Keto and Menopause: Is the Keto Diet Helpful for Menopausal Women?
Do you want to try the keto diet but worried because you’re in the menopausal stage? First, let share with you my menopausal experience.
When I hit my mid-40s I began experiencing sleepless nights, hot flashes, weight gain, thinning hair, muscle fatigue, an inability to relax and waves of anxiety. As a wellness doctor who coaches women through these exact symptoms, I was suddenly struggling with my own plummeting hormone levels, so I began to dig for answers.
Here’s what I discovered.
Women going through perimenopause, menopause, or post-menopause, can benefit tremendously from a modified ketogenic diet and fasting lifestyle that helps support their hormone levels through specific foods and practices.
Common Symptoms of Menopause
Menopausal symptoms appear because of the fluctuations in hormonal levels, specifically estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Here are just a few of the symptoms typical of menopausal women:
These symptoms appear because our bodies are now on a rollercoaster of hormonal fluctuations. According to many experts, our sex hormones start rapidly declining as early as 35-years-old, with most women officially hitting menopause in their early 50s.
In this 15-year time frame, here’s what happens:
Estrogen declines, causing:
A shift in body fat from hips and thighs to abdomen.
A rise in insulin resistance, which causes weight gain.
Impaired production of leptin and neuropeptide Y, hormones that help regulate appetite and weight balance.
Testosterone declines, leading to:
a loss of muscle mass and, as a result, a slower metabolism.
To add to the misery, in response to these significant hormonal shifts, your gut microbiome goes through a massive shift as well. This happens because we lose the protective benefits of estrogen.
Put simply, women have two types of estrogen, one helpful and one harmful.
Helpful estrogen protects microbial diversity.
Unfortunately, during the menopause years, women start to see a natural decline in the beneficial estrogens, which causes the good bacteria in her gut to become vulnerable and easily destroyed. And with a reduction in helpful bacteria comes a reduction in neurotransmitter production, ultimately leading to more chronic inflammation, a slower metabolism, and poor sleep.
Harmful estrogens can lead to breast cancer.
If a woman’s gut microbiome is depleted from antibiotic use and stress as she enters menopause, she risks a rise in harmful estrogens. This is one of the reasons that post-menopausal women are more likely to get breast cancer than perimenopausal women. A healthy and diverse microbiome will help regulate these harmful estrogens and ultimately protect a menopausal woman against breast cancer.
So now that you can see the hormonal complexities of a menopausal woman, why is the ketogenic diet such a gift to these women?
Ketones help the menopausal woman in several ways
Part of the magic of the ketogenic diet is the rapid increase in something called ketones. Ketones can serve the menopausal woman in several ways:
1. Better mental clarity
Because ketones are a better fuel source for the brain than glucose, keto diets give menopausal women an astonishing mental clarity and can even help prevent Alzheimer’s.
Most of my menopausal patients report incredible amounts of energy when they switch to a keto diet. This happens because you stabilize your blood sugar and no longer have dramatic highs and lows with your glucose levels.
More good news: the ketogenic diet is incredibly time-efficient. An element of fasting is part of the ketogenic diet, primarily intermittent fasting, which is when you easily sustain 13 to 15 hours without food every day.
If you are like many of the menopausal women I coach, you have a crazy busy life. Career, travel, social demands, driving teenage kids to sporting events, visiting your college-aged kids… your plate is full!
When you implement the keto diet, you change your energy source from sugar burning to fat burning. This means you can go for long periods of time without food. Nothing is more convenient for the overscheduled rushing menopausal woman than not having to eat every few hours.
Fasting is also an incredible way to reset your microbiome.
How to create the perfect synergy between keto and menopause.
When women start their keto journey, many of them feel that they’ve found the fountain of youth.
But perimenopausal and menopausal women really need to approach the ketogenic diet differently.
The biggest mistake I see so many menopausal women make when they begin the keto diet is eating too few carbs. Because their hormones are rapidly declining, menopausal women really do need SOME carbs.
As we discussed above, your estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are rapidly declining as you enter menopause.
This is important: to make estrogen, you need insulin. So if you are low carb all the time with very few insulin surges, your estrogen levels will plummet even more. This is why I encourage my menopausal patients to cycle in some carb load days with their keto days.
What does a carb load day look like?
On a carb load day, you add in healthy carbs that will help your body make progesterone and raise your insulin levels just a little to give your body the tools it needs to make estrogen. Healthy carbs include beans, potatoes, tropical fruits, and brown rice.