What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The Western Diet has been linked to various chronic and preventable diseases over the years. However, there is conflicting evidence regarding the link between diet and adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue occurs when “your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress” ("Frequently Asked Questions About Adrenal Fatigue"). According to Dr. James L. Wilson, the naturopathic physician best known for his research into adrenal fatigue, “diet plays a critical role in adrenal fatigue...a nutritionally inadequate diet that is high in sugar, caffeine and junk food places daily stress on your body that your adrenal glands have to respond to and, at the same time, deprives your adrenals of the nutrients they need to function” (2017).
A quick Google search of “adrenal fatigue” uncovers a myriad of articles either supporting or denouncing this condition. With the fast pace of the American lifestyle, it is no wonder that stress, anxiety, and diet-related diseases are on the rise. Adrenal fatigue is a direct outcome of these factors, but research is divided on the authenticity of adrenal fatigue and the role of nutrition.
Some articles say that diet has no effect whatsoever on adrenal function, while others warn against adopting the Western Diet and lifestyle due to the increased probability of insulin resistance, which would lead to adrenal fatigue. According to one article, adrenal fatigue “has not been recognized by any Endocrinology society, who claim there is no hard evidence for the existence” (Cadegiani and Kater, 2016). In fact, Theodore C. Friedman of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science states, “It’s something made up by naturopathic doctors; endocrinologists don’t recognize it as a real condition” (Brissette, 2017).
But do these physicians understand the actual effects of stress and diet on the body? When trying a search of public databases, the search redirects to focus on Cushing’s Disease or adrenal “insufficiency”, shifting from naturopathic care to traditional Western medicine. In 2016, in an article for mindbodygreen, Terry Wahls, M.D. reported that “Adrenal fatigue is a growing epidemic—and yet many people who suffer from the symptoms are unaware they have it.” But with stress and anxiety on the rise, it seems as though many people are about to get wise to this “growing epidemic” and seek help.
In the article Is Adrenal Fatigue Real, dietician Christy Brissette (2017) examined the adrenal fatigue condition. She interviewed various doctors (both conventional and alternative) across disciplines to determine whether or not adrenal fatigue, a condition that is highly controversial in the medical world, is, in fact, real. The results of Brissette’s research revealed that many doctors believe that either adrenal glands are functioning properly and that stress is the culprit for the patient’s symptoms, or that the patient is in adrenal failure, which is a life-threatening condition. Furthermore, the doctors in the conventional medical field claim that diet really has nothing to do with the diagnosis. The author concluded that taking care of your health overall is always a good choice, including diet, while finding ways to cope with stress is just one way to take care of your adrenals. Patients who are less health-conscious are more likely than moderately conscious patients to suffer from chronic illness overall.
Reverend Margaret Batt, a holistic health consultant, investigated adrenal fatigue. In an article published in Tampa Bay Wellness magazine, Batt broke down all of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and further explored healing the adrenal glands and things to avoid. Among the signs of adrenal fatigue, the author lists craving salty foods, as well as symptoms increasing if meals are skipped. In order to heal the adrenals, Batt suggests drinking salted water in the morning, avoiding fruits, and eating a protein, complex carbohydrate, and good fat with each meal. Finally, Batt suggests avoiding caffeine, sugar, white flour, starchy carbs, and alcohol.The author concluded that although conventional physicians consider adrenal fatigue to be a 21st century syndrome where the symptoms are treated instead of the root of the problem, adrenal fatigue is a very real condition that can be treated through nutrition, although there is no evidence to prove that diet is linked to the onset of the condition.
To assess how diet affects adrenal fatigue, Dr. Michael T. Murray (2014) explored the various ways to fend off adrenal fatigue for an article in Better Nutrition magazine. Dr. Murray suggested a low-glycemic diet, to include avoiding refined sugars and other processed foods. He also recommended eating foods rich in potassium and to avoid ones high in sodium. The author found that a balanced healing regimen, including light exercise and coping techniques, was the best way to fend off adrenal fatigue.
Naturopathic doctors Kathleen A. Head and Gregory S. Kelly (2009) conducted a review of studies focusing on nutrient and botanical treatments for stress. While the study did not speak specifically to diet being linked to adrenal fatigue, the authors did point to “overeating and eating unhealthful foods” as the top stress-associated behavior, with 48% of people reporting that they engage in this behavior in times of stress. The number two most reported behavior is skipped meals. So while the study itself only refers to diet as a possible treatment in the conclusion, poor dietary choices are linked to behaviors resulting from stressful situations, and prolonged stress is linked to the development of adrenal fatigue.
Diet modification was only linked to a possible piece of the treatment puzzle for adrenal dysfunction overall. Based on analysis of the available literature, the only link between diet and adrenal fatigue is that consuming a healthy diet prevents most diseases.
So…what can you do if you suspect adrenal fatigue may be the culprit of your weight gain and that stubborn belly fat?
Diet and lifestyle changes are the easy answer, but it’s also important to note that the condition is based on the word “fatigue”. Take it easy. Engage in healing exercise, such as yoga and stretching. Drink lots of water.
If you want to learn more about my own journey with adrenal fatigue, listen to this podcast episode from season one of the Live Like a Mother Podcast.
And if you suspect that you are struggling with adrenal fatigue and don’t know where to start, book a free initial consultation with me and we can deep dive into your symptoms and I can offer you some personalized steps that you can take to get started on your healing journey TODAY.
In person and remote consultation options available.
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