Eric Bakker N.D.March 30, 2022

Do you suffer from fatigue? Those who are burned out, fatigue, have sleeping difficulties and in general suffer with stress will find they are often attracted to sweet or salty foods. This article is comprehensive and takes a deep dive into what to eat and what to avoid if you have adrenal fatigue.


Adrenal Fatigue Treatment Diet

stressed_woman_1Do you know what to eat for fatigue? In order to recover from adrenal fatigue, it is crucial for you to understand that diet and lifestyle play a critical role. When your adrenal glands respond to stress, the metabolism of your cells speeds up, burning many times the number of nutrients normally required. A person with adrenal fatigue is often lacking sufficient essential nutrients they need to meet the increased demands their cells experience under stress, and they are best supplied by a healthy diet. In this article, you’ll learn that quality foods are the best source of these nutrients, there is no substitute, but also that nutritional supplements can increase your ability to heal and speed recovery, but without a foundation of nutritious food intake, you will not progress much. If you wish, you can click on any of the links which can take you straight to the topic, or just read all the way through. Leave me a comment if you have the time!

When you suffer from adrenal fatigue, one of the best places to start is by paying closer attention to the choices you make about food. From my experience and that of my patients, I know just how difficult it is to make sound nutritional choices when we’re going through periods of stress, and I’m talking not just about what you eat, but when and how you actually eat it. Not only are our minds pre-occupied with the stress at hand, but our bodies are telling us they desperately need support, so we may inadvertently reach for foods that provide quick energy like sweet snacks, a quick coffee or convenience foods like muesli bars, chocolate bars, sticky buns or sweets like liquorice.

Particularly at the end of a stressful day, overeating, drinking alcohol or making poor choices can be so easy to do. You may have come home after a busy day at the office or work, your children are ’starving’ and so are you. It can feel overwhelming to think about changing your eating patterns from a ‘quick fix’ to making more sensible choices, but believe me, small, incremental changes can really support better adrenal gland function and your day-long energy reserves. You find you don’t have to drag yourself through the long afternoon or dread your alarm clock every morning. Let’s look at some options for supporting your adrenals nutritionally, so that you can enjoy great and sustained energy all day long, and get a fantastic night’s sleep as well. The difference can be really amazing, your whole life can change dramatically if you only could try it.

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A Healthy Life Depends On Healthy Adrenal Function

Mens_Health_1_2_2As the great balancer of about 50 hormones in the body, the adrenal glands have a broad impact on your health and energy. The adrenals are primarily responsible for activating your stress (“fight or flight”) response, shifting energy away from restorative processes like digestion and toward the organs of action — your heart and skeletal muscles — by pumping adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. But they also synthesise many other hormones, including the ‘androgens’ and their pre-cursors, such as testosterone and DHEA, as well as estrogens and progesterone, and therefore it becomes even more important than ever to support your adrenal glands as you approach menopause, a time when our bodies come to rely more heavily upon regulating hormones. This is often a time in your life when the kids are older and you slow down a little, you may have even felt jaded and ‘worn out’ at this stage of your life after embracing the stresses of your life during the past 20 years.

But aside from the life-critical job the adrenals play in activating your stress response and supplementing healthy hormonal balance as we age, the hormone cortisol itself has a powerful hand in so many other regulatory processes across all your systems: protecting the body from stress by regulating blood pressure, normalizing your blood sugar levels, helping to regulate the immune and inflammatory responses, and influencing mood, memory, and clarity of thought.

Maybe this helps explain why, when your adrenal reserves are depleted, you might feel a little crazy, and your sleeping and eating habits seem a little crazy, too! With persistent stress, we become increasingly less grounded, which can increase stress and the constant demand for stress hormones means the adrenals become depleted and ultimately exhausted. But my clinical experience with women over the years has shown me you can provide stronger grounding and support to the adrenal glands by making some simple choices with healthy eating and nutrition. Will your food choices make or break your adrenal function? Not exactly — stress is the number-one major offender with adrenal depletion. The effects of sustained high cortisol and then low cortisol in time as these glands become compromised can range from mild to extreme.

