Fasting: Beneficial or Harmful in Restoring Balance to the Adrenals

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A stethoscope and a chocolate kidney on a white background, representing the connection between fasting and adrenal dysfunction.

As functional practitioners, understanding the intricate connections between various body systems is crucial for providing comprehensive care.

One area of interest is the effect of intermittent fasting and fasting in general on adrenal health and normal function.

Overview of the Role of the Adrenals

Before we explore the impact of fasting on adrenal health, let's recap the significance of the adrenal glands. These small, pyramid-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys play a vital role in the body's stress response system.

They secrete hormones like cortisol, which affect metabolism, blood sugar, immune function, blood pressure, and the body's response to stressors.

What is Fasting and How Does it Play a Role in Health

Fasting involves voluntarily abstaining from food or caloric intake for a specific period. There are various fasting protocols, including intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding, and extended fasting.

While intermittent fasting has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, it's essential to understand its impact on adrenal health.

Types of Fasting According to Medical Sciences

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of fasting and eating. The most common IF protocols include:

  • 16/8 Method: Fasting for 16 hours and restricting the eating window to 8 hours daily.
  • 5:2 Diet: Eating normally for five days a week and restricting calories on the remaining two non-consecutive days.

Benefits of IF – Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been associated with weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, enhanced autophagy, and simplified meal planning.

Considerations for IF – People with adrenal dysfunction, also sometimes referred to as adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue, and other diagnosed health conditions should approach IF cautiously and seek guidance from a functional practitioner. It's important to monitor for any adverse effects and individualize the fasting with an adrenal fatigue regimen accordingly.

Time-Restricted Feeding (TRF)

TRF involves limiting the daily eating window to a specific duration, typically between 8-12 hours, while fasting for the remaining hours of the day. Time restricted feeding is one type of intermittent fasting.

Benefits of TRF – TRF can help regulate circadian rhythms, improve metabolic health, support in weight loss and management, and enhance digestion.

Considerations for TRF It's crucial to tailor the whole eating plan and window to an individual's lifestyle and preferences. TRF may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with specific dietary needs or health conditions.

Extended Fasting

Extended fasting typically refers to fasting for 24 hours or longer. Popular protocols include:

  • 24-Hour Fast: Fasting for a full day, usually from dinner to dinner or lunch to lunch.
  • 36-Hour Fast: Extending the fasting period to 36 hours, typically only from dinner to breakfast; begin fasting two days later.
  • 3-5 day fast: abstaining from food and drinking water only for 3 or more days. Some people believe coffee and tea are ok during the fasting window.
  • Supervised Long term fasting – going without food for more than 5 days is something that few people do. It can result in major benefits but should be done under the guidance of a trained practitioner.

Benefits of Extended Fasting: Extended fasting can promote cellular repair, autophagy, stem cell regeneration, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic flexibility. I have worked with people who fasted for 28 days and completely reversed Diabetes and stopped all medications, including insulin, with the endorsement of their doctor. My 28-day fast completely changed my life.

Considerations for Extended Fasting: Fasting for longer than 3 to 5 days should be approached with caution, especially for individuals with adrenal dysfunction, low blood sugar, imbalances, or other health conditions or those prone to eating disorders. Adequate hydration and nutritional support before and after extended fasts are essential.

Alternate-Day Fasting (ADF)

ADF involves alternating between days of fasting and days of unrestricted eating. On fasting days, caloric intake is either very limited or completely avoided.

Benefits of Alternate Day Fasting: ADF has shown potential for weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and cardiovascular health.

Considerations for Alternate Day Fasting: ADF may not be suitable for everyone, especially individuals with specific nutritional requirements or medical conditions or those prone to eating disorders. Close monitoring and individualized adjustments are necessary.

Modified Fasting

Modified fasting allows for a limited caloric intake during the fasting period. Examples include the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD), where individuals consume low-calorie, plant-based meals for a specific number of consecutive days. My version of the fasting mimicking diet done with whole fresh plant foods is called Fasting While Feasting.

Benefits of Modified Fasting: Modified fasting can provide some of the benefits of traditional fasting while offering a more manageable approach and potentially better compliance.

