Ok – I’ll start off with the old standby: it depends. So let’s refine the question further: Is intermittent fasting and/or keto safe for people with adrenal fatigue, long Covid, thyroid malfunction, and other forms of autonomic dysregulation?
I’m going to argue “no, it is not.” I have both personal experience and science to back me up on this.
When I was recovering from post-viral fatigue, I made (very brief) attempts at both of these approaches to eating. It was a disaster. Both left me in a crashed-out, shaky, weak, fumbling pile within 24 hours. I know it can be hard to adjust to these programs, but this wasn’t simple discomfort. This was my body screaming toward physical collapse in a very obvious and profound way – and it all righted itself immediately on getting some carbs in my body.
So I started looking into why this might be. I dug through scads of pages, and it boils down to:
- When your body is having a hard time self-regulating adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress-related hormones, low blood sugar is perceived as another stressor.
- In addition, the particular kind of stress it exerts demands more of exactly the parts of your endocrine system that are most fried just now. Specifically, cortisol is released to increase blood sugar – and producing cortisol is super hard on your body when you have these conditions.
The first step to recovering from stress or illnesses that have thrown your endocrine system out of whack is to stop stressing out your endocrine system. Seemingly innocent things – like missing a meal – can have an outsized impact on your system. So I suggest:
- Eat regularly, and avoid getting too hungry between meals. For many months, I had to get up in the middle of the night to eat. (Meatballs were great for this.)
- Eat foods that will keep your blood sugar stable – lots of protein, fat, and fiber and a moderate amount of complex carbs. You don’t want a ton of sugar and refined flour, but you also don’t want to avoid carbs completely.
- Add a pinch of salt to your water, and drink lots of it. Salty broth is another great option.
- Keep your exercise below your aerobic threshold as much as possible – a maximum heart rate of about 120 is a good rule of thumb for most middle-aged adults. More on this in a future post.
- The Ketogenic Diet and AFS [adrenal fatigue syndrome] by Dr. Michael Lam
- Is Intermittent Fasting Good for Women with Thyroid Disease? by Carrie Vitt, FTNP
- Principles of Proper Eating with Adrenal Fatigue by Dr. Linda Ho
- Hormone Imbalance Symptoms and the OAT Axis by Dr. Michael Lam