Menopause is a time in women’s lives when they stop getting their periods. Women experience a variety of uncomfortable signs and symptoms, such as hot flashes, weight gain, mood changes, and insomnia. Since dietary changes play an essential role in managing the effects of menopause, you might be wondering if keto and menopause are a good combination.
Following a keto diet means cutting carbs to less than 50 grams a day to cause your body to burn its own fat stores, including lowering insulin resistance and controlling cravings, among other benefits.
This article takes a closer look at keto for menopause, the benefits and possible risks of the keto diet, and helpful tips to do keto correctly if you decide on it.
Keto Diet Overview
The ketogenic or keto diet is a very low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein eating approach that puts your body in a fat-burning state called ketosis. The standard keto macronutrient ratios are usually 70% fat, 20% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.
Starchy foods are forbidden on keto — examples are potatoes, rice, bread, oats, corn, and sweet fruits, as well as chips and foods made from flour.
The best foods on keto are eggs, beef, pork, chicken, fatty fish, other types of seafood, leafy greens, strawberries, nuts, seeds, dairy (in moderation), and other whole and minimally processed items that are low in carbohydrates.
Keto and Reproductive Hormones
Menopause — the permanent cessation of menses for at least 12 months, which happens sometime in your 40s to early 50s — can lead to a shift in your hormones (*). The following occurs:
- Estrogen and progesterone levels drop, although the decrease in estrogen contributes to most of the symptoms, such as hot flashes, weight gain, and mood swings.
- Lower testosterone levels also decrease, which results in reduced libido and vaginal dryness (also the result of low estrogen) (*).
- Insulin resistance may happen in association with decreased estrogen. Since insulin transports glucose into your cells, being insulin resistant increases a woman’s risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (*).
- Ghrelin, the hunger hormone responsible for stimulating appetite, has been found to increase during the perimenopause stage (*). This is the stage where your body transitions to menopause and during this time, you’ll often feel hungry and have more food cravings.
Although more research is needed on the keto diet and hormones, many studies have noted that keto helps with menopause symptoms.
Can the Keto Diet Help With Menopausal Symptoms?
The answer is yes — a very low-carb diet for menopause can ease the effects of hormonal changes in women. Many who switch to a low-carb plan find that they have better weight loss, mood, mental clarity, and stable energy throughout the day. We’ll be discussing each of these benefits in the next section below.
In contrast, a standard sugar-rich and carbohydrate-rich diet can worsen menopause symptoms. Research shows high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance are associated with hot flashes and night sweats (* , *).
When combining ketosis and menopause, it’s best to do it slowly and gradually. Furthermore, remember that you’re not completely eliminating carbs from your diet, but you’re just reducing the amount.
Potential Benefits of Keto for Menopause
Let’s look at some of the studies showing how keto could be an option in women experiencing menopause:
Prevents weight gain
Declining estrogen levels and the aging process (along with the loss of muscle mass) contribute to weight gain. Limiting your consumption of carbs, which are primarily found in rice, bread, and pasta, will result in weight loss (*).
A 2017 observational study found that a reduced-carbohydrate diet may decrease the risk of weight gain in post-menopausal women. The researchers noted that those who adhered to this diet had greater weight loss than those who ate more carbs — 34.5 % of total energy intake versus 45.4–52.4 % of total energy intake (*).
Helps reduce cravings
Changing hormone levels during menopause can cause lower-quality sleep and fatigue, which then leaves you craving hyper-palatable foods that are high in refined carbs and added sugar (*).
One of the most effective ways to conquer cravings is by following a keto diet. This is likely due to the ability of the keto diet to keep your blood glucose within optimal levels (*). When your blood sugar is constantly fluctuating, your food cravings also increase as a result.
Another mechanism by which keto decreases appetite is by suppressing the hunger hormone ghrelin. Studies have shown that the greater the plasma concentration of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) — one of the ketones produced in ketosis — the smaller the increase in ghrelin (*).
Improves insulin sensitivity
Since women who’ve officially reached menopause are prone to insulin resistance, it’s important to reverse or prevent it from happening.
If left unmanaged, insulin resistance may lead to serious health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer (*). Additionally, people who are insulin resistant are also likely to have more hot flashes (*).
Research shows that consuming fewer carbohydrates not only reduces your energy intake, which causes weight loss, but also improves insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. According to one study, pairing the keto diet with exercise provides the greatest benefit (*).
Raises HDL cholesterol and lowers triglycerides
Another way menopause raises a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease is by increasing triglycerides and decreasing HDL cholesterol (*).
High triglyceride levels lead to the thickening of artery walls, and this increases the likelihood of stroke and heart attacks.
In contrast, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is your good cholesterol, is responsible for carrying cholesterol from parts of your body to your liver. Having higher levels of HDL is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Changing your diet to one that’s consistently low in carbohydrates will lower fasting triglycerides and increase HDL levels. A meta-analysis also noted that a low-carb diet reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure (*).
It helps combat brain fog
Brain fog is not a medical condition but rather a group of symptoms, including forgetfulness, confusion, and difficulty focusing.
While brain fog has different causes — such as a lack of sleep and increased stress — hormonal changes, particularly decreased estrogen and progesterone, can also trigger it (*).
