Keto and menopause – two words women may not associate as they reach the transition period that ends most of their estrogen production, menstrual cycle and reproductive years. But now keto and menopause are getting a lot of attention because the ketogenic or keto diet has become a popular way of eating. The keto diet has been around for a long time and has some benefits for menopausal women. But it also has many drawbacks. It’s not black and white. The human body is complex, and menopause only complicates things further. Let’s go over the basics of menopause and then we’ll look at how keto affects.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle for at least 12 months. It is a normal phenomenon that is part of the aging process.
Most women go through menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, but about 5% go through menopause between the ages of 40 and 45, and about 1% go through menopause before the age of 40.
When someone says they are “going through menopause,” they are referring to the transition from premenopause to postmenopause. This transition usually lasts 5 to 10 years and is known as perimenopause.
The signal that initiates this transition is when the ovaries begin to run out of eggs.
When the ovaries begin to run out of eggs, they no longer respond to a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which in turn prevents the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and the release of eggs (ovulation) each month. As a result, estrogen drops and menstruation stops.
But this is not an on-off switch. The transition is usually gradual and often bumpy.
The ketogenic diet may be associated with several benefits, specifically during menopause.
Improves insulin sensitivity
Menopause can cause several changes in hormone levels.
In addition to changing levels of sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, menopause can reduce insulin sensitivity, which can impair your body’s ability to use insulin effectively. Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting sugar from your bloodstream to your cells, where it can be used as fuel. Some studies suggest that a ketogenic diet may improve insulin sensitivity to promote better blood sugar control. One study found that following a ketogenic diet for 12 weeks improved insulin levels and insulin sensitivity in women with endometrial or ovarian cancer.
However, it is unclear whether this diet would provide similar health benefits to menopausal women without these types of cancers.
Another review reported that reduced carbohydrate consumption may lower insulin levels and improve hormonal imbalances, which may be particularly beneficial during menopause. What’s more, the study suggests that insulin resistance may be associated with a higher risk of hot flashes, which are a common side effect of menopause.
May prevent weight gain
Weight gain is a symptom of menopause and is often attributed to changes in hormone levels and a slowing of metabolism.
In addition to experiencing a decrease in calorie requirements during menopause, some women experience a decrease in height, which may lead to an increase in body mass index (BMI).
While specific research on ketogenic diets is limited, some studies have found that reduced carbohydrate intake may help prevent weight gain associated with menopause. For example, one study of more than 88,000 women found that following a low-carbohydrate diet was associated with a reduced risk of postmenopausal weight gain. Conversely, following a low-fat diet was associated with a risk of weight gain among participants.
However, it is important to note that the reduced carbohydrate diet included in this study contained significantly more carbohydrates than the standard ketogenic diet pattern.
Could help combat cravings
Many women experience increased hunger and cravings as they transition into menopause.
Some studies have found that a ketogenic diet may reduce hunger and appetite, which may be particularly beneficial during menopause. According to a 95-person study that included 55 women, following a ketogenic diet for 9 weeks increased levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone that regulates appetite. Interestingly, this increase was observed in the female participants. Similarly, another small study noted that a low-calorie ketogenic diet reduced appetite and levels of gastrin, a hormone that stimulates appetite.
However, more research is needed to assess how the ketogenic diet specifically affects cravings and appetite in menopausal women.
While it may seem that the keto diet has some benefits for menopause, it is not for everyone.
When starting a keto diet, you may experience a common set of side effects known as the “keto flu”. This is because your body needs time to adjust when transitioning to a very low-carb diet.
Symptoms associated with the keto flu include:
- Feeling faint
- Brain fog
- Stomach pain/discomfort
- Flu-like symptoms
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Heartbeat changes
Symptoms usually peak within the first week and gradually decrease over the next three weeks as you continue to follow the diet.
There is also concern that the keto diet may have a negative impact on your overall heart health. Some studies have shown that the high levels of saturated fat found in a keto diet can increase the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, circulating in our bodies. Diets high in fat have also been associated with damage to the gut microbiome (the bacteria in the digestive system) and inflammation.
In addition, the strict restriction of carbohydrates, usually less than 50 grams, can be a warning for some people. This is because many of the carbohydrate-rich foods that are eliminated from the keto diet are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Without proper supplementation, this can put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
The ketogenic diet may provide benefits for women during menopause, including increased insulin sensitivity, decreased weight gain and reduced cravings.
However, it may increase risk factors for certain cardiovascular diseases and limit the intake of several important nutrients. More importantly, the keto flu may temporarily worsen menopausal symptoms as your body transitions into ketosis.
While the ketogenic diet may work for some women during menopause, keep in mind that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider, set realistic expectations, listen to your body, and experiment to find what works for you.