How are keto and menopause connected? Is the keto diet good for menopause?
Menopause is a natural, but often frustrating and challenging process for women. The hormone imbalance that usually comes with menopause creates side effects like weight gain, hot flashes, brain fog, mood swings, and more. The transition from premenopause to perimenopause to menopause is hard enough on its own, but another factor can come into play as well: insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when your cells ignore insulin, which carries blood-sugar out of the bloodstream and into storage in cells. When glucose cannot get inside your cells, it hangs out in your blood, causing high blood-sugar levels. High blood-sugar levels signal your body to produce more insulin to get rid of all the glucose. This cycle results in high blood sugar and high insulin levels (i.e., hyperinsulinemia), which can worsen menopause symptoms.
Can switching to a ketogenic diet ease the transition through the menopause cycle? What role does nutrition play in this normal stage of aging? Studies show low-carb diets improve your metabolism, hormone balance, mood, and mental performance. They even combat insulin resistance, which means a keto diet may be an important tactic in outsmarting your most brutal menopause symptoms.
What is Perimenopause and Menopause?
Reaching the stage of menopause doesn’t happen overnight. As women age and near the end of their menstrual cycles, they go through years of what’s known as “the menopausal transition.” Perimenopause, the stage before menopause, happens when women reach their mid-40s to mid-50s. Perimenopause can last anywhere from five to ten years. During this time, menstrual cycles may become erratic and irregular. A dwindling supply of eggs in your ovaries causes your body to produce and release less estrogen. Hormones related to your menstrual cycle, namely follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), then reach abnormal levels. Menopause officially occurs when you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period and completes the full cycle of transition. But you may feel the side effects of menopause from perimenopause through post-menopause (or the time after menopause).
Symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause
When you first enter perimenopause, you may not recognize the symptoms are related to a change in your menstrual cycle. But somewhere along the way, the obvious signs that your body is going through a dramatic change become too hard to ignore. The most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Weight gain (especially lower abdominal fat)
- Trouble losing weight
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Mood swings, depression, and anxiety
- Extreme fatigue
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Vaginal dryness and low libido
- Poor memory, trouble concentrating, and brain fog
These side effects range from annoying to life-disrupting. And their impact ripples across your work life, relationships, and mental health. Many women report these years as the most challenging and depressing. But you may be able to lessen these negatives significantly just by changing your diet.
Keto and Menopause
As reputed nutrition coach, Thomas DeLauer, explains in this video, a ketogenic diet may curtail menopausal symptoms and improve your quality of life because it shifts your body into a perpetual state of nutritional ketosis, which means your body starts running on fat (ketone bodies) instead of sugar (carbohydrates). When you’re in ketosis, your body combats two significant issues associated with menopause: hormonal imbalance, which is responsible for weight gain and mood swings, and insulin resistance, which challenges your health with high blood sugar levels. Here’s how:
The Keto Diet Improves Insulin Sensitivity (and Lessens Insulin Resistance)
On the Standard American Diet, your body gets its energy from glucose, primarily through digesting carbohydrates and sweets. Then the hormone insulin shuttles glucose out of your blood and into your cells for fuel. If you’re menopausal or perimenopausal, you may experience low estrogen levels (a hallmark of the menopause cycle), and unfortunately, low estrogen levels can lead to insulin resistance. Ironically, however, so can high estrogen levels which predominate in today’s xenoestrogen-drenched world. The issue, however, is not so much high or low estrogen, it’s a problem with how the body metabolizes the hormones; it varies by the individual based on exogenous estrogen or xenoestrogen exposures (i.e. synthetic hormones) and epigenetic variation (gene expression), which is made more challenged by a high insulin load. So whether you are estrogen dominant or deficient, lowering your insulin is likely the key to hormonal optimization.
