12

Can Intermittent Fasting for Women Help or Hinder the Transition Through Menopause?

life force

Recently I turned 51 years old.  Like women my age I am going through the process of perimenopause on my way to menopause and experiencing the negative side effects of night sweats, mood swings, etc.  This life change can bring about many negative consequences in our physiology as the fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone decreases and becomes erratic.  The question for me was:  Can intermittent fasting for women help or hinder the transition through menopause?  Could a 16 hour fasting diet help me to gain more control over the erratic fluctuations of hormones during menopause reducing their negative side effects?

What is the HPG Axis?

hpgaxisTo answer this question I first had to gain an understanding of how the HPG feedback loop works.  During puberty the HPG axis is activated by estrogen from the ovaries causing physiological and psychological changes.  This axis becomes deregulated leading to menopause.  HPG represents the hypothalmus, pituitary and gonadal glands located in the brain.  The HPG axis is signaled by kisspeptin to secrete follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH) that are responsible for the creation of estrogen and progesterone.  During the menopause transition FSH and LH levels rise because the number of ovarian follicles becomes fewer and the body produces less of the hormone called Inhibin B.

Females have higher kisspeptin levels than men.  Fasting drives kisspeptin levels down causing ghrelin levels to rise.  Ghrelin is the hunger hormone and alters classic dopamine signaling. Dopamine signaling in the hypothalmus is linked with feeding behavior. As ghrelin levels rise leptin levels decrease.  New science shows that obese women are more resistant to fat loss when there are increased leptin levels or leptin resistance.   Improved dopamine signaling can improve cognitive functioning of the brain.  A healthy HPG axis is important for intermittent fasting to be successful.

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting is a diet strategy where you fast for an extended period of time followed by a shortened eating window.  Within your eating window you must significantly reduce and eliminate any carbohydrates as this will negatively impact the diet process.  Fasting increases insulin sensitivity which allows the body to preferentially use fat stores for energy.  This strategy takes advantage of the fasting that occurs while you are asleep and gives you a 6-8 hour jumpstart into the fast depending on your sleep cycle.  This may seem like a daunting task.  Consider by starting with a food awareness week where you fast for 12 hours and eat for 12 hours.  Then add a couple of hours each subsequent week until you get to your desired fasting time.  The table below outlines 3 potential fasting strategies.

Fast Eat
16hrs 8hrs – 2p-10p
18hrs 6hrs – 3p-9p
20hrs 4hrs – 4p-8p

What are the Benefits of IF?

IF helps the body take advantage of increased insulin sensitivity that occurs in the last 1/3 of day.  Increased insulin sensitivity has many positive effects.

  • Increase in human growth hormone (HGH) = increase muscle
  • Increase in lipolysis = increase fat burning (decreased insulin levels tell calories to go to mitochondria instead of fat cells)
  • Increase in cellular autophagy = recycle proteins/clearing away of damaged cells
  • Decrease in insulin levels = pancreas does not have to raise insulin levels to store nutrients

During the IF eating window meals must be high fat with little to no carbohydrates.  Fat sustains and balances blood sugar and when not eating enough fat the body can revolt with a condition known as reactive hypoglycemia. Carbohydrates are insulin spikers for the pancreas.  When insulin is high the body can’t burn fat.

Why You Might NOT Benefit from IF?

IF as a diet strategy requires that the hormones need to be stable and balanced so the body doesn’t perceive 16 hours as a stressor.  A lot of women have spent their adult lives eating low fat, low calorie meals starving themselves in pursuit of weight loss damaging the metabolism.  In addition menopausal women are suffering from a natural fluctuation of hormones that brings about symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, etc. that further throws the metabolism off.   In my research I found that intermittent fasting for women can sometimes have a negative impact on a female’s hormonal state.  This strategy is not good for people with low blood sugar, active thyroid or female hormonal issues.  It is important to make sure that the adrenals, female hormones and thyroid are functioning properly if you want to pursue intermittent fasting.  Adrenal fatigue contributes greatly to the imbalance of hormones.  A hormone balancing product I often recommend to clients to help with this imbalance is called Integrative Therapeutics Cortisol Manager.

How to Prepare the Body for IF?

Optimizing nutrition will help to restore proper blood sugar levels that are essential for balancing hormones within the brain.  If not eating enough calories in 8 hour window during the fast the hormonal cycle will be altered.  A good transition to intermittent fasting would be to follow the recommended foods of the ketogenic and paleo diets.  These two diets help to identify healthy carbohydrates.  The reduction of carbohydrate levels as we age is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

Ketogenic Food List/For additional help purchase the Ketogenic Cookbook with meal plans

Paleo Food List/For additional help consider the PaleoPlan Special Offer for New Members

In order for IF to be successful a good control over carbohydrate levels is necessary.  Once this goal is achieved consider Crescendo fasting.  This is a great way to prepare the body for IF.

Crescendo Fasting Intermittent Fasting
Fast 3 non-consecutive days per week.

(Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)

Fast 7 days per week.
Fast for 12 hours increasing fast time by 1 hour per week to reach desired IF time. Fast for 16, 18 or 20 hours.

For a great overview on the rules of intermittent fasting, please see the following video.

