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Menopause and Fasting: How Fasting Can Help You Control Your Symptoms

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD November 14, 2022

Menopause is a major event in any woman’s life. It’s a natural process that affects all women, however, it tends to be an uncomfortable experience. You’ve probably heard of the most common menopause symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes, and mood changes. Some of these symptoms go away as your body gets settled into menopause, however, some of them may linger.

Lately, there have been discussions about whether intermittent fasting (IF) can bring any benefits to menopausal women.

Intermittent fasting is a time-restricted eating pattern that has been growing in popularity in recent years. An intermittent fasting cycle consists of a fasting window (caloric restriction) and an eating window (normal calorie intake).

Interestingly, it seems like the positive effects of intermittent fasting may counter some of the menopause symptoms. Let’s have a deeper look at menopause and how intermittent fasting may affect it.

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Is It Safe to Fast Intermittently During Menopause?

Intermittent fasting can positively affect a woman’s health at any age. This means that, yes, you can practice intermittent fasting during menopause. However, much like any health-related practice, it’s not for everyone. You should always listen to your body and cease fasting if you feel that something is not right.

Menopause can be challenging and the benefits of intermittent fasting may be a solution that alleviates some of the menopausal symptoms. Although, it’s important to note that hardly any research has been done specifically on intermittent fasting and menopausal women.

What Is Menopause, and How Long Does It Last?

Menopause is defined as the natural end of menstrual cycles. It marks the end of a woman’s fertile years.

There are three stages of menopause – perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

As women approach menopause, they enter perimenopause, also called the menopausal transition. Perimenopause begins between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts for around 4 years.

A woman is confirmed to be in menopause when she hasn’t had her period for 12 consecutive months. Once a woman has gone more than 12 months without a period, she enters postmenopause. This is the final stage of menopause and will last until the end of a woman’s life.

Menopause symptoms can occur during all three menopause stages, however, they tend to be strongest during the transition period.

Common Symptoms of Menopause

Menopause affects women differently. Some may not feel much of a difference during this transition period, while others may experience numerous side effects that make their day-to-day that much more difficult.

Weight gain

Weight gain is one of the most common symptoms reported by menopausal women. There are several factors that contribute to menopause weight gain, however, decreased estrogen levels remain one of the main culprits responsible for that belly fat that you just can’t seem to get rid of.

Moreover, as both men and women age, they tend to lose muscle mass and, instead, gain more body fat. The reason for this is that lean muscle mass greatly contributes to how fast your metabolism is. In other words, your metabolism suffers when you lose muscle mass.

Weight gain has been shown to negatively affect women, both physically and mentally. Therefore, it’s important to find effective weight control methods to make sure it doesn’t affect women’s quality of life.

If left unchecked, menopause weight gain may turn into becoming overweight or even obese. Significant weight gain has been linked to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep. A mix of factors contributes to the development of insomnia including hormonal changes, hot flashes, and mood disorders.

Most importantly, estrogen, a female sex hormone, significantly decreases during menopause. Low estrogen levels have been shown to increase the number of times a woman wakes up throughout the night.

Research suggests that people are at a higher risk of developing insomnia as they age. Considering that menopause usually starts between the ages of 45-55, this may also contribute to inadequate sleep.

Everyone has those nights when they can’t fall asleep. You may feel tired and groggy throughout the day, but you know you’ll catch up on lost sleep that same night. Insomniacs don’t have that luxury.

Insomnia becomes a real problem when it occurs frequently. It’s also known as chronic insomnia and has been linked to mental health outcomes such as anxiety and depression.

Difficulty concentrating

Over 60% of women between the ages of 40 to 65 report issues with cognitive function such as difficulty concentrating, increased forgetfulness, brain fog, and even short-term memory problems.

Research suggests that women in the early stages of postmenopause experience cognitive problems more than women in other menopausal stages.

There is no definitive answer on why cognitive function worsens during menopause. However, researchers believe that it may be related to hormone changes and decreasing levels of estrogen.

Poor concentration and brain fog can become a real problem at work and affect life at home.

Fasting Benefits That Will Help During Menopause

Before diving into the positive effects of intermittent fasting, it’s important to highlight that the research on intermittent fasting in menopausal women is quite limited.

Nevertheless, the health benefits of intermittent fasting may alleviate some of the side effects of menopause and make this transition period more bearable.

Weight and fat loss

Intermittent fasting initially gained popularity for promoting weight loss. How exactly does intermittent fasting help you lose weight? It all comes down to ketosis which is caused by a calorie deficit. Ketosis is a process during which you burn body fat for energy. You can enter ketosis by fasting for at least 12 hours.

Intermittent fasting can serve as a weight loss tool, however, its benefits don’t stop there. Ketosis, for instance, may also improve metabolic health.

Fasting can help with body weight management for both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. For instance, a study comparing the effectiveness of alternate-day fasting based on sex and menopausal status found that fasting was an effective weight loss tool regardless of whether a woman was in premenopause or postmenopause.

Most importantly, intermittent fasting is not a calorie-restricted diet. In fact, it’s not a diet at all, but an eating pattern that should fit right into your lifestyle.

Keep in mind that even though you don’t have to cut out anything from your diet, overeating, especially unhealthy foods, may hinder your weight loss progress.

Lower insulin resistance

Insulin plays a key role in blood sugar control and metabolism. It moves the sugar from your blood into your cells. When blood sugar levels exceed the normal range, your body increases insulin production which, over many years, can lead to a condition called insulin resistance.

