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Low-carb and adrenals

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  • Low-carb and adrenals

    So I was on Whole Health Food Sorce reading a very interesting article about Tooth Decay and processed carbs. The link is here:

    One commenter, PaleoRD, describes his fatigued adrenals on a low carb diet.

    __________________________________________________ _

    "I made the connection between overactive adrenals and low carb after reading Schwarzbein. Adrenaline is constantly secreted to help maintain blood sugar, most noticeably in the morning after a long night's fast. That is why those with fatigued adrenals have to drink coffee first thing in the morning! Adrenaline stimulates glycogen breakdown in the liver and gluconeogenesis as well as tissue breakdown to free up proteins for energy. After long term low carb, my glycogen stores must have gotten so low that my adrenals where having to overcompensate with excess adrenaline.

    I actually have the opposite problem of fatigued adrenals, my adrenals are healthy so when I went low carb they really starting pumping out the adrenaline which would explain my poor sleep, dark eye circles and I could literally feel my heart beating very hard. I do not use any stimulants (such as coffee, tea, or nicotine), so I assume that my adrenals are healthy.

    Schwarzbein's recommendations are pretty basic. Between 15 and 50 grams of carbs per meal depending on your degree of insulin resistance and activity level. Protein and fat are unlimited in her program, but she recommends limiting saturated fat if you have a lot of weight to lose. She recommends never going below 50 grams of carbs per day to avoid adrenal fatigue that can occur with long term carb restriction. She notes that our bodies really do not have a feedback mechanism for carb intake like we do for fat, so that is the only macronutrient that needs to be monitored.

    My energy level was actually really high on low carb because of the adrenaline. I now try to eat a sensible portion (25 - 75 g) of carbs such as rice or potatoes with my last meal and I can again sleep like a baby!"

    __________________________________________________ _

    What I am curious about are the people who are completely fine on low-carb diets, and of course the Masai and Eskimos and their adrenal health.

  • #2

    Interesting, as I have had some (possibly) stressed out adrenals and was doing everything in my power to 'support' them without getting a proper diagnosis done, while following the CW methods. BUT, I was ALWAYS tired and hungry.

    What this person (the author &/ or 'Schwarzbein') doesn't say, is that your body will still obtain the necessary glycogen from your dietary protein, through the liver, if your body is indeed needing them, so why the 'adrenaline'?

    All I know is, that this person's experience seems to be in complete opposite with mine, for what I thought was also my 'condition'.

    Also, limit saturated fat? I personally can attest to my heightened sense of 'well-being' to more saturated fat!


    • #3

      I've been following that discussion at Whole Health Source with interest, too, and a similar thread at 180 Degree Health - Matt Stone is also a big Schwarzbein fan apparently.

      Mark's thinking is not so far from Schwarzbein's on some issues it seems - preferring to keep carb levels from dipping very low into ketosis territory, not totally eschewing starchy tubers (although he certainly doesn't recommend as regular consumption as Schwarzbein seems to allow) and like Schwarzbein, he pushes the importance of sleep, recreation, stress management, etc. They clearly differ on the importance of regular meals and fasting though, and Schwarzbein is very down on caffeine.

      Mark's Primal Blueprint is interesting in steering a line that touches bases with the Weston A. Price people here and there, too, e.g. upping the sat fat and ditching the vegetable polys.

      It would be interesting to get his take on all this, some time, especially the issue of adrenal fatigue. This seems to be a controversial area.


      • #4

        Hypoglycemia is a symptom of weak adrenals since cortisol (adrenal hormone) works with insulin to regulate blood sugar.

        If cortisol and blood sugar are low, the adrenals can produce huge amounts adrenaline(another adrenal hormone) to compensate. The problem with adrenaline is that blood sugar is up and down all day whereas healthy levels of cortisol helps keep it more balanced. Some people have such weak adrenals(or pituitary) that they can produce enormous amounts of adrenaline causing extreme anxiety, shakiness, heightened senses, light and sound, wired and tired feeling, and high heart rate etc. This happened to me for 12 years!

        Cortisol not only helps regulate blood sugar but is also the stress response hormone. --Any stress, good or bad, requires more cortisol and that includes exercise, illness, daily life activities. If you are not making enough cortisol to cover it, adrenaline will compensate as well.

        Cortisol is to thyroid as insulin is to glucose so if cortisol is low, your body is not using your thyroid hormones very well.

        It's best to eat more, smaller regular meals consisting of healthy proteins, good fats, know, the basics. Always have a small meal at bedtime to help keep adrenaline down. A person who lives on adrenaline should not be having caffeine.

        A person with weak adrenals probably has weak electrolytes since the adrenals regulate sodium and potassium--heat intolerant, dizzy, weak, sweat, excessive urine, low blood pressure, headaches, etc. Getting enough sea salt is a great thing!

        Mark Sisson did write a great post about a year ago about what high cortisol does to the body and how it affects blood sugar. Lots and lots of people have high cortisol and it can eventually lead to low cortisol which is a terrible condition to be in. Doctors are so ignorant on this subject and it's difficult to treat.

        Of course not all people have adrenal problems because of stress or bad diet, there are many reasons why the adrenals are not working.


        • #5

          I'm guessing this might be the article you're referring to Crystal...glad you mentioned it - you're right - good information.


          • #6

            I think that's it Musajen, thanks for finding it. I was remembering the "definitve guide to insulin, B.S., and type II diabetes" along with this adrenal/cortisol article. They go together anyway.

            Wow, has it been 2 years?


            • #7

              Interesting Crystal.

              Yeah, low carb wasn't doing me any favors in the adrenal dept. I was below 50 grams for about a month and I felt my adrenal symptoms returning. I.e., poor sleep etc.


              • #8

                Ecala how many carbs do you need to feel good?