Good nutrition, well-timed meals and snacks, can significantly relieve the strain on your adrenal glands,this article will explain all about the best food choices you can make with adrenal function, and is well worth of a read.
Think about your car. You try to buy good quality fuel, oil, have your regular 6-monthly mechanical checks, and even insure your vehicle. You know that by maintaining your vehicle it will be reliable and give you good long-term service, you’ll get better petrol mileage, your car will respond better when road conditions are slippery, and your vehicle will last longer too. The same goes for adrenal function. By you selecting high-quality foods, building a strong nutrient base, and paying attention to when and how you eat all make for more efficient and healthy adrenal function, and better health all around. Just as neglecting to maintain and service your car may not immediately compromise your safety or your car’s efficiency, your adrenals can take a lot of strain before you see the effects on your body.

Timing Your Meals and Snacks is Important

snackAre you one of those 25% of people who skip breakfast and have a coffee instead? One thing I often tell my patients is to never constantly needsallow themselves to skip meals or to get too hungry. Low blood sugar, by itself, places a major stress on your body and can really tax your adrenal glands. You may not realise that your body constantly needs energy, even while you sleep.

The primary adrenal hormone called cortisol serves as a kind of moderator in making sure your blood sugar between meals, especially during the night, stays adequate. It does this by signalling to the liver to release glycogen, its stored sugar, when there isn’t food on board. Long periods without food make the adrenals work harder by requiring them to release more cortisol to keep your body functioning normally. Therefore people with compromised energy levels fare better by eating smaller meals more regularly. So eating three nutritious meals and two to three snacks that are well-timed throughout the day is an excellent way to balance your blood sugar and lessen the adrenal burden, and your moods will be more stable too! When you eat can also make a difference in preserving, supporting, and restoring your adrenals.

Circadian Rhythm and Your Cortisol Cycle

cortisol-graphCortisol has a natural cycle that works with your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, or circadian cycle, is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Normally, it rises around 6:00 AM and reaches its highest peak around 8:00 to 9.00AM. Healthy people have lots of energy in the morning. Throughout the day, cortisol gradually declines, with small upward bumps at meal times to prepare for night time rest.

Small snacks at 10.00am, 2.30pm and around 9.30pm can be very important for those who are very fatigued and who want to better help regulate their blood sugar levels throughout the day. You will feel better, have more energy, and actually be nicer to those around you! Just make sure you don’t snack on Twinkies, chocolate bars, donuts, or soda drinks. You will feel a lot worse if you do. Make the RIGHT choices.

Eating Regular Meals and Snacks Supports Your Adrenal Glands By:

  • Optimising and ’smoothing out’ daytime cortisol levels
  • Prevents the highs and lows of cortisol. Your energy levels will be more consistent.
  • Helps to minimise night time cortisol levels. Ensures a more restful, restorative and satisfying sleep.

It is ideal to work with this natural cycle to keep the tapering-off of levels as smooth as possible as the day progresses and to avoid dramatic difficulties. To do this, it helps to get most of your food in earlier in the day, preferably until lunchtime, and to eat an early dinner (by 5:00 or 6:00 PM). If it’s difficult to eat early, as it is for many of my busy patients, at least try to make your evening meal the lightest one of the day, to prevent a surge of cortisol from increasing your night-time metabolic rate and disrupting your ability to fall or stay asleep. Many patients tell me they have developed a tendency to over-eat in the evening. This “night-eating” habit is because of the appetite-stimulating effects of residual cortisol, and unfortunately, it only further disturbs your hormone axis.

Keep in mind that cortisol will also rise a little with exercise, and can stimulate or appetite. But don’t worry, your metabolic rate will have increased as well, ensuring your body more efficiently burns up fat in the process if you exercise long enough and make it a regular thing in your life. Lighter activities, such as a walk after dinner or a bit of gentle stretching before, will not subvert this natural tapering-off process. But to work in harmony with your body’s natural cortisol cycle, more intense exercise is best planned for the morning.

I’m not just hungry in the morning

There could be many reasons you don’t feel like eating breakfast in the morning. I learned years ago to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, a famous quote from Adelle Davis, a very early advocate for better health through healthy nutrition.

