We all hear about the challenges for menopausal women: hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, night sweats, and more. Menopause is usually portrayed on television and elsewhere as comedic. However, for women going through menopause, it is certainly no laughing matter.
Menopause is the transition women go through from having menstrual periods to no longer having regular periods. The hormonal changes women experience result in many difficult and unwanted symptoms. High insulin levels and blood sugar imbalances are also common in menopause and can play a big role in the problems associated with this time.
Keto for Menopausal Women
- Menopausal women are one of the largest groups of individuals seeking alternative and natural therapies to manage their symptoms. Fortunately, implementing a ketogenic diet can be an effective strategy to alleviate many of these symptoms.
- A ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein nutrition and lifestyle plan that transitions your body from chronic sugar burning mode to an efficient fat burner. While in ketosis, the body will use stored fat and dietary fat rather than sugar for fuel. Using fat for energy can benefit a woman going through menopause in many ways.
This article will discuss what happens to a woman’s body as she goes through menopause and problems associated with menopause. Following points would be discussed in detail:
- how the ketogenic diet can help reduce these unwanted and uncomfortable symptoms?
- which numerous issues must be considered for menopausal women implementing the ketogenic diet?
What is Menopause?
Basics of the Ketogenic Diet and Lifestyle
- A ketogenic diet and lifestyle can have a dramatic effect on menopausal symptoms. The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate, moderate protein nutrition plan. The macronutrient breakdown for the ketogenic diet is 60-80% of calories from healthy fats, 20-30% from protein, and 5-10% from net carbs (total carbs minus fiber). This nutrition and lifestyle plan helps your body use fat (stored fat and dietary fat) rather than sugar for fuel.
- Unfortunately, many women in menopause have relied upon a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet for decades. This way of eating causes a myriad of health problems. Foods made with refined sugars and carbohydrates spike insulin levels, lead to the storage of fat, increase inflammation, and cause hormonal imbalances.
- To the contrary, the ketogenic diet and lifestyle helps reduce inflammation, lower insulin levels, balance blood sugar, and decrease weight gain and stored fat. This style of eating encourages healthy metabolism and enables your body to function at a more efficient level.
Best Ways the Ketogenic Diet Can Help During Menopause
There are many health benefits associated with a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet that will have particular benefit for women in menopause. The ketogenic diet lowers inflammation, increases energy, reduces risk of cognitive decline, balances blood sugar levels and your mood, and helps control weight gain.
Lowers Inflammation and Increases Energy:
- Chronic inflammation is the cause of most, if not all, chronic disease. Chronic inflammation can increase during menopause so it is critical to take steps to reduce inflammation. One of the most amazing benefits of the ketogenic diet is its ability to drastically lower inflammation.
- The ketogenic diet lowers inflammation by reducing the amount of free radical production, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and reducing insulin levels. With lower levels of inflammation and stabilized blood sugar levels, more of the energy carrying molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is produced in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of your cells, and the ketogenic diet stimulates the growth of new and stronger mitochondria.
- By reducing inflammation and improving mitochondrial function, the ketogenic diet allows the body to heal and mitigate disease processes more effectively. This improves your risk factors for metabolic and other chronic diseases, gives optimal energy production, and creates an efficiently functioning body.
Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline:
- Women have estrogen receptors all throughout their body, including in their brains. Reduced signaling through these estrogen receptors due to low estrogen levels in menopause can leave brain cells more vulnerable to disease and dysfunction.
- Studies show that women who go through menopause or are in perimenopause have significantly lower levels of glucose metabolism in several key brain regions than those who were pre-menopausal (1). Estrogen loss means the loss of a key neuroprotective element in the female brain and higher vulnerability to brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
- One of the functions of estrogen is to get glucose into your brain for fuel. During menopause, estrogen levels drop. Without estrogen, the ability of glucose to fuel the brain is diminished. Utilizing ketones rather than glucose for fuel provides steady, clean energy to brain cells. This can reduce menopausal symptoms like brain fog and hot flashes.
- Ketones can also reduce neurological inflammation by shutting down neuro-inflammatory pathways and stimulating BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic growth factor). Reducing neurological inflammation is critical because it is linked with depression, anxiety and poor cognitive function (2).
Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels and Improves Mood:
- Many menopausal women experience mood swings, anxiety and depression. This is due to a decline in estrogen levels. There are abundant estrogen receptors in the region of the brain called the medial amygdala (MeA)(3). The MeA regulates mood, endocrine, and metabolic stress responses. When estrogen levels decline in menopause, this can affect your mood and lead to emotional distress and depression.
- Consuming a high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet will cause massive fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This can lead to rapid changes in your mood and behavior. The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet decreases and stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels. This will have a positive impact on mood by providing your brain with a stable source of energy.
