What is Addison's disease?

People who have Addison's disease with low aldosterone hormone can eat a diet high in sodium. Here are 10 foods to eat if you have Addison's disease.
People who have Addison's disease with low aldosterone hormone can eat a diet high in sodium. Here are 10 foods to eat if you have Addison's disease.

Addison’s disease affects your adrenal glands. It is a serious and potentially life-threatening but rare condition caused by not enough cortisol or aldosterone hormones in your body. You need these hormones to regulate your immune system, blood pressure, and other important functions.

Addison’s disease affects your adrenal glands and it is sometimes called primary adrenal insufficiency or hypoadrenalism.

Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce important hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. They communicate with parts of your brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary to release these hormones.

In Addison’s disease, the adrenal gland is damaged and doesn’t make enough hormones. Sometimes the pituitary is damaged and doesn’t tell the adrenals to release cortisol or aldosterone.

Symptoms of Addison's disease

Symptoms of Addison’s disease can be different for each person and it may look like depression or the flu early in the disease. However, some common symptoms include:

Causes of Addison's disease

Addison’s disease is rare. It usually develops as an autoimmune reaction when your immune system attacks your adrenal glands. Other causes may include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Cancer
  • Fungal infection
  • Genetic changes
  • Surgically removing your adrenal glands
  • Surgically removing part of your pituitary gland
  • Surgically removing part of your hypothalamus
  • Radiation treatment to the pituitary gland
  • Pituitary gland tumor

Who can get Addison's disease?

Anyone can get Addison’s disease. However, it is more common in women than men and usually appears between the ages of 30 and 50.

Foods to eat if you have Addison's disease

The hormone aldosterone regulates the balance of sodium and potassium in the body. People who have Addison’s disease with low aldosterone may have low levels of sodium and high amounts of potassium. You can help manage your Addison’s disease with diet.

Best foods for Addison's disease

People who have Addison’s disease with low aldosterone hormone can eat a diet high in sodium. These include foods like:

  • Grain products
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Soups
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned beans
  • Salted nuts
  • Salted seeds
  • Added table salt

If you have Addison’s disease and you crave salt, you should eat salty foods. The best choice of sodium-rich foods are nutritious foods like eggs, cheese, salted nuts and seeds, and poultry, but you may benefit from snacking on salted crackers or pretzels.

However, your doctor may prescribe steroid medications that can balance your salt intake and allow you to eat a normal diet.

People with Addison’s disease take regular steroid medicine. Over time these medicines can cause damage to the bones and bone disease. You should eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D to help your bones. These foods include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Soy milk
  • Turnip greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Tofu
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fortified orange juice

People with Addison’s disease should also eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.

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Foods to avoid if you have Addison's disease

There are some foods that people with Addison’s disease should avoid. These include:

  • Coffee
  • Green tea
  • Black tea
  • Too much alcohol
  • Too many bananas
  • Too many oranges
  • Salt substitutes

Complications of Addison's disease

If you have Addison’s disease, you may experience sudden and severe symptoms when your body is stressed. This can happen during a fever, surgery, dehydration, or when you are sick. Sudden and severe symptoms cause a condition called Addisonian crisis or acute adrenal insufficiency. This can also occur if you stop taking your medications or your prescription dose is lowered suddenly.

Symptoms of Addisonian crisis can look like Addison’s disease but are severe and appear suddenly. These include:

If this condition is not treated, it can lead to:

Outlook for Addison's disease

If you have Addison’s disease, you will need to take medication for the rest of your life. You may experience more symptoms when you are stressed or sick and you may experience times of fatigue.

If you miss a dose of medicine or you take it late, you may also experience exhaustion and insomnia. It is important to take your medications as prescribed and to carry emergency medications with you.

Sometimes people with Addison’s disease can develop other conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease. Regular visits with your doctor will help watch for and manage these conditions.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/10/2021
References
The Carle Foundation: "Addison's Disease."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison's Disease)."

National Health Service: "Addison's disease – Symptoms."

National Health Service: "Overview – Addison's disease."

National Health Service: "Addison's disease – Treatment."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison's Disease."

National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Calcium."

National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin D."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Sodium in Your Diet."