Paleo Plan

Paleo & Adrenal Fatigue: How Primal Living Can Restore Your Energy

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What is Adrenal Fatigue?

The adrenal glands are small endocrine (hormone-producing) glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The hormones produced by the adrenal glands help to control blood pressure, stress reactions, and potassium blood levels, to name a few. The adrenals are also responsible for producing hormones like cortisol—the stress hormone—as well as estrogen, progesterone, and other steroids. They also release adrenalin in response to stress.

When the amount of hormones produced by the adrenal glands increases or decreases, disease conditions or other health issues may occur. Adrenal fatigue is a term used to indicate that fatigue and other symptoms are due to poorly working adrenal glands or the over or under production of adrenal hormones. This can often be triggered by mental, emotional, or physical stress or trauma.

Adrenal fatigue can be quite common, especially during high stress situations like college years, financial troubles, divorce, loss of a loved one, or vehicle accidents. Many will experience adrenal fatigue at least once in their lives. For some, it becomes a chronic condition that greatly reduces quality of life.

adrenal-fatigue-paleo-2People who have adrenal fatigue won’t necessarily seem sick, and may only experience the symptom of being perpetually tired. Because of this, it can often go unnoticed. It is important to listen to what your body is telling you—if fatigue seems to be constantly present alongside stress or busyness, it might be time to take a look at your adrenals.

What Foods Makes It Worse?

All endocrine glands in our bodies are incredibly sensitive to the foods that we eat. Hormones operate on a very fine balance, and if even one gets disrupted, the others will likely follow suit. Because the adrenal glands are responsible for producing a large number of critical hormones, it’s important to look at the foods that can further weaken them.

Because many who suffer from adrenal fatigue are perpetually exhausted, it’s natural for them to turn to stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and lots of starchy carbs. Unfortunately, these are the very foods that further weaken these delicate glands. Drinking caffeine and eating sugar are like taking a punch to the face of your over-worked adrenals, and long-term reliance can exacerbate chronic conditions.

Alcohol also worsens adrenal conditions, as do preservatives, trans fats, and processed foods in general.

What Foods Makes It Better?

adrenal-fatigue-paleo-3The best foods to support adrenal health are the foods that promote good health in general: whole, unprocessed foods that are packed full of nutrients. Vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, grassfed meats, eggs, fish, and good old-fashioned water are all very nourishing for adrenal wellness. Because blood sugar is strongly affected by adrenal glands, it’s important not to rely on high-sugar fruits until balance is restored. Even though grapes, bananas, and melons, for example, contain great nutrients, they will work against the adrenal balancing process.

Foods to eat for adrenal health include:

It is also essential to drink plenty of pure, filtered water. For many, it works to drink half their body weight in ounces each day. Some require more or less than this. The important thing is to be sure to drink it, and drink it regularly.

Timing Matters

Unfortunately, for those with adrenal fatigue, it isn’t enough to just eat the right foods. It also matters when these foods are eaten. Many whose adrenal hormones are off-balanced will not have an appetite for breakfast. It can be typical to make lunch the first meal, and by that point, blood sugar is low and thus cravings for sugar and starches are high, as well as a need for caffeine.

adrenal-fatigue-paleo-4Breaking this cycle starts with eating breakfast. The old adage of it being the “most important meal of the day” rings true with adrenal fatigue. It should be eaten before 10AM, and should be the biggest meal, with a minimum of 20 grams of protein. That can seem like a lot for someone who isn’t used to eating in the morning, but you can work your way into it. I know, because I used to suffer from adrenal fatigue and had to train my body to eat breakfast. It took about 30 days of dedicated effort, but after that month, I began to rely on my breakfast and was amazed at how much energy I had.

After breakfast, it is important to eat every two to four hours to keep that blood sugar balanced. Every meal or snack should include protein, and fruits or sweets should never be eaten alone. To continue the cycle of balance throughout the day, eating should end around three hours before bedtime.