In a previous article, we explained how reducing carbs helps with PMS symptoms by providing ketones to the brain. Ketones serve as a clean and efficient brain fuel, whether a woman is in her reproductive or post-menopausal years.
Potential Risks of Keto for Menopause
Although there’s plenty of research to back the benefits of the keto diet, it may not be realistic or sustainable for some people. The most common concern is the keto flu as a result of carb withdrawal.
Keto flu starts within the first few days of doing keto and may last up to a month. Symptoms include fatigue, headache, nausea, increased hunger and sugar cravings, difficulty sleeping, and digestive issues (diarrhea or constipation).
You can reduce keto flu symptoms by cutting carbs gradually, staying hydrated, taking electrolytes, and getting plenty of rest.
Special considerations are also needed for menopausal women who have an existing medical condition. For example, those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes will need close medical supervision to ensure proper blood glucose monitoring and medication adjustments.
Can the Keto Diet Reverse Menopause?
The answer is no, there’s no diet that reverses or stops menopause. Instead, the keto diet helps women through menopause by controlling its symptoms. It achieves blood sugar control, prevents weight gain, reduces hot flashes, improves cholesterol levels, and increases insulin sensitivity, among other things.
Hormone therapy is a treatment option to replace estrogen or estrogen plus progesterone. Whether or not you’re using keto for menopause, hormone therapy effectively relieves hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms. Note: The addition of progesterone is important to lower the risk of uterine cancer in women who haven’t had their uterus removed (*).
Tips When Going Keto During Menopause
Keto works for many women in different stages of their lives. Before embarking on a very low-carb diet for menopause, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Slowly cut out carbohydrates.
It may be a good idea to gradually reduce your carb intake instead of cutting carbs drastically to 50 grams. You can start with one simple action, such as avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and fruit juice.
If you consume snacks regularly, choose lower-carb snacks, such as boiled eggs, natural cheese, avocados, and nuts.
Animal foods provide you with protein and healthy fats for better satiety and weight loss, while low-carb plant foods serve as sources of fiber.
Focus on healthy fats.
Healthy fats play many important roles for women during menopause. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts, reduce cardiovascular disease risk by reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL cholesterol (*).
Furthermore, healthy fats help enhance the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins benefit menopausal women by:
- Absorbing and retaining calcium (*)
- Maintaining healthy bones (*)
- Regulating mood (*)
- Relieving hot flashes (*)
- Protecting against heart disease (*)
Incorporate exercise into your day.
There’s no doubt that working out makes you feel great. For women during and after menopause, it promotes weight loss and preserves muscle mass.
Protecting your lean muscle as you age doesn’t only increase your metabolic rate, but it also improves cognitive function (*).
Wondering about the types of exercise you can do while on keto? Any exercise works as long as you find it enjoyable and sustainable. Examples are walking, jogging, lifting weights, bodyweight exercises, and yoga.
Try intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting for women has many benefits, including weight loss, anti-aging (due to autophagy), decreased inflammation (which is associated with disease), and mental clarity. When combined with a keto diet, the benefits are greater.
We recommend easing into intermittent fasting by starting with a short fast, such as a 10-hour or 12-hour fast. For example, eating your last meal at 6:00 or 8:00 pm and having breakfast the next day at 6:00 am.
Fasting is generally safe, although you should consult a doctor before giving it a try if you’re taking medications to manage your blood sugar.
Practice stress reduction techniques.
While the keto diet stabilizes your energy levels and improves your metabolic and brain health, which helps with your mood — it’s also important to incorporate stress relief strategies.
Some helpful ideas include spending more time in nature, creating a relaxing nighttime routine for restful sleep, meditating for a few minutes a day, and focusing only on what you can control.
Other Diets for Menopause
Besides keto, what diet options may help reduce menopausal symptoms?
- Atkins diet
- Low-carb Paleo diet
- Whole30 diet
- Carb cycling diet (alternating between days of lower carb and higher carbs)
- Carnivore diet (also known as the zero-carb diet)
Remember that what you fuel your body with significantly impacts your overall health. No matter what type of diet you follow, make sure it meets your vitamin and mineral needs.
Your diet of choice may include certain foods that could trigger menopause symptoms (and other sensitivities or intolerances), so pay attention to how you feel. These triggering foods may include anything spicy, caffeine, and alcohol.
The Bottom Line
Although the keto diet does not reverse menopause, it’s a great way to manage the challenging symptoms of menopause.
By reducing your intake of carbs and increasing healthy fats, weight loss and insulin sensitivity improve. This approach also lowers a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and breast cancer.
Starting today, stock up on keto-friendly foods. Eggs, various types of meat, fatty fish, seafood, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, nuts, and seeds keep carbs low while maximizing your micronutrient intake.
Don’t forget other healthy lifestyle practices that also ease menopause symptoms, such as exercise, stress management, and intermittent fasting.
It takes extra work to make sure you’re keeping yourself in tip-top shape during menopause, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Overall, a healthy lifestyle that includes a keto diet can help you feel better and improve your well-being during this transition!
Bhama S et al. Analysis of the Degree of Insulin Resistance in Post Menopausal Women by Using Skin Temperature Measurements and Fasting Insulin and Fasting Glucose Levels: A Case Control Study. 2012 December 15