Considerations for Modified Fasting – Modified fasting should be personalized based on an individual's health goals and requirements. It’s recommended to do this type of fasting for 5 days a month for several months in order to achieve weight loss and hormonal balance goals.

Adrenal Dysfunction is responsible for cortisol secretion

The Relationship Between Fasting And Adrenal Health

When considering fasting's impact on adrenal health, it's important to acknowledge that each individual with adrenal dysfunction may respond differently.

While some individuals may tolerate fasting well, others may experience adverse effects, particularly those with adrenal dysfunction, sometimes called adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency. .

Extended or intense fasting can lead to increased cortisol secretion, potentially exacerbating adrenal imbalances.

As functional practitioners, it is crucial to assess each patient's adrenal status for safe fasting and individualize fasting recommendations accordingly.

Assessing Fasting and Adrenal Dysfunction

To determine the suitability of fasting for individuals with adrenal dysfunction, functional practitioners can employ various assessment tools.

Comprehensive history-taking, symptom questionnaires, and laboratory tests, including cortisol and DHEA levels, can provide valuable insights.

These assessments help identify those who may be more susceptible to adverse effects from fasting and guide personalized recommendations.

Adrenal Health and Fasting

The Benefits and Impacts of Fasting on the Adrenal Glands

Fasting has been associated with numerous health benefits. It can enhance insulin sensitivity, fat burning and promote weight loss, support cellular repair and autophagy, and optimize metabolic function.

Additionally, fasting can positively influence gut health by allowing the gut to rest and promote microbial balance. These benefits make fasting an appealing intervention for many individuals.

The Initial Stress Response

When starting on a fast, the body enters a state of perceived stress. This triggers the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to an initial increase in cortisol production.

This response is a natural adaptation to mobilize energy stores and support the body during periods of limited caloric intake.

Cortisol Regulation and Adaptation

During the early stages of fasting, cortisol levels typically rise to support gluconeogenesis and the release of stored glycogen, ensuring a steady supply of glucose for vital bodily functions.

As the fast progresses, these levels often stabilize or even decrease due to the shift in metabolic pathways and increased reliance on ketone bodies for energy.

What To Consider for Your Clients When It Comes to Fasting

        • Start Slowly – Encourage your clients to start with shorter fasting periods or time-restricted feeding and gradually increase the duration based on their response. This allows the body to adapt and minimizes stress on the adrenals.
        • Monitor Symptoms – Regularly check in with your clients to notice symptoms and assess their response to fasting. Symptoms such as increased anxiety, irritability, or less energy levels or crashes may indicate the need for adjustments in the fasting regimen.
        • Support Adrenal Health – Prioritize strategies to support adrenal health alongside fasting. This includes addressing stress management, sleep quality, and nutrient deficiencies, and implementing adaptogenic herbs or supplements when appropriate.
        • Individualize Approaches – Recognize that safe fasting may not be suitable for everyone with adrenal fatigue. Some individuals may benefit from exploring alternative options like a nutrient-dense diet, blood sugar stabilization, and targeted supplementation to support adrenal balance.
        • Address Adrenal Dysfunction Challenges – Adrenal dysfunction or also called adrenal fatigue often results in dysregulation of the body's stress response and energy production. Fasting, particularly prolonged or intense fasts, can further stress the adrenals and exacerbate symptoms.

The stress of fasting can lead to increased cortisol production, which may already be dysregulated in individuals with adrenal fatigue and fatigue. This can worsen fatigue, disrupt sleep patterns, and hinder the body's ability to recover and heal.

The Potential of Fasting

As functional practitioners, understanding the potential impact of fasting on adrenal health is crucial when developing personalized treatment plans.

While fasting can offer benefits such as improved insulin sensitivity and weight loss, it may also pose challenges for individuals with adrenal dysfunction.

By assessing adrenal function, starting slowly, monitoring symptoms, and supporting adrenal health holistically, we as functional practitioners can guide our patients towards optimized well-being while incorporating practical guidance from fasting and adrenal support.

Learn more about Adrenals

If you want to learn even more about how fasting affects and impacts the adrenals. Go to so you can listen to previous podcast episodes and so you can download our informative and useful charts.

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