Maybe you don’t feel hungry in the morning because of the following reasons

  • The hormone called Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), has an interesting effect on your desire to eat foods, it kind of dulls the desire. CRH is secreted at higher levels in the morning, thus “blunting” your appetite or desire for foods.
  • You may need to get your liver working a little better. Those with adrenal fatigue are in the habit of drinking too much alcohol or caffeine or eating refined carbs, which all can congest the liver. When the liver becomes sluggish (often with reduced adrenal function) it can also dampen the desire for foods first thing in the morning, especially so if your bowel function is not optimal.Those who drink morning coffee and evening alcohol will have a compromised liver function, and a good detox is recommended in these instances.

Health Tip: Even if there is little desire to eat in the morning, try to eat some protein within an hour after getting up, it will help to stabilise your cortisol levels early in the day, which will help to balance your metabolism. This will keep the extra pounds off and give you an acceptable level of energy throughout the day.

Support Your Body’s Natural Cortisol Cycle

  • Eating your breakfast early. This is the most important meal for those who suffer from morning fatigue because it will help to boost up those blood sugar levels which have become depleted overnight. Eating a nutritious high protein breakfast is one of the most important things you can do if you have adrenal fatigue, and the earlier you eat breakfast after rising the better. Why do you think they call it the “break-fast”?  Because you are breaking an 8 hour fast!
  • A good time for a snack is between breakfast and lunch, this will help to compensate for the natural drop in blood sugar between meals. If you get up at seven in the morning, have a snack around 10.00 AM.
  • Be regular with your lunch, don’t eat lunch too early or too late. The breakfast and snack you just had can be used up rather quickly, so be sure to eat your lunch around 12.00 PM to 1.00 PM. Regularity is the key to balancing blood sugar levels.
  • Eat a healthy snack between 2:00 and 3:00 PM To get you through the fatigue that often kicks in around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This could be a few high-quality nuts like Brazil nuts, almonds, or a rice cracker with avocado. There are many options here. Get some good cook books from your library, look at some recipes or just ask Google.
  • Eat your evening meal around 5:00 or 6:00 PM. You don’t want to be eating your evening meal too late, like 9.00 or 10.00 PM. Your evening meal should be your lightest meal of the day. You don’t want your body powered up with lots of blood sugar as your working day will have ended.

With a bit of thought regarding planning and timing of your meals and snacks, it is easy to support your body’s natural rhythms, preventing dramatic dips in blood sugar. This will not only minimise unnecessary adrenal cortisol output, it will allow your adrenal glands to perform their secondary functions, which will give you a more sustained energy level throughout your day. You’ll find that your life can become much more enjoyable when you have the energy and stamina you need and when you need it.

Foods To Avoid With Adrenal Fatigue

It is not only important to think about when we eat; it is equally important to think about what kinds of foods and drinks we consume for balancing our blood sugar levels. The most popular foods of choice for those with fatigue are the refined carbohydrates, and it makes sense why we crave these foods. It is because they give our system the instant sugar it is looking for top boost our flagging blood sugar levels. After having seen patients with fatigue for many years, I have got used to them telling me that the foods they like to eat the most when they are tired are foods like cookies, cakes, doughnuts, white bread, canned spaghetti, 2 minute noodles or pasta dishes. These foods contain highly refined carbs such as sugar and flour, and allow a great surge of energy. Unfortunately, an even greater energy dip follows this surge, causing you to feel worse and even more tired.

Many patients with adrenal fatigue tell me they reach for foods that give them an instant burst of energy,  foods likely to contain gluten, a protein found in many grains (including wheat, rye and barley, and oats) and frequently used as a food additive. I’ve discovered in my clinical practice that many people with adrenal fatigue can become increasingly sensitive to gluten, as their immune systems become more and more compromised due to reducing cortisol levels.

For this reason, a gluten-free (essentially grain or wheat free) diet is one of the first things I suggest to my patients with symptoms of adrenal fatigue, particularly those with severe fatigue, and these patients often report feeling much better when they get the gluten out of their diets.

