Keto is the hottest diet trend. And it's no surprise! It burns fat and triggers weight loss—what's not to love about that?
But there's something else that hasn't been widely publicized: A properly executed ketogenic diet can help restore balance to out-of-whack female sex hormones. In my practice, I've also seen it mitigate weight gain, hot flashes, near-zero energy, low sex drive, bone loss, mood swings, and other troublesome symptoms associated with perimenopause, menopause, PMS, and post-menopause.
In my new book The Hormone Fix, I write about why I think it's the perfect diet for women who are going through major hormone changes or dealing with symptoms related to hormone fluctuations. As a gynecologist and women's health expert, I employ ketogenic nutrition to help women fix their hormones and keep them feeling healthy, especially as they get older. Here's how and why the ketogenic diet can come to your rescue:
1. It focuses on fat for better hormone support.
Fat is your best friend on a ketogenic diet. On a true keto diet, roughly 75 percent of your calories should come from healthy fat sources such as avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, butter, olives and olive oil, and other high-fat foods. These "good" fats support hormone production and maintain hormone balance because they are the building blocks for estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. For too long, we've been told to be wary of fat, and thus we slashed fat in favor of carbs. This was a mistake, and personally, I believe that this low-fat movement contributed to the hormonal challenges many women face today.
2. It boosts insulin sensitivity by reducing carb intake.
A keto diet restricts carbohydrates to 20 to 50 grams a day. This helps balance insulin levels. Insulin is a master hormone that controls blood sugar, and when it's too high and out of balance, your sex hormone levels can drop.
Luckily, following a ketogenic diet makes your body more "insulin sensitive." This means insulin is well-regulated, in balance, and used properly by your cells. A study published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed a ketogenic diet increased insulin sensitivity by 75 percent in obese people with diabetes. While studies have yet to be conducted on the general population, the results are still promising.
When you're insulin sensitive, all sorts of metabolic miracles happen. You stay slim and get fit more easily; you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia; you tend to not have hot flashes or night sweats; and you rebuild your bone health so that you're less at risk for frailty and osteoporosis. Cravings become a distant memory, and you feel and look healthy and energized.
3. It eases premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by detoxing the body.
PMS produces a lot of really uncomfortable symptoms, including cramps, cravings, moodiness, irritability, depression, acne, and fatigue. The underlying cause is often estrogen dominance, or having too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. One of the causes of estrogen dominance is a diet comprised of too much sugar and refined carbohydrates—a problem easily eliminated by going on a ketogenic diet.
Another cause of estrogen dominance is exposure to estrogens in the environment. These are toxic forms of estrogen that not only worsen PMS symptoms, but they are through to increase the risk of breast cancer, endometriosis, fertility struggles, and autoimmune diseases. If you opt for a primarily plant-based keto diet, you're encouraged to eat foods that detoxify these nasty estrogens like veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and greens and delicious herbs and spices like oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and turmeric.
4. It boosts reproductive health by combating PCOS.
One of the main causes of fertility struggles in women is polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. This condition develops from poorly balanced sex hormones, and more than half of the women diagnosed with PCOS are obese or overweight, have poor blood sugar regulation, and have insulin resistance. There's no cure for PCOS, but because insulin problems are associated with PCOS, a ketogenic diet is a viable solution. Duke University researchers found that women with PCOS who followed a keto diet were able to balance their levels of insulin and testosterone and experience improvements in weight, fertility problems, and menstruation among other factors. Two women in the study got pregnant despite previous trouble getting pregnant, and everyone lost weight.
5. It zaps stress to protect the adrenals.
In response to life's many stressors, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol to galvanize energy so we can react quickly to whatever challenge we're facing. If our stress goes unresolved, the adrenals keep pumping out cortisol, resulting in too much cortisol floating around. The ongoing secretion of high amounts of cortisol robs your body of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, and if this keeps happening, you're more likely to experience imbalanced sex hormones, high blood sugar, loss of muscle, low sex drive, and burnout.
To combat this, enjoy all those low-carbohydrate vegetables you typically eat on a ketogenic diet (plenty of green leafy vegetables, parsley, kale, beet greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and so forth). They may help normalize cortisol, support your adrenal glands, and improve your natural progesterone levels.
The keto diet isn't for everyone, but for a lot of women in my practice it's been a game-changer for hormonal imbalance and hormone-related symptoms. If you're suffering or just not feeling your best, the keto diet is definitely worth a try!
Dr. Anna Cabeca is a menopause and sexual health expert currently working in Georgia. She received her doctor of osteopathic medicine in gynecology and obstetrics from the Emory University School of Medicine. Cabeca is the creator of many products for hormone and dietary support and is the author of The Hormone Fix, a comprehensive diet and lifestyle plan for women approaching or in menopause. She has been featured on NBC, CBS, and ABC and in the Huffington Post and Reader's Digest.