The Ketogenic diet (or Keto for short) is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It shares many similarities with the very popular in the early 2000’s Atkins diet and the ever popular low-carb diet.
The Keto diet involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake to about 5% of your totally daily energy intake (calories/kilojoules) and replacing it will fats and protein so that the body naturally enters a metabolic state known as ketosis.
It’s at the stage of ketosis that our body burns fat as its primary source of energy by turning it into ketones in the liver. This is why the keto diet can be exceptionally efficient for weight loss. In fact, the diet has even been found to help people lose 2 to 3 times more weight than those on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet or condition specific guidelines.1,2
What are the benefits?
Weight loss aside, the keto diet has a number of other potential health benefits which encourages many people to choose it as their preferred way of eating long-term. These include:
lower blood sugar levels
lower insulin levels
lower cholesterol levels
lower blood pressure
reduced intake of sugar and processed foods
As a result the keto diet has become very popular amongst those with diabetes, prediabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, acne and even polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
But is the keto diet healthy for our female hormones?
Unfortunately, the keto diet does have the potential to wreak absolute havoc on the menstrual cycle.
Carbohydrates are essential to keep our hormones 'switched on' and working in harmony. Withdrawal of carbohydrates can turn off the communication between our brain and ovaries as our body is in an energy deficient state.
In fact, I have experienced this very phenomenon myself when testing out the keto diet. It only took 3 weeks on a strict ketogenic calorie-restricted protocol for me to completely lose my cycle – and a good few months to get it back to normal!
We know that the hypothalamus has glucose-sensing neurons that require a minimum amount of glucose in the blood to trigger luteinizing hormone (LH) and ovulation. A lack of ovulation due to under-eating calories or under-eating carbohydrates is known as hypothalamic amenorrhea and will result in irregular cycles or no cycle at all.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
On the flip side of the coin some women do well on a low-carb or keto diet. They may even regain a period that they lost to a high-carb diet, particularly if they had insulin resistance heading in to it. It’s just incredibly important to be aware of whether a restrictive diet might have any further effect on your hormones down the track.
So which diet is right for me?
Here at JWN we are big advocates of #eatequal – eating a balanced diet of wholefoods that includes all macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates. We don’t believe that you need to completely get rid of one in order to have a healthy weight and it certainly might not lead to healthy hormones.
Cutting down on carbohydrates is certainly one way of improving insulin resistance (which effects roughly 70% of women suffering from PCOS) but there is a better way to go about it to avoid hypothalamic amenorrhoea. And that’s to cut sugar first – not all carbohydrates. This is because fructose induces insulin resistant more strongly than other foods.3
The Keto diet can be a fantastic way to lose weight and we certainly support anyone who comes into our clinic wishing to give it a go; but we don’t recommend it as a long-term lifestyle choice.
Bottom line: The Keto diet can BOTH positively and negatively affect your hormones. Chat with one of our naturopaths to see if it is right for you BEFORE making any changes to your diet.