Helps Control Weight Gain:
- Increased body fat (particularly abdominal fat) and weight gain are common in menopausal women. As discussed above, the medial amygdala (MeA) contains an abundance of estrogen receptors. This region of the brain helps regulate body weight. With lower amounts of estrogen (characteristic of menopause), your metabolism slows and fat storage shifts to the abdomen. Excess abdominal fat is linked to insulin resistance, heart disease, toxin accumulation and hormonal imbalances.
- The ketogenic diet helps reduce weight and body fat through a number of mechanisms. When in ketosis, you are burning both dietary fat and stored body fat for energy. You are also less hungry and feel satiated quicker and longer on a ketogenic diet. This is due to the healthy fats, protein, antioxidants and fiber in the diet.
- In a study of the long-term effects of the ketogenic diet, weight and body mass index of the patients significantly decreased, HDL (good) cholesterol levels significantly increased while LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and levels of triglycerides significantly decreased (4). More studies have shown that a high-fat, low carb diet is superior to a low-fat, high-carb diet for improving weight loss (5). Implementing the ketogenic diet can be an effective fat and weight loss strategy for menopausal women.
Issues to Address in Menopause
Women in menopause often have low stomach acid, a sluggish gallbladder, and a low functioning thyroid. These issues must be addressed in relation to the ketogenic diet or the full range of benefits may not be experienced.
Low Stomach Acid:
- There are several strategies you can take to improve stomach acid. Using liquid nutrition during the day with at least half of your meals in an easily digestible form (such as a protein shake) can be very beneficial. Squeezing fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar on your meat and vegetables to help pre-metabolize the food can help with digestion. Consuming ginger, fermented foods (such as kimchi and sauerkraut) and fermented drinks (such as coconut kefir) can also improve digestive juices.
- Super hydrating outside of mealtimes and drinking very little with or after a meal can help. Drinking water during the meal can dilute your digestive juices. Timing is also important when eating protein. Protein should be eaten at the beginning of the meal. You should also eat your largest meal when you are most relaxed. These strategies are key to improving stomach acid production.
- An anti-inflammatory diet high in healthy fats is critical for cholesterol production, bile production, and secretion. Super hydration, intermittent fasting, stomach acid support, and eating small meals can support the gallbladder.
- Foods rich in chlorophyll and high in fiber, as well as fermented foods, bitter herbs, broccoli and kale sprouts, can improve gallbladder health.
Low Thyroid Function:
- Many women in menopause struggle with low thyroid function (or hypothyroidism). They will experience low energy, weight gain, mood instability, brain fog, and lower vitality. The ketogenic diet can be a helpful tool to improve thyroid function.
- The ketogenic diet creates metabolic flexibility, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and burns excess stored fat. Fluctuating blood sugar contributes to inflammatory proteins called advanced glycolic enzymes (AGEs). This enables the body to function at a more efficient level and helps to balance the production of thyroid hormones.
- Another way the ketogenic diet can improve thyroid function is by reducing inflammation in the body. Low thyroid function is often associated with chronic inflammation. Inflammation damages the mitochondria which can affect energy levels and how well your body is able to function.
- For anyone on a ketogenic diet, and particularly those with hypothyroidism, it is critical to ensure you are consuming adequate calories. Not consuming enough calories causes the body to shift to a state of conservation and is often associated with lower T3 levels. This can lead to many hypothyroid symptoms that are erroneously attributed to the ketogenic diet.
Menopause Alleviation Tweaks/Strategies
Women can find benefit from the high fibre and low-fat diet during menopause.
- Whole-grain bread
- Brown rice
- Fresh fruits
As menopausal women suffer from slow metabolism and a weak digestive system, the above-mentioned foods are rich in dietary fibre that helps to speed up the metabolism rate in women with menopause.
- While eating low-carb, your body produces glucagon to help you burn fat, is more sensitive to insulin, and is more metabolically efficient. For some individuals, eating a low-carbohydrate diet for too long can lead to problems. Over long periods, your thyroid hormones may drop, you may become less sensitive to insulin, and you may gain weight. Carb cycling will optimize your body’s metabolic needs and is a great strategy for women in menopause.
- If you are feeling great in ketosis than you do not have to carb cycle. However, if you begin to experience persistent fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, weight gain, etc while in ketosis and following a ketogenic lifestyle than you may want to consider carb cycling.
- Carb cycling is alternating periods of lower and higher carbohydrate content in your diet. I recommend 6 days of very low-carb meals and 1 day of slightly higher-carb meals each week. If your body is signaling that it needs more carbohydrates, you can do a higher carb day every fourth day. For example, low-carb for 3 days, higher-carb for 1 day, low-carb for 3 days, etc. Other individuals may cycle in and out of ketosis once a month or once every other week. It takes time and experimentation to find the right carb cycling rhythm for your body.
