GAPS (Low-Carb, High-Fat) Diet and Adrenal Problems

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet is recommended for curing a long list of autoimmune illnesses, including relatively mild symptoms such as allergies and eczema, and also more severe symptoms such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and even autism. The GAPS Diet typically takes one-to-three years to cure these autoimmune issues.

I decided to undertake the GAPS Diet back in Fall 2010, after having joint pain in my left shoulder for over eight months. This pain made it difficult to pick up my infant, exercise, or even to push the kids on the swings. In addition to my shoulder pain, I was also exhibiting signs of adrenal fatigue, such as balding lower legs, vertical lines on my fingertips, irritability, low energy, cold hands, and sensitivity to sunlight.

The first few months I was on the GAPS diet, I felt wonderful. My shoulder pain disappeared and my adrenal fatigue symptoms abated. I felt better than I had in years! But after about five months on the GAPS diet, I started to notice some energy problems. Specifically, I started having spells of extreme lethargy and fatigue. As in, "I have to go lay on the floor for awhile" and "I can't keep my eyes open". All of my adrenal fatigue symptoms came back and were even worse than ever. After lots of research and some self-experimentation, I figured out that this problem was caused in large part by eating too few carbohydrates.

Is the GAPS Diet Low-Carb?

The GAPS diet relies heavily on nutrient-dense foods such healthy fats, meats, vegetables, bone broths, and fermented foods. The diet allows no processed foods, starches (such as potatoes and corn), grains, or complex sugars. However, the GAPS diet is not necessarily a low-carbohydrate diet.

Fruits, veggies, lentils, white beans, and honey are all allowed on the diet. But, I tended to shy away from things like lentils and white beans while on GAPS because they caused digestive upset for some of the other members of my family. I also tended to not each much fruit or sweets. So it was easy for me to unintentionally eat very few carbs while on the GAPS diet. Meanwhile, my intake of fat while on GAPS was about 65% of my daily calories.

Does the Body Need Carbs?

Popular low-carb diets, such as Paleo, Keto, Primal and Atkins, are quick to point out that people do not need carbs, since the body can manufacture them from other energy sources. However, it became clear to me that I do need plenty of carbs to have normal energy levels.

As I have researched this issue, I have learned that the body actually prefers to use glucose as a fuel, and the brain prefers to use ONLY glucose as a fuel. Glucose is delivered to the brain via the glucose in our blood. With a low-carb diet, the body strives to maintain optimal blood glucose levels through the process of gluconeogenesis. To achieve this, the adrenal glands send messages to the liver and kidneys to convert protein and fat into glucose. These messages from the adrenal glands come in the form of cortisol, which is one of the body’s stress hormones. The body sees a lack of carbs as a stress, and in the long term this can be detrimental.

When the body is deprived of carbohydrates for an extended period of time, the adrenal glands have to keep sending signals for gluconeogenesis over and over again. This can cause the adrenal glands to become overworked. It can also lead to other problems because the body is constantly in a state of elevated stress.

GAPS Can Worsen Adrenal Issues!

In my case, I had adrenal problems even before going on the GAPS diet, and the low-carb version of GAPS I naturally followe