Is it a good diet for hormones?
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Menopause is the point at which a person’s periods stop. The stage preceding this, known as perimenopause, is when people are likely to start experiencing symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats. This occurs due to declining levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
No diet can stop hormone levels from declining, but dietary changes can play a role in managing the symptoms that can accompany this transition. Whether the keto diet could be helpful for this is unknown.
In this article, we will look at whether keto could be a helpful option for those entering menopause and explore the potential side effects and risks of the diet. We also look at other diet types that could be beneficial.
The exact foods a person eats on the diet can vary. They can consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats while in ketosis, but it is just as possible to eat lots of red meat and saturated fat.
Impact on weight gain
There is no research on whether the keto diet is an effective way to maintain a healthy weight during menopause. However, a large 2017 study of nearly 89,000 females aged 49–81 years compared four diets to see how well they worked. The researchers tested:
Impact on cravings
Researchers found that following the keto diet for 8 weeks increased levels of the appetite-regulating hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 in the female participants. Interestingly, the levels of this hormone decreased in the male participants.
However, the study did not specifically look at appetite reduction during menopause. The participants’ ages ranged from 18–65, and so included a mixture of pre- and postmenopausal females.
Impact on insulin
During menopause, insulin sensitivity can decrease. Insulin is a hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the bloodstream into cells. If someone does not produce enough insulin, they can develop high blood sugar, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
There is currently no research on whether the keto diet helps or hinders the balance of reproductive hormones during menopause, so the effects on declining estrogen and progesterone levels are unknown.
No — no diet, supplement, or medication can stop or reverse menopause. It is a natural stage in life that occurs when the body stops making as much estrogen and progesterone.
However, hormone therapy can replace the hormones a person is losing, which can alleviate symptoms.
The keto diet can cause side effects, especially when a person first starts the diet. Many people experience “keto flu,” a collection of symptoms that arise as the body enters ketosis. These can include:
People may eat fewer fruits and vegetables in an attempt to avoid carbohydrates, meaning they get fewer vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics. Prebiotic fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
The keto diet may increase a person’s of developing kidney stones. A 2021 review and meta-analysis concluded that the incidence of kidney stones in children who eat a keto diet is around 5.8%. In adults, it is 7.9%.
For example, one small study found LDL cholesterol increased by 39% after 3 weeks of the keto diet. Additionally, 59% of those in the study had LDL cholesterol higher than the recommended level for preventing cardiovascular disease.
Menopause also affects bone health. The decline in estrogen reduces bone mineral density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
A 2020 study looking at the impact of a short-term keto diet also linked ketosis with a loss of bone density. The study followed 30 athletes following the diet for a period of 3.5 weeks and found the athletes had decreased new bone growth and increased bone breakdown.
The authors also noted that, even when participants returned to regular diets, their ability to create healthy new bone did not return to normal.
However, most of the athletes in this study were male, with only five females. The average age of the participants was 28. More research is necessary to understand how the keto diet might impact people in menopause.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts. It limits saturated fats, red meat, and alcohol.
In the 2017 study comparing the Mediterranean diet with three other diet types in postmenopausal females, researchers found that it was not as effective for weight loss as the low carbohydrate diet, but that it was more effective than a low fat diet.
A plant-based diet involves avoiding animal-derived foods and focusing instead on plant-based foods. A 2018 survey comparing perimenopausal and menopausal vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores found that eating a diet containing more vegetables and less meat aligned with less bothersome menopausal symptoms.
An earlier 2012 study of over 17,000 menopausal females had similar results. Researchers asked 40% of the participants to follow a low fat diet with an increased intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
These individuals were three times more likely to lose weight and more likely to eliminate menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
The keto diet may help with some symptoms of menopause, including weight gain. However, a keto diet also increases LDL cholesterol, which may be risky since menopause also increases the risk of heart disease. A keto diet cannot reverse menopause and may only ease its symptoms.