                • #9

                  Not a whole lot-- just more than I was torturing myself with

                  I've added fruit back in-- so now I'm probably getting 50-75 a day at the most? yes, that's probably right.

                  I think I was getting 20-30 before and I just wasn't feeling too chipper-- and my muscles looked flat and deflated too.


                  • #10


                    Some people have such weak adrenals(or pituitary) that they can produce enormous amounts of adrenaline causing extreme anxiety, shakiness, heightened senses

                    Funny you should mention pituitary. As it is, I'm getting an MRI on Monday to get a look at it. I've had adrenal issues, thyroid issues (really funky thyroid numbers that aren't extremely responsive to thyroid meds) and other hormonal issues for awhile now- without valid enough reason. I mean life is stressful, but it's not that stressful if you know what I mean- at least for me. And now, at 45, I'm experiencing early menopause. My cholesterol is really low too.

                    Well, anyway, I digress.

                    I did get an ACTH stim test to evaluate my adrenal health- and apparently my adrenals are fine-- so that's what makes me think that the messaging between my pituitary and adrenals is defective.

                    ...suspect I have a defect in my HPA axis or something just up with my pituitary in general.

                    Wish me luck I'm not looking foward to the enclosed space of an MRI but hopefully will shed some light on all of this.


                    • #11


                      I have a pituitary problem. It is extremely difficult to get a diagnosis--BTW. The stim test should've been done early morning and sitting for the whole test, if not, that will change the result. I "passed" the stim test too. After the ACTH injection, my cortisol doubled in a hour and the doctor said I was fine. Fine? I don't think so. Some people who pass the stim test do have good adrenals but they can not work because ACTH is low. Once ACTH is injected, the adrenals can now work. Sometimes, the adrenals can triple/quadruple cortisol levels and doctors have no idea what they're looking at. (ACTH deficiency-pituitary problem).

                      I had an MRI in March, it's not that bad. My IGF-1,growth hormone(another pituitary hormone) is extremely low so we were looking for a tumor. On one view of the film, it showed a 4mm pituitary, on other views, the doctor couldn't see find any tumor. Basically, the MRI was inconclusive. The report said, "she's probably ok"--I was mad. Anyway, a MRI can not show damage to the pituitary or anti-bodies. It can only show possible tumors or an obvious mis-shaped pituitary.

                      With low cortisol, every little thing is too stressful and your body won't be able to handle it.

                      Your symptoms sound like hashis to me. Have you had both anti-bodies tested? Thyroid perioxidase and thyroidglobulin? If your TSH, FREE t3/T4 flucuate, it's likely hashimottos and is the most common autoimmune condition. I believe those that appear to have a pituitary problem along with hashis, also have pituitary anti-bodies. Unfortunately, there is not an anti-body test yet for the pituitary. Other than a tumor or antibodies, blood loss or head injury, may be to blame. I have never figured it out in my case. I think I was born with it--who knows.

                      This is complicated and hard to discuss here but I help at a thyroid/hormone/adrenal/pituitary site. I've seen it all. There is a lot of interesting info. and people to help. It's just sad, but most doctors are completely lost on this subject. The majority of endocrinologists will not help!

             is are mother website and is where we are at. Hope this helps.

                      Oh, BTW, many of us over there do follow a primal diet.


                      • #12

                        Wow! Crystal.. you're a wealth of knowledge.

                        Yes, I had the ACTH test early in the morning and I sat the whole time-- right there at the lab.

                        I don't recall if I've had both antibodies tested or not ?? My TSH was always normal (before I started thyroid hormone) and my Frees were always low normal in range.

                        I think I was born with this too-- and now, my son who's 17 is exhibiting some of the same issues...he has adrenaline surges (I never had much of that though) and his saliva test for adrenal show almost a flat line-- not much cortisol activity at all. But he also burns the candle at both ends and won't eat well. And lives on coffee. And smokes cigarettes... and won't change his lifestyle habits at all.

                        I've been over at - but have never been to the other site-- will take a look. Thanks for the info!


                        • #13

                          TSH is a pituitary hormone and signals the thyroid to pump out more hormone. If you have low frees, TSH should go up, make sense? If you have low frees with a low TSH(or between 1-2), your pituitary isn't doing its job. Symptoms are the most important, but generally ft4 should be top 1/3 of range and ft3 should be at the top of range or slightly over. If yours are at the bottom, you don't feel very well. Ranges represent the general population so if you're at the bottom of the range, that means you feel worse than everybody else. Many doctors and insurance co. are lab range obsessed though!

                          There is about 8 pituitary hormones but TSH, ACTH, IGF-1, FSH, and LH need to be tested. You can have all of them low or just one. Some doctors believe that you have to have all of them low to have a pituitary problem and that's just wrong. I am low in TSH, ACTH, and IGF.

                          I'm worried about your son, the poor kid. If he has flat lined cortisol levels, he has addisons disease and this is life threatening. His condition explains the excessive coffee and smoking. Smoking actually boosts some cortisol production.


                          • #14

                            Well, I was exaggerating a bit.. his is not flatlined, but it's low. He definitely does not have Addison's, I know that for sure. And he definitely needs to cut out some bad habits, that's for sure.

                            My FSH and LH are high, indicating menopause so I guess those are working just fine for pituitary hormones.

                            I'm very well versed in thyroid stuff- have been researching for years on the stuff. That's why I always "bravo" your posts because it's nice to read someone else who knows her hormone stuff, ya know?


                            • #15

                              I actually think some of my hormone issues (as well as my son's) are because we both have low cholesterol. My total has been as low as 100. I've been actually working on increasing my healthy fats to achieve a higher HDL. I did get it as high as 178 one time, but I think that was falsely elevated due to some poor food choices the weekend previous to the draw.