When your body has too much insulin and glucose, it starts storing sugar as fat which leads to weight gain. Research has shown that menopausal women become less sensitive to insulin. This can affect their metabolic health and make them gain weight. Another factor that contributes to low insulin sensitivity is old age.

Intermittent fasting can greatly increase insulin sensitivity and, in turn, reduce insulin resistance. By promoting proper insulin function, IF can contribute to weight loss and may help with managing menopause weight gain.

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Improves mental health and brain fog

Research has shown that intermittent fasting increases the rate of neurogenesis. This is a process responsible for creating new neurons in the brain. In addition, intermittent fasting has been linked to increased BDNF levels. The latter is a protein that can improve learning and memory functions.

As discussed above, menopause may negatively affect the brain. Practicing intermittent fasting may improve brain performance and memory. Furthermore, it may prevent the development of neurological disorders, and, in turn, promote mental health.

It’s important to note that the majority of these studies have been done on animals. Additional research is needed to find out whether intermittent fasting would have the same effect on the human brain.

Improves sleep

As women approach menopause, they tend to encounter sleep issues. Low estrogen levels and aging greatly contribute to sleep disturbances such as insomnia, erratic sleep patterns, and even sleep apnea.

Declining mental health and mood disorders, which are common symptoms of menopause, also play a part in poor sleep.

By practicing intermittent fasting, you can strengthen your peripheral circadian rhythm. The latter is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. This is especially beneficial for women with irregular sleep-wake syndrome.

Intermittent fasting often comes with weight loss which may improve sleep in obese women.

It’s important to note that fasting may worsen sleep quality for some people. If you have a history of sleep disorders, you should consult with your doctor before starting your fasting journey.

Can help balance hormones

A woman’s body produces fewer hormones as they enter menopause. These hormonal changes contribute to most menopausal symptoms. What’s more, is that hormone imbalance is instrumental in menopause weight gain. Low estrogen levels, for instance, have been linked to high food cravings and low satiety.

Studies show that intermittent fasting can regulate hormones such as the above-mentioned insulin and leptin, a hormone that’s directly linked to weight management.

In addition, intermittent fasting may promote hormone secretion, specifically of the human growth hormone (HGH). To put it simply, it can improve your overall bone health. This is especially beneficial as women over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of bone density loss.

Who Should Not Start Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone due to some risk factors. You shouldn’t attempt intermittent fasting if you’re one of the following:

  • Under 18 years old;
  • Underweight or with a history of eating disorders;
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women;
  • Diabetic.

If you have any other medical conditions or you’re unsure whether intermittent fasting is safe for you, please consult with your doctor before attempting intermittent fasting.

More Tips for Managing Menopausal Symptoms at Home

On the days you don’t feel like fasting, you can try out different techniques to combat menopausal symptoms. A myriad of factors plays a role in women’s health, after all.

Exercise to better control your weight

A common misconception is that you can’t work out when intermittent fasting. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, combining exercise with intermittent fasting can enhance the health benefits of IF and help you lose weight faster.

Incorporating exercise into your fasting window may increase fat oxidation and aid weight loss. This is because your body will burn fat stores for fuel instead of your most recent meal.

You can work out while fasting, however, there are some things you should keep in mind.

It’s best to stay away from intense cardio workouts when fasting. Opt for low-intensity cardio instead such as jogging, swimming, or riding a bike.

If you’re new to exercise, try to incorporate simple physical activity such as fast-paced daily walks into your lifestyle. You can also check out beginner and intermittent fasting friendly workouts on the DoFasting app.

Supplement your diet

Should you add supplements to your diet? This is not a simple yes or no question. It varies from person to person.

Generally, people get all of the essential nutrients through a balanced diet. Sometimes healthy meals are not enough, however, and your body needs help absorbing certain vitamins and minerals.

You should aim to get most of your nutrients from food and only incorporate supplements if you have a deficiency. Unfortunately, some deficiencies, like vitamin B12 deficiency, develop with age. Moreover, women require more calcium after reaching menopause.

Taking supplements in the form of a pill will not affect your overall caloric intake and, in turn, will not break your fast. However, most chewable supplements like vitamin gummies contain sugar and will break your fast.

Practice relaxation and breathing techniques

Menopause is a major life event that can feel overwhelming. Stress can be harmful to your health making it crucial to find ways to manage it.

Meditation and breathing techniques are great ways to reduce stress. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, start out with its core component – deep breathing. Begin by getting in a comfortable position, breathe in through your nose, feel your belly expand, then breathe out through your nose.

Another popular breathing technique is called 4-7-8. It’s often praised for its ability to reduce anxiety and help you fall asleep. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 4 times.

Practice is key when it comes to breathing exercises. The more often you do them, the easier it will become to relax and manage your anxiety.

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Menopause and Fasting: Key Takeaways

An intermittent fasting lifestyle has helped some people with weight loss, reversed their insulin resistance, and improved their overall quality of life.

It’s obvious that intermittent fasting offers numerous health benefits, however, there’s hardly any scientific evidence on how it may affect menopausal women. In any case, a time-restricted eating pattern may help with managing menopausal symptoms and reducing body weight.

Author

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD
  • Head of Medical Affairs at Kilo Health
  • Medical Doctor at Vilnius University, Lithuania
  • Partnering with the EU-funded Young50 and EUPAP projects

Kasparas Aleknavicius is a medical doctor that graduated from Vilnius University, working as head of medical affairs at Kilo Health. After nearly 5 years in the industry, Kasparas focuses on digital health and is looking for innovative ways to help people lead healthy lifestyles through digital health and wellness platforms.

You can find Kasparas on LinkedIn and follow his latest research on Medium.

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