Why Paleo Is The Answer

While some may still consider Paleo to be a fad diet, they clearly aren’t seeing the research that shows it’s therapeutic and that many thousands of people have overcome chronic diseases by eating a primal diet. Adrenal fatigue is no exception and Paleo is highly effective at helping to restore hormonal balance, reducing adrenal stress, and promoting energy production.

If you’re already eating Paleo but are still suffering from adrenal fatigue, don’t lose hope. You just may need to adjust your lifestyle in one or more of the following ways:

adrenal-fatigue-paleo-5Cut back on exercise. Those suffering from adrenal burnout can’t recover from hard exercises like weight-lifting, CrossFit, running, biking, or rowing. Take a break from your regular workout routine and focus on energy-building, restorative programs like yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, T-Tapp, and walking. It isn’t a forever thing, but the break from heavy, hard workouts will give your adrenals and hormone reserves a huge boost.

Cut the honey. Even though honey and other sweeteners are Paleo-approved, your body still reads them as plain old sugar. Cut all sugar from your diet for a minimum of three months and allow your adrenals to heal.

Pay attention to your gut. Even some Paleo-approved foods don’t settle well with some people. Even if you don’t have an all-out food allergy, your tired body may be working too hard to digest certain items, which may be contributing to your fatigue. Often sensitivities include eggs, nuts, and nightshade vegetables. Consider eliminating one or more of these for a minimum of two weeks to see if you notice an improvement. If you do, keep them out of your diet.

Adrenal fatigue can feel incredibly frustrating, especially since many medical doctors don’t yet recognize it as a legitimate diagnosis. But it’s not a hopeless battle. Many have suffered from it and restored their energy through nutrition, blood sugar balance, and a therapeutic lifestyle. It takes a little time, but it’s time that is well spent on allowing you and your body to get back to a vibrant, energetic way of living. Without the ever-present tiredness.

About Aimee McNew

Aimee McNew, MNT is a certified nutritionist who practices functional and integrative nutrition therapy. She specializes in Paleo, autoimmunity, digestion, fertility, and women's health. View all posts by Aimee McNew →

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4 Comments

  1. I remember hearing a lot about this, I think it was from Wendy Myers, but it was like a light bulb switching on in my head. This is definitely a huge factor in a lot of people feeling really apathetic – when I started to address it specifically I felt a lot better! Though I think I still have a long way to go.

    Out of interest, what’s your opinion on supplementing with Tyrosine? I take it in a morning, not totally sure of the long-term effects / differences in quality hehe.

    Thanks for the great article anyway!

    • Aimee McNew

      Hi Mark, glad the article was helpful! As far as Tyrosine supplementation, there are a few factors to consider: first, I would see a nutritionist or integrative doctor to assess other nutrient levels in your diet. It’s possible that changing a few things in your diet could make a huge difference. Secondly, I am not a fan of “self-medicating” even with supplements because the amounts of nutrients you get from a supplement is equivalent to having to eat lots and lots of food. For more basic nutrients like vitamin C, this isn’t usually an issue. But for other micronutrients, like tyrosine, deficiencies can quickly turn to toxicities, as well as cause imbalance with other nutrients. Single-nutrient supplementation is always going to be iffy unless under the professional supervision of a qualified practitioner. Hope that helps, and I wish you well as you continue your health journey! – Aimee

  2. Nice article Aime. I just started my lower carbohydrate way of eating for this reason.

    I’ve been doing the paleo way of eating for about 2 years now and well worth it. Recently adopted the autoimmune version and moving in the keto direction as I’ve had the best results yet with no fruits (even berries), alcohol or caffeine.

    I did this for about 30 days last fall and my friends all told me I was “the man” more grounded, clearheaded and solid than ever!

    BOOM

  3. Yeah thanks for the reply Aimee!

    That’s it, I mean I’m aware that all the nutrients and vitamins we absorb from food sort of work to compliment each other, I always try to just get everything from food when I can. I do tend to feel better in the morning if I’ve had a 5HTP and a Tyrosine but I’ll take it easy!

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