress and adrenal function, not the low carbs per se. People with good adrenal function and lower cortisol can burn their fat stores for energy on a LCHF (and IF as well), with no problem.

    People with high stress / stage 1-3 (alarm-resistance) adrenal can’t see much benefit from LCHF since their insulin is jacked high all day despite the lower carbs making them hungry as +cortisol –> +high insulin = +Hunger/ blocks leptin signalling, can’t burn fat for energy (only a small amount of insulin is needed to stop lipolysis), which creates a negative feedback loop insulin resistance–> high blood sugars since their insulin is chronically elevated, so they have to eat carbs all day long. Your sugars went down when you quit Peat since the hepatic insulin resistance caused by fatty liver from the >30-50g of fructose a day lowered it so you still need less insulin, but you still have to get rid of the other cause of insulin which is the excessive cortisol.

    Actually, people with stage 4 burnout tend to lose weight since they no longer are producing cortisol and therefore insulin goes down. Point is if you heal your adrenals over the next 6-18 months, you might then be able to get better results with LCHF and or IF. But that’s assuming you can keep stress down and get adequate sleep after you fix your adrenal problem. Don’t forget you have pregnenolone steal syndrome while your under adrenal fatigue, so all those other downstream hormones are messed up as well.


  2. Yeah agree about the stress part. Pregnenolone is the starting point of the steroid pathway. Peat says its recycled so you only need once weekly dose. Liver glycogen stores are depleted on low carb and also from battling endotoxin etc coming from the gut. If you cant handle thyroid that’s a clue. When glycogen stores are high thyroid is not a problem Use a small amount of fructose or as much as you can handle. It helps restore glycogen stores.

  3. Yes, it’s a question of stress and adrenal function, but for me the low carb diet causes the stress. So yes, it’s indirectly affecting my health in a negative manner, the same way alcohol affects the health of someone with cirrhosis. It’s not the alcohol killing the alcoholic – it’s the cirrhosis, but if the alcohol helped cause the cirrhosis, wouldn’t it make sense to stop the alcohol? And if the person managed to quit and heal, would you ever say it’s fine for that person to go back to drinking? Of course not, because you would expect the same thing to happen again.

    I think the supplements I was taking supported my adrenals and helped me through the first few months of this most recent low carb experiment. Then they stopped working for whatever reason. I got tired again.

    Thanks for helping me understand all this.

  4. The Alcohol analogy is good, but can you get the adrenals working well enough that they can tolerate LCHF/IF regime? Then your insulin drops, and your IR improves, and you lose weight. Some people have good results on a low glycemic load “slow carb” diet like Tim Ferris’ four hour body. (he pushes legumes/lentils) For them the insulin drops low enough that they can burn fat and improve IR

    I don’t know if that would be sufficient for you. Maybe I’d get fasting blood insulin measured before and maybe into a month into it. Perhaps it’s a good enough 1/2 way solution until your adrenals improve

    That said, I’ve seen lots of people report plateau on Low carb because they were eating too much protein (protein still raises insulin about 1/2 as much as carbs (whey>dairy/caesin>fish>meat>eggs), or they still couldn’t get their insulin low enough to lose weight till they threw IF into the mix, or sometimes it was b/c their stress was too high, etc jacking up cortisol..

    Fung said the longer your IR, the longer you have to keep Insulin low to get the IR to improve. One of his patients took 6 months to get FBG from the 400s to pre-diabetes IIRC.

  5. Hm…interesting. My FBG is already in the prediabetic range. Wouldn’t that suggest my insulin has already dropped somewhat? I haven’t tried lentils, but if they’re anything like beans or brown rice I’m not optimistic. This would all be much easier if I could reliably eat low-glycemic carbohydrates without becoming depressed. For now my plan is to eat what makes me feel ok, and start adding some exercise. Keep stress low. I really need a break from experimenting with the endotoxin-promoting foods. It’s unbearable.

  6. Sound’s like it’s better, but the only way to know for certain is do a fasting insulin test. That said, unless you had <85 FBG, you really can't be sure it's low enough for decent fat loss. You can see on the graph on the link below, it doesn't take much to stop lipolysis (and block leptin).

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