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?
To 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.
|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.
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.
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.