How a Ketogenic Diet Can Help Manage Cortisol Levels

Fatigue patients often struggle with cortisol regulation. Learn how and why ketogenic diet is a solid option for managing cortisol and related adrenal hormones.

Fatigued individuals often experience erratic cortisol levels. Fortunately, there are things that we can do to better manage our stress response and related hormones.

Lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress management therapy can have a powerful effect on our brain’s stress response. Diet is another example of the things that we can control, and one diet has demonstrated great potential for regulating hormones. It is known as the ketogenic diet, and its impact on cortisol levels can be dramatic.

The Ketogenic Diet Examined

To better understand how a ketogenic lifestyle can impact your cortisol levels – and by extension, your adrenal fatigue – it is helpful to first understand how ketosis works and how your body reacts to this state. Once that is understood, then the benefits of a ketogenic diet will become clear.

Ketosis Defined

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body burns ketones produced by the liver instead of glucose so that it can avoid using protein from the muscles as fuel. This body state occurs when you deprive the body of carbohydrates and force your glycogen levels down from their normal highs. This low-carbohydrate lifestyle is an outlier in the Western world, where most citizens and their governments have long adhered to and promoted the idea that the majority of a person’s diet should be comprised of carbohydrates.

It must be observed, however, that ketosis is not just something that can be induced through diet. It can also be a natural state. However, for the purpose of controlling cortisol levels, the goal of achieving ketosis is an intention act that relies on dietary changes for its success.

How the Body Adapts to Ketogenic Diets

There has been quite a bit of debate over the safety of ketosis over the long term. While high levels of ketones can lead to an acidic quality in the blood, there has actually been no strong evidence to support the notion that this state represents any health risk to patients – especially if they take great pains to remain properly hydrated. It has been demonstrated, however, that ketogenic diets do produce positive changes in cortisol levels over time.

The key to this process is the way in which the brain uses glucose. Since it needs that substance to survive, most people assume that they have to eat diets rich in carbohydrates – operating under the assumption that the body can only make glucose from those carbohydrates. In reality, though, the body has different ways to adapt.

One option is for the body to get the fuel it needs from the protein that powers your muscles. Obviously, the body would prefer not to do that, since its primary instinct is survival – and when ready fuel sources are unavailable in your diet, your system would prefer to leave you as strong and capable as possible. Tearing apart your muscles is not really the most survival-oriented solution, is it?

The second option is the one that leads to ketosis. The body uses ketones to fill part of that glucose gap. Now, if you eat a diet that is high in protein and the fatty acids the body needs for those ketones, then you can avoid muscle mass loss altogether. When your carbohydrate intake is kept low as part of that diet, you get to the state where your body relies on ketones for fuel.

The Benefits of Keto Diet for Fatigue Sufferers

One of the major problems many adrenal fatigue sufferers experience is the disruption of their blood sugar. As cortisol runs rampant through the body during prolonged periods of stress, the hormone damages parts of the brain and eventually weakens the adrenals due to an overloaded stress response. The sleep-wake cycle ends up in a state of dysregulation, and blood sugar levels end up being completely out of balance. This has severe impact on many aspects of health and can increase fatigue.

The ketogenic diet can not only provide fuel as the body turns to ketones for energy rather than glucose from carbohydrates, but it can also help to increase insulin sensitivity. This helps to regulate blood sugar levels and minimize the damage cortisol does to the body. In addition, that low energy period in the morning is not as pronounced since the body no longer relies upon cortisol to provide that initial burst of energy to start the day.

Of course, there are some risks as well. Some medical practitioners assert that these diets, when taken to the extreme, can actually cause fatigue or increase its effects. That’s why most experts on the subject advice newcomers to the ketogenic lifestyle to adopt the diet only when they are under the supervision of a competent physician. That way, you can monitor its impact and adjust it as needed to ensure that you receive the benefits you need!

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Sources and References: 
  1. The Keto Diet Is Gaining Popularity, but Is It Safe?
  2. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet.
  4. The Ketogenic Diet's Effect on Cortisol Metabolism.
  5. The Real Deal on Adrenal Fatigue.

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