But studies show a keto diet lowers insulin resistance and increases insulin sensitivity (meaning the cells allow insulin to do its job). Additionally, although there aren’t yet many studies showing how a ketogenic diet affects the hormones of women in menopause, researchers have used low-carb diets to help women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) to improve their insulin sensitivity and their hormone balance. PCOS causes insulin resistance, weight gain, and imbalanced hormones in women during their fertile years. These results show promise for using a ketogenic diet to remedy the same issues for women during the menopausal transition.
In one small study, five women with PCOS went on a very low-carb ketogenic diet (less than 20 grams of carbs per day) for 24 weeks. Researchers saw a 12 percent drop in body weight, a 36 percent decrease in their LH/FSH ratio, and a 54 percent drop in fasting insulin.
These results show a keto diet may balance hormones and improve insulin function. Both would benefit women approaching menopause.
The Keto Diet Suppresses Your Appetite
Women in the menopause cycle have higher levels of ghrelin (aka the “hunger” hormone). Ghrelin alerts your body when you’re hungry. But high levels can mean you always feel hunger pangs and never feel sated. This slippery slope leads to overeating, extra calories, and creeping weight gain.
A ketogenic diet crushes ghrelin levels, leading to greater appetite suppression. According to research:
- Participants following a keto diet in one study stabilized their ghrelin levels, which resulted in them losing 13 percent of their body weight and lowering their overall appetite in just eight weeks.
- Limiting daily carbohydrate intake to 50 grams or less reduced hunger and appetite in another study.
- Consuming exogenous ketones helped participants lower ghrelin levels, perceived hunger, and desire to eat in a different trial.
- Replacing carbs with moderate protein also renders a satiating effect, which helps you naturally eat fewer calories while preserving your lean muscle mass.
The Keto Diet Helps You Lose Weight
Along with high ghrelin levels, low estrogen levels lead to weight gain, especially in your lower abdomen. During menopause, it’s not uncommon to get a tummy “pooch” and hold more fat in your middle. However, some of this fat storage can be more dangerous than fat on your hips or thighs, specifically if it’s “visceral fat,” which is fat that fills the spaces between the abdominal organs and in an apron of tissue called the omentum, which is located under the belly muscles and blankets the intestines. Excessive visceral fat increases your risk for heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
As we previously mentioned, the aim of a ketogenic diet is to get in ketosis, the state where your body actively burns your fat stores. The breakdown of fat for energy (known as lipolysis) boosts your metabolism. And it also transforms your trouble spots into fuel reserves!
Women who followed a low-carb diet in one study lost 23 pounds, 7.6 percent body fat, and 3.7 inches off their waist in six months. Obese, postmenopausal women in a two-year trial reduced abdominal fat more when following a low-carb diet than a low-fat diet.
The Keto Diet Lowers Inflammation to Possibly Reduce Hot Flashes, Brain Fog, and Improve Moods
Many of us consume foods that inspire inflammation (hello, peanuts, peanut butter, and for some people, dairy). Chronic inflammation increases your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more. It’s also to blame for depression, anxiety, memory loss, and trouble thinking. Concerning menopause, recent research links hot flashes with inflammation.
Here’s where keto’s helpful again: A ketogenic diet is anti-inflammatory and lowers systemic inflammation. It cuts out inflammatory foods, including refined carbs, sugar, and highly-processed vegetable oils. Anti-inflammatory foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants fill the menu instead.
The best part? Ketones not only protect your body from inflammation but also your brain cells. Science says your brain may use beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), the main ketone body, more effectively than glucose. So ketones boost mental performance, attention, and memory. They also banish brain fog. And lower inflammation levels may help your body better regulate temperature to avoid hot flashes.
The Final Word
Is the keto diet good for menopause? The connection between keto as an aid to menopause symptoms seems pretty clear. Lowering your daily carb intake may restore hormone balance and improve insulin function. This winning combo may help you finally move the scale and feel more alert.
But you’ll only reap the rewards of a ketogenic diet if you’re actually in ketosis. So speak with your physician about starting keto for menopause relief. And test your ketone levels often to make sure you maintain this metabolic state.