Coffee and Adrenal Fatigue

coffee_and_AF In most all cities in the Western developed countries you will never have to look very far for a cafe. Many men and women with adrenal fatigue drink coffee in increasing amounts, or other caffeinated or carbonated beverages throughout the day just to stay pepped up and awake. They may think it’s not affecting their sleep patterns, but research has linked higher caffeine intake to classic “night owl” or “eveningness” behavior. Caffeine can pick you up in the short term, but it can also over-stimulate the adrenals, which only compound fatigue as it wears off.
If you crave caffeine or sugar, maybe your cortisol is too low, but it also simply may be that your body needs to rest. I encourage you to honour your body’s request and take a break, instead of always trying to step it up another notch. Take a quiet moment and treat yourself to some deep breathing or a ten-minute walk. And if drinking a cup of coffee is a relaxing part of your routine and you don’t want to give it up, drink it in the morning before lunch time when your cortisol levels are higher anyway, and preferably with something nutritious to eat.

On a recent trip to Seattle, I was blown-away at how much coffee was being consumed, even by those driving in their cars, and the cup holders were massive. A doctor mentioned to me that there is so much caffeine in the town water supply in Seattle, it was virtually impossible to filter it all out. A spin-off effect? Babies with insomnia, overstimulated kids and adults who just keep on recycling this caffeine. Enjoy a cup a day by all means, but please be cautious with coffee, for it can become a veritable trap for those with fatigue.

The Right Drinks For Adrenal Fatigue

Just as with food, your choices about drinks can contribute to the support or strain on your adrenal glands. Here are some good and not-so-good choices. Are you a soda drinker? You will need to drop this habit if you want to recover from adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal depleting beverages. Alcohol, coffee, black tea, Gatorade, fizzy (soda) drinks like Coke, Fresh-Up, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, etc.

  • Adrenal restoring beverages. Teas like Ginseng (especially morning), liquorice, Rooibos (Red Bush Tea), vegetable juice like V8, or a quality Green tea.

Every day we make choices about what we eat and drink. Some days those choices are helpful for the body and other days — or meals — aren’t so helpful. What I encourage you to focus on is balance. Nourishing your body with balanced meals and snacks can do wonders for your energy and feed your adrenal health at the same time. Yet, you don’t want to be so stuck on eating “right” that you cause yourself more stress! I always tell my patients to follow the 80/20 rule – eat their best 80% of the time. The other 20% is up to them. Relax!

Foods To Help Adrenal Fatigue

On the adrenal fatigue diet, some of the recommended foods to eat include an abundance of protein sources, such as lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and legumes; leafy greens and colourful vegetables; whole grains; low-sugar fruits; sea salt (to taste); and healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocado.
If you suffer from chronic adrenal fatigue, I highly recommended that you consider increasing the number of vegetables you eat in order to gain the required amount of vitamins and minerals and to remain on this diet for at least twelve to eighteen months or more.
Besides maintaining a diet that is clean and healthy, it is essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Your adrenal glands will create more cortisol if you are dehydrated, which might influence your overall stress levels.

Locally grown foods, without colours, chemicals, preservatives or added hormones, are best to strive for. Go for organic where you can and try to grow at least some salad vegetables for yourself! But please, don’t be anal about wanting to eat everything as much “organic” as you can. This type of diet anxiety can be an illness in its own right. I have seen this many times. Including some protein in all your meals and snacks (especially in the morning) will have a stabilising effect on your blood sugar, which can help you overcome caffeine and sugar cravings.

To lessen the stress that often comes with trying to eat healthfully, think about preparing nutritious foods on the weekends so you have them ready and available on busy weeknights, or stop at a health food store to pick up some healthy snacks and ingredients to help you make nice tasty and healthy dishes during the week. Don’t feel guilty if your food isn’t homemade every day in your own kitchen, but avoid “junk” if you eat out or get take-away foods. I always go to a Thai restaurant, or another similar healthy alternative to greasy crap like fried chicken, fish and chips or pizza. Guilt is the last thing your adrenals need.

Aldosterone, Salt and Adrenal Fatigue

potato_chipsPeople with adrenal fatigue may well crave salt or salty foods like potato chips, olives, crackers, pretzels or savoury foods and it surprises many patients when I tell them to honour this craving. Yes, salt can increase blood pressure, but only in the rare few, and low blood pressure (hypotension) is a very common sign of adrenal fatigue — at all stages. I like nothing more than to watch a movie with a bag of potato chips, and I’ll bet I’m not alone. But it is the salt I crave. I used to lick the salt off the chips before I ate them and then wanted the crumbs at the bottom of the bag too.

