A lot of women are wondering if a Keto diet makes sense during the transition to menopause. They’re considering if a low-carb diet can help with hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, and other symptoms of this challenging process.
But while there is research on Keto for postmenopausal women[*], there isn’t much data on Keto and menopause. There are, however, clues in the literature.
The clues indicate both potential benefits and risks of eating Keto around menopause. It’s not black and white. The human body is complicated, and menopause only complicates things further.
Let’s cover the basics of menopause first, then we’ll see how Keto fits in. Keep reading.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle for at least 12 months. It’s a normal occurrence that’s part of the aging process.
Most women experience menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, but about 5% become menopausal between 40 and 45, and about 1% before 40.[*]
When someone says they’re “going through menopause,” they’re referring to the transition period from premenopause to postmenopause.[*] This transition period, which often lasts 5 to 10 years, is called perimenopause.
The signal that kicks off this transition is when the ovaries start to run out of eggs.
When the ovaries start to run out of eggs, they no longer respond to a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which in turn prevents the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and the release of an egg (ovulation) each month. As a result, estrogen falls and menstruation ceases.[*]
But it’s not an on-off switch. The transition is usually gradual and often bumpy.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
What symptoms should a woman expect during perimenopause? Let’s see what the stats say.[*]
About 75% of women experience vasomotor symptoms during perimenopause. These include hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, and palpitations.
About 60% of women experience urogenital symptoms like low libido, sexual dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and increased urgency (to pee).
And about 45% of women experience psychogenic symptoms like insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, loss of confidence, and loss of self-esteem.
Another common symptom is weight gain, especially around the belly. This is probably the symptom that Keto is best for remediating.
Keto for Menopause: Potential Benefits
Is Keto the best diet for menopausal women? That’s not clear yet, but here are some potential benefits.
#1: Weight loss
Many women going through menopause have difficulty losing weight. Or they gain weight.
Keto may also be effective for weight loss after menopause. One study found that obese postmenopausal women lost an average of 20 pounds after 25 days of ketogenic dieting.[*]
#2: Hormonal health
The fall in estrogen during perimenopause not only disrupts menstruation. It also disrupts insulin function.[*]
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and fat-burning capacity. When insulin function is compromised (a condition called insulin resistance), it can be harder to lose fat.[*] This, unfortunately, may contribute to menopause-related weight gain.
Hot flashes are the most notorious symptoms of menopause. But what causes them?
Inflammation is a likely culprit. Researchers have found that various inflammatory markers are elevated in perimenopausal women with hot flashes and night sweats.[*]
Keto for Menopause: Potential Risks
Before covering the potential risks of Keto for menopause, a quick disclaimer: The Keto diet isn’t for everyone. In particular, underweight people, those with a history of eating disorders, children, and pregnant or nursing women should be cautious with carb restriction.
Also, those using Keto to manage a chronic condition (like type 2 diabetes or cancer) should do so only with medical supervision.
With that said, here are more specific risks:
#1: Keto flu
Many people experience headaches, brain fog, muscle cramps, low energy, constipation, or insomnia when first going Keto. These symptoms are often referred to as Keto flu.
Perimenopause is challenging enough without Keto flu symptoms. Because of this, menopausal women may want to hold off on Keto. (Note: you’ll learn useful tips soon for preventing Keto flu).
#2: May raise cholesterol levels
Around menopause, falling estrogen causes blood vessels to constrict and LDL cholesterol levels to rise. Both represent a potential increase in heart disease risk.[*]
A Keto diet may also raise LDL cholesterol levels. In one small study, a Keto diet led to a 39% rise in LDL cholesterol in young, healthy women.[*]
Why? Researchers believe that an increase in dietary saturated fat is to blame.
Tips for Going Keto During Menopause
If you decide to go Keto during menopause, consider these tips to ease the transition:
- Take electrolytes. Keto flu symptoms are often caused by electrolyte deficiencies.
- Eat non-starchy vegetables. Getting enough fiber helps prevent constipation, a common Keto flu symptom.
- Reduce saturated fat. If your LDL cholesterol spikes on Keto, consider shifting your fat calories towards monounsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Get enough sleep. For concentration, fat burning capacity, appetite management, mood, and much more—7 to 9 hours of sleep is the ticket.[*][*][*]
- Manage stress. When you're stressed, it not only increases irritability but also the fat-storage hormone, cortisol.[*]
- Track macros. Dial in your fat, protein, and carb ratios on Keto with the help of the Carb Manager app.
- Exercise. A daily exercise routine mitigates disease risk and improves quality of life in most humans, including menopausal women.[*]
- Be realistic with weight loss goals. Keto is a lifestyle, not a 14-day weight loss diet. Be patient.
One last note. Keto probably isn’t the best menopause diet for every woman, but it’s worth experimenting with. Follow the above tips, listen to your body, and (if possible) track your bloodwork and you’ll be in a good position to succeed.