Conclusion

After my process of discovery into intermittent fasting for women I decided to give it a try.   I utilized Crescendo fasting for the first couple of weeks and found that it was not difficult by the end of the second week to achieve the 16 hour fasting period.  In one of the videos I watched it was recommended to use butter coffee as a pure fat bomb to help food cravings in the last 4 hours of the fasting period.  It helped to initially to take me through hours 13-16 of the fast.  I then expanded to a full intermittent fasting technique.  I am absolutely experiencing the positive effects of IF and plan to continue my experiment.

Stacy Gallagher

12 Comments

  1. Great info on Intermittent fasting. I am always hesitant to try out new dieting techniques, having been badly burned once from a technique. But this seems like a good one. So, how many meals do one eat while they are on the eating window?

    • Typically one would eat 2-3 meals within their eating window depending on their schedule. The key is to preferentially lean toward higher fat meals that satiate hunger and do not spike insulin. If you do decide to use IF please let me know how the journey goes at somg@embarqmail.com.

  2. Very good article about fasting to help the transition through Menopause. You explained everything in great detail and I know this this article will help a lot of woman. Very Informative

  3. Hello Stacey, this is really interesting. We are told now that eating small amounts throughout the day to keep the metabolism running is better than the feast or famine approach of not eating and then overeating. I wonder how these different theories (that vs intermittent fasting) align? I am guessing the main aspect to keep in mind is that this method focuses on low carbohydrates so that helps avoid a spike and then crash of blood sugar.

    I had symptoms that would appear to be early menopause though I was only in my mid 30’s (horrible night sweats for example). It turned out what I really had was estrogen dominance which can be common with birth control pills, chemicals endocrine mimickers, and other health problems. I also had adrenal problems. My Naturopathic Doctor gave me a supplement that balances cortisol levels and the night sweats stopped! It was amazingly effective. Now I wonder how many women my age think they are going into early menopause but might not be?

    I also learned about estrogen dominance and found that I could use natural progesterone lotion to great effect. That stopped the rest of my symptoms like horribly itchy skin which was actually a nerve problem caused by estrogen dominance. Now I use minerals that help with all this as well. It is such a huge relief to find these natural treatments!

    I think this intermittent fasting technique sounds useful and effective also. It would be interesting to hear more about how it has worked for you.

    Thanks for sharing this great information,
    Jessica

    • What an interesting story! I have also been through a process of balancing the adrenals using a great supplement called HPA Adapt by Integrative Therapeutics. It was recommended to me by a Naturopath friend. I have also found the addition of Lysiene to be helpful as well. I shifted to the intermittent fast the beginning of this week and feel great. I fast for between 18-20 hours. I do supplement butter coffee in the am – one pat of butter in the coffee – for a fat hunger supressor. During the day I drink water with lemon and a bit of pink sea salt. Then I eat good solid nutrients in my eating window avoiding carbs and sugar. I am doing this more for energy balance than weight loss but of course I have lost weight.

  4. I am currently in menopause and have been looking for a good fasting program. I knew fasting helped with menopause ailments but I wasn’t sure how until I found your helpful information. I struggle with obesity and short-term memory functioning and am interested in improving my dopamine signaling to zero-in on those two problems plaguing me now. Does this intermittent fasting kick-start your dopamine or how does it work?

    • Yes it does.  Long periods without food increases secretion of a hormone called Ghrelin. This is what gives you that feeling of hunger. It also increases Dopamine production.  Having said that it is important to establish a pattern of eating nutrient dense food first to get away from sugar and refined carbs.  The sugar and refined carbs will be great impediments to your intermittent fasting goals.  In the blog there are links to keto or paleo diets that help with establishing good eating habits first so that you have a greater chance of success on your fast.  Please let me know how things go and feel free to contact me at stacygallagher@functional-strength.org if you have any additional questions. 

  5. Hi,
    I am going through the menopause and was wondering if any fasting or diets would help me? as i seem to be putting on weight since this menopause has came along, i am on hrt and did not know if that has any help towards weight gain.
    If intermittent fasting is safe enough i will give it a go, i will try anything to get rid of this ugliness:(
    Its good the way you have written down the benefits of IF as i havnt got a clue.
    Do you know if it is an old wives tale or is it true that once you are over 40 you cant lose weight?.

    • I think the first thing to do when wanting to embark on a diet such as this is to take an honest inventory of where your eating habits are now.  I incorporated the paleo and keto diet approaches in the blog as a precursor to IF as a way for people who are seriously interested in making nutritional changes to learn how to clean up their calories.  That takes about 30 days.  There needs to be a general homeostasis of calories and quality nutrients to begin an IF journey.  Without that starting point IF becomes yo-yo fad dieting and can actually set your body up for holding on to and creating more fat.

      Hormonal adjustments are linked to a difference in fat distribution, which increases belly fat, according to a study that released by the International Menopause Society.  It is a complete farce that you cannot lose weight once you are over 40.  The key to losing weight is eating good nutrients and not too much of them at any one time.  Please feel free to contact me at somg@embarqmail.com should you have any additional questions or concerns.

  6. Thank you for the informative article. I am 48 and premenopausal, I am getting thicker in my midsection despite eating clean and exercising everyday. I will have to try this.

    • Intermittent fasting is a great way to change up your diet strategy. You have to make sure though that you eat enough fat during your eating window. This is the best tool for suppressing hunger during the 16 hour or longer non-eating window. Please feel free to contact me at somg@embarqmail.com should you have any additional questions regarding this diet strategy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.