Sounds like you? Maybe your choice is pretzels, and you enjoy nibbling the salt from them. The sodium is what many crave with adrenal fatigue. Maybe you like olives with some sun-dried tomatoes, some soft cheese and a glass of wine? You get the point.

If you feel lightheaded when getting out of bed in the morning, standing up quickly, or getting up out of a bath or hot tub, you may very well have low adrenal function, and including more salt in your diet could be helpful. But try to make it good-quality sea salt or the Celtic salt. Please remember if you are a vegetarian, your blood-pressure may well be on the low side, which in your case may not show adrenal fatigue. Are you a vegetarian? Then get your iron and vitamin B12 checked if you are tired. I’ve given up counting how many vegetarian patients I’ve checked over the years with low B12 and iron who were exhausted, especially women. Monthly menstrual cycles with no red meats can spell anaemia, and resulting fatigue.

Salt Cravings Are Common With Fatigue

Craving for salt in people with adrenal fatigue results from low aldosterone. Aldosterone is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is part of the complex mechanism that regulates blood pressure in your body. Levels of aldosterone go up and down in much the same pattern as cortisol does, and likewise go up as a normal response to stressful situations. Production of aldosterone by the adrenals depends on how much cortisol-stimulating hormone (ACTH) is being sent from the brain.

The brain takes its signals from the amount of circulating cortisol — not circulating aldosterone — so high cortisol lowers the brain’s ACTH production, which decreases aldosterone secretion, leading to lower blood pressure. Another consequence of low aldosterone is electrolyte imbalance and cell dehydration, which both have negative effects on almost all physiological reactions in the body: aside from salt cravings, low blood pressure and light-headedness, patients with adrenal fatigue often experience an irregular heartbeat, lethargy, muscle weakness, and increased thirst.

These are all a result of an imbalance in sodium and other minerals, including potassium and magnesium. Increasing your salt intake is one way to help restore these imbalances.

A Nutrient-Rich Foundation Is Essential For Healing Adrenal Fatigue

If you decide to do nothing else for your adrenals, I urge you to provide your body with a strong nutrient base, and this can be as a good B Complex multivitamin tablet along with a magnesium dietary supplement.
A strong nutrient foundation also supports the hormone system overall. There is great synergism between the different organs of your hormone system, including the adrenal glands. Each organ and its secretions interact with the other organs to cause either an upregulation or down regulation, which keeps us in perfect balance. But as hormonal levels become deficient or excessive, the natural response of our cells is to compensate by increasing or decreasing their receptors for those molecules. To do all this optimally, they need nutritional support.

Small Things Can Make Dramatic Differences

Your adrenal glands are tiny in comparison with many other organs. They are roughly the size of a walnut, yet they have enormous responsibilities in your body. When they are functioning at their peak, these small glands can help you feel energised when you need to be and relaxed when it is time for rest. They contribute to the production of oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone and so much more. But life’s demands can slowly drain the balancing power of the adrenal glands. Even the healthiest person’s adrenal glands, though evolutionarily equipped to handle periods of stress, become fatigued under chronic, unrelenting stress.
You have the power to lessen the burden on your adrenals — and your whole body. It doesn’t take much. The small choices you make in regards to your nutrition and eating patterns will make a difference. Here’s my advice to you: support your foundation with a high quality nutritional supplement and eat good food in harmony with your body’s natural daily rhythms. Soon you’ll find the energy you thought you lost — and it’ll be here to stay!

Claire Johnson  (California, USA) said,

“Thanks Eric, your article “Eating for your adrenal glands” is an excellent source of information for you to make the right choices in the kitchen. Much useful information on this website. Also good to see that your web site is not full of products making ridiculous claims”

Joanna Warwick (Sydney, Australia) said,
“Great article Eric, and very timely for me too. I have been drinking between 5 to 7 cups of coffee a day (and three of those was in the morning before lunch!) and couldn’t work out why I was so tired all the time. Now I know, I’ll have eggs for breakfast instead of a coffee and a doughnut”.

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