- On the higher carbohydrate days, you should consume foods with a low glycemic index and high nutritive value such as sweet potatoes, organic berries, carrots, beets and sprouted quinoa. You may also enjoy other high quality fruits and sweeteners such as honey during the carb phase if you wish but it is always best to stick with real foods and not processed man-made foods that are full of toxins.
- On the lower carbohydrate days, you would consume 20-50 or fewer grams of net carbohydrates. You are looking for the range that allows you to get into nutritional ketosis with blood ketones over 1.0 mmol. For some, this will be 20 net carbs or less…while others can handle a higher amount of net carbs and still be in ketosis. Of course, be sure to consume a diet high in healthy fats and moderate in protein.
- On your higher carb days you can bump it up to 80-100 grams of carbohydrates. Unless you are very active, this will bump you out of ketosis for a period of time, but you can get back in as you lower your carbs and increase fats on your ketogenic lifestyle. It is important to remember that every woman is different and will respond to the ketogenic diet in her own unique way. These suggestions are guidelines for determining what may work for you.
During menopause a Keto-Alkaline Diet can help:
- Balance hormones. A Keto-Alkaline Diet optimizes insulin, cortisol and other hormone levels so you experience fewer symptoms like hot flashes. If they do occur, they’re usually shorter and less misery-inducing.
- Improve brain function. Maria Emmerich, author of Keto-Adapted, says a hot flash is your brain trying to protect itself from starving. One of estrogen’s jobs is to get glucose into your brain for fuel, yet during menopause when estrogen drops, so does its ability to get glucose to your brain. When glucose can’t get into the brain, hot flashes increase while brain health declines. The good news is that ketones can replace the glucose in your brain and other tissues. (6)
A Keto-Alkaline Diet eliminates that glucose problem, reducing or eliminating miserable menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. (7) Here’s how it can work:
1. Burn fat. As many patients can attest, weight loss can become a serious challenge during menopause. I’ve found that a Keto-Alkaline™ Diet optimizes hunger-regulating hormones like insulin and leptin, reduces the hunger-growling hormone ghrelin, and eliminates cravings so you can lose weight and keep it off.
2. Boost sex drive. The Keto-Alkaline™ Diet is rich in healthy fats, which improves the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. This is especially true with vitamin D, a precursor for your sex hormones. (8) A Keto-Alkaline ™ Diet actually improves my patients’ lipid profile, while helping balance testosterone and the other hormones menopause can knock out of whack. Results: Increased libido and more spark between the sheets.
3. Stabilize energy. Menopause can often leave you feeling fatigued and wiped out. A Keto-Alkaline™ Diet helps maintain steady energy levels because healthy fats provide a clean, efficient energy source to maintain healthy hormone levels, especially when combined with an alkaline diet. (9)
4. Improve sleep. When your diet is filled with sugar and carbohydrates, even those seemingly innocent 100-calorie snack packs can spike and crash your blood sugar, which ultimately impacts sleep levels. Combined with hot flashes, heart palpitations and other menopausal symptoms, your sleep can really start to suffer. A Keto-Alkaline Diet balances blood sugar levels and optimizes hormones like cortisol, serotonin and melatonin to improve sleep and reset your circadian rhythm. (10)
5. Lower inflammation. Chronic inflammation can increase during menopause, sparking unpleasant symptoms like chronic pain and playing a significant role in nearly every disease on earth. Keto-Alkaline Diet, which combines healthy anti-inflammatory fats with alkaline-rich foods, reduces joint pain, back pain and other inflammatory conditions.
What should I eat on the Keto-Alkaline Diet?
Once you’re alkaline, you’ll shift into ketosis by eating about 56 to 70 percent healthy fats, 20 to 25 percent protein, and about 5 to 10 percent healthy carbohydrates (mostly vegetables). Women tend to need the higher end to really stay alkaline while in ketosis. Ketogenic diet can help, and these five hacks will get you started or upgrade your current ketogenic diet.
Focus on alkaline foods: Along with plenty of filtered water, foods like green leafy veggies including kale, beet greens, spinach, chard, and a veggie-blend powder can help you become and stay alkaline.
Ditch the acidic foods: That means alcohol (sorry!), coffee, and most dairy. And this doesn’t mean you’ll never eat them again (I love my dark chocolate and pinot noir), but you’ll need to ditch them temporarily as you shift into alkaline territory. And if you’re checking with your pH urine test strips, you’ll know if they negatively affect you or not.
Give it time: I give patients a week to become alkaline (don’t worry: Like Michelle, you’ll lose weight while you’re shifting); then we focus on ketosis. Most patients see results almost immediately, but any lifestyle transformation can require a few days to adjust.
Not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Before making any major lifestyle changes, be sure to consult with your doctor to see if these changes are right for you.