Does Keto Help Menopause?

Menopause is the stage when a woman's menstrual cycle (period) stops for 12 months in a row. It marks the end of her fertile, reproductive years.

Common side effects caused by changing hormone levels during menopause include hot flashes, mood changes, and sleep disruption. Many women also experience an average weight gain of about five pounds after menopause.

The keto diet is a very low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that some people recommend to ease menopause symptoms and balance hormones. However, it may not be the best approach for all women because it can cause unpleasant side effects.

This article discusses how being in ketosis can alter certain hormones. It also explores the potential benefits of this diet for women going through menopause.

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What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto, or ketogenic diet, is a diet that is very low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and very high in fat. Without enough carbohydrates in your diet, your body will shift to using fat for energy instead of sugar (glucose). This leads to ketone production and a state of ketosis.

On a keto diet, a person normally eats foods like:

  • Nuts
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Healthy fats
  • Nonstarchy green vegetables

Foods like whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, and some fruits are minimized or eliminated.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis occurs when your body switches from burning carbs for energy to burning fat. This happens because there aren't enough carbs from your diet to burn for energy. When your body breaks down fat, it produces ketones, which is a sign you are in ketosis. Ketosis may cause a decrease in appetite, which may aid with weight loss.


Keto and Hormones

Menopause can lead to an imbalance of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone. This can cause decreased insulin sensitivity and lower metabolism. It can also lead to increased food cravings.

There is no strong evidence linking the keto diet to being able to directly influence the balance of reproductive hormones. However, the keto diet can play a role in regulating the balance of certain hormones that influence appetite regulation and insulin production.

Benefits

Here's a look at how the keto diet may benefit women going through menopause.

Effect on Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone responsible for helping transport sugar (glucose) from your bloodstream into your cells to be used for energy.

Night sweats and hot flashes, two symptoms of menopause, have also been strongly associated with insulin resistance in women who are experiencing menopause. Insulin resistance occurs when cells within your body don't respond well to insulin. This leads to increased glucose circulating in your blood and can put you at risk for chronic disease.

Some studies show the keto diet may lead to improved insulin resistance, lower insulin levels, and a reduction in the number of medications people with diabetes use to reach their target blood sugar.

Moreover, one study trialed the keto diet on women with ovarian or endometrial cancer. Researchers found improvements in insulin sensitivity and more abdominal fat loss after 12 weeks of following the keto diet.

Effect on Weight Gain

The keto diet has been shown to positively affect weight loss, lipid profiles, and glycemic control in people who are overweight or obese.

One study compared four different dietary patterns among postmenopausal women to see which was best for weight maintenance. Researchers compared the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet, a reduced carbohydrate diet, and a diet consistent with the current United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

At the end of the study, researchers found that those who followed a reduced carbohydrate diet with moderate fat and high protein intake had a decreased risk of weight gain. In contrast, those who followed a low-fat diet had the greatest risk of postmenopausal weight gain.

It's important to note the reduced-carb diet in this study averaged around 163 grams of carbohydrates, which is much higher than recommended on the standard keto diet. However, studies that associate the keto diet directly with weight gain related to menopause are limited.

Effect on Food Cravings

During the menopausal transition and postmenopausal years, many women experience increased hunger and cravings.

The keto diet has been shown to promote increased feelings of fullness. For example, one group of studies suggests that being in ketosis can lead to decreased appetite. This may be due to the fact that foods high in protein and fat have a positive effect on satiety through several different processes. This includes decreasing gastric emptying, decreasing intestinal transit, and playing a role in the release of hunger hormones.

Moreover, one study looked at 20 patients with obesity to evaluate food cravings, sleep quality, sexual activity, and overall quality of life among those who followed a very low-calorie ketogenic diet. Researchers found that patients saw improvement in their quality of life, good food control, strong weight loss, fewer sleep issues, and improvements in sexual function.

Side Effects

Although it appears that the keto diet may have some benefits for menopause, it is not for everyone.

One common group of side effects you may experience when starting the keto diet is known as the "keto flu." This is because it takes time for your body to adapt when transitioning to a very low carbohydrate diet.

Symptoms associated with the keto flu include:

Symptoms usually peak within the first week and gradually decrease over the next three weeks when consistently following the diet.

There's also a concern about the negative impact the keto diet may have on your overall heart health. A few 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 body. Diets high in fat have also been associated with the disruption of gut microbiota (bacteria in the digestive system) and inflammation.

Additionally, the severe restriction of carbohydrates, which is often less than 50 grams, raises red flags for some. This is because many of the carbohydrate-rich foods eliminated on the keto diet are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Without proper supplementation, this can put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies.

Summary

A keto diet is a very low carbohydrate, high-fat diet. If followed correctly, most of its benefits are attributed to the state of ketosis this diet puts you in. As researchers learn more about the keto diet, it appears to be an effective solution for weight loss. During menopause, women often experience weight gain, food cravings, and insulin resistance.

While there is no strong evidence to directly associate the ketogenic diet with balancing hormones during menopause, studies show it may improve symptoms menopausal women face. However, as with most diets, there are risks. For some, the beginning of the keto diet can be rough because you may experience moderate to severe "keto flu" symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

The time leading up to menopause and the time right after you've reached menopause can be a frustrating, challenging time. Know that you are not alone. Developing healthy eating patterns and incorporating regular physical activity can help ease weight gain associated with menopause. While the keto diet may improve symptoms in some people, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. It's important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider and registered dietitian to find out which eating plan will benefit you the most during this stage in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you eat on the Keto diet?

    On a keto diet, a person eats foods like meat, fish, eggs, nuts, healthy fats, and nonstarchy green vegetables. Foods like legumes, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and some fruits are minimized or eliminated.

  • When does menopause start?

    The transition to menopause often starts between the ages of 45 and 55.

  • How long does menopause last?

    The menopausal transition usually lasts around seven years, but can last up to 14 years. The duration often varies between individuals. Age and lifestyle factors can also play a role in how long menopause will last.

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19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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