Gentle Carbs for GABA, Cortisol, and HPA (Adrenal) Dysfunction

Those of us who treat young women know that some women need to eat carbs or what I call gentle carbs.

A keto diet is great in theory and great for many people. But it does not work for everyone.

For example, a keto diet does not work for young women with normal insulin sensitivity. And it does not work for anyone with HPA axis dysfunction or adrenal fatigue.

What is HPA axis dysfunction?

HPA axis dysfunction is about the body’s stress response. It’s actually more about the nervous system than it is about the adrenal glands. Essentially, HPA axis dysfunction means the nervous system is overstimulated, and it causes elevated cortisol and low blood sugar.

The HPA kind of “low blood sugar” is not a problem with insulin. Instead, it’s a problem with neurotransmitters and stress hormones. HPA dysfunction can also cause cortisol resistance which impairs serotonin production and leads to insulin resistance.

Other symptoms of HPA dysfunction can include anxiety, low or high blood pressure, dizziness, brain fog, insomnia, and autoimmune thyroid disease.

What are gentle carbs?

Gentle carbs are starchy foods that are not inflammatory. They include rice and potato and are glucose (not fructose), so they don’t contribute to metabolic disease the way high fructose drinks do. When combined with protein and fat and vegetables and eaten as part of a low-GI meal, gentle carbs do not lead to insulin resistance.

In contrast, un-gentle carbs such as gluten grains and high-dose fructose (sugar) can contribute to metabolic dysfunction and inflammation.

Starch calms the nervous system

Starch increases GABA because starch feeds the healthy intestinal bacteria that produce GABA. (GABA is the lovely, calming neurotransmitter that we all need more of.)

Carbohydrates can also improve the cortisol or stress response and increase tryptophan uptake, serotonin, and sleep.

I’m not saying everyone should eat high-carb. Far from it. I’ve spent decades asking patients to stop eating sugar and flour.

But I do encourage many of my young women patients to eat starch to maintain a healthy stress response and not lose their periods.

Gentle carbs for healthy hormones.


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