What Women Over 50 Should Know About Intermittent Fasting
For women approaching menopause, weight loss can seem like a struggle for a variety of reasonsmost of them related to a shift in hormonal balance. Its no wonder that intermittent fasting has become so popular for women over 50 with its promise of amping up metabolism, reversing cellular damage and improving mental clarity.
Lets take a look at what happens to womens hormones as we approach and enter menopause, and what the science says about whether intermittent fasting can help counter some of these imbalances.
Intermittent Fasting And Your Libido
Once again , the research is lacking on women, libido, and intermittent fasting. A study on men who fasted during Ramadan found fasting decreased their sexual desire and frequency of sexual activity, but studies on women are sparse.
Since fasting can impact hormone balance and potentially decrease estrogen, it could negatively affect sexual desire, but no studies expressly point to this. Fasting could also negatively impact your energy or mood if taken too far, which can decrease your desire to have sex.
On the other hand, if fasting works for you and you feel healthy or notice positive physical changes in your body, then it could help with libido. Weight and confidence in our bodies directly impact sexual desire, something backed by research, but also most of us have experienced first-hand. So for women who do well with fasting, a welcomed side effect could be improved libido.
Why Intermittent Fasting Is Beneficial
Intermittent fasting is a scheduled way of eating where you fast for a period of time, generally 12-16 hours or more. For weight loss, this helps to reduce your overall calorie intake and trains your body to become a fat-burning machine.
But studies have revealed intermittent fasting has many potential benefits including:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased energy
- Enhanced cognitive function and memory
- Improved heart health
- Reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases
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Which Intermittent Fasting Is Best For Hormonal Belly
There are a variety of different Intermittent Fasting methods that can be used â and this first step is crucial for specifically addressing hormonal belly fat . The two main forms of fasting include Alternate Day Fasting and Time Restricted Eating.
Alternate Day Fasting is a method where you fast for 24 hours, then you eat ânormallyâ for the next 24 hours. In essence, you fast for a full day, every other day.
Time Restricted Eating is a method where you fast for shorter periods of time every day. Common examples of Time Restricted Eating include fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours or fasting for 12 hours and eating for 12 hours .
At first glance, it might seem that the longer fast should win when it comes to decreasing belly fat. However, one recent 2021 study found that in rats, ADF resulted in lipolysis in belly fat.
On the flip side, a study done in humans using TRE with a daily 16 hour fast found an increase in fat breakdown and a reduction in belly fat.
If youâre looking to lose belly fat with Intermittent Fasting, the TRE method has been shown to be more effective.
However now you have to choose which method of TRE will be best for you. Check out my free Intermittent Fasting Schedule Quiz below to determine your Intermittent Fasting Schedule.
The Science Of The Hormones Behind Cravings
The array of hormone changes during menopause are likely making you crave particular foods in higher than normal quantities. When we eat certain foods, our brain becomes excited and in turn creates happy, positive feelings. These good feelings make us want to keep eating those foods, regularly.3,4The types of foods that create this happy brain are called hyper-palatable foods aka comfort foods because they are quick and easy to digest. Comfort foods are typically sweet, salty, and/or fatty. Most people eat these types of food when they are tired and are looking for a late-night snack. By reducing the number of hours you eat, you can reduce the consumption of these comfort foods for successful weight loss.5
If all of the hormones in our bodies are balanced, we can sit down and eat a normal meal and our appetite hormone leptin will be released at the right levels to tell our brain that we are full and to stop eating. Then, if the body hasnt had any food for several hours, the hormone ghrelin is released from the stomach and signals our brain that we are hungry again.When we are in menopause and our estrogen and progesterone levels are low, it can lead to increased food cravings and less satisfaction after eating.35 The good news is that you can decrease your feelings of hunger directly by normalizing your estrogen levels with HRT which can also suppress hunger by decreasing levels of ghrelin and increasing the effectiveness of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.4
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Bottom Line: Intermittent Fasting For Women Over 50
While intermittent fasting shows promise, we dont have solid evidence about the benefits or how fasting might affect women over 50 specifically. Human studies have looked mostly at small groups of young or middle-aged adults and for only short periods of time.
Since many of the benefits of intermittent fasting can be linked to a reduction in calories, this style of eating may make it easier to stick to a calorie-restricted diet by providing structure and a set time for ingesting those calories.
As with any diet plan, intermittent fasting should be individualized to a persons specific lifestyle, nutrient needs, medication intake, physical activity and all factors that play into living a nutritious lifestyle.
If you do want to give IF a go, make sure youre still eating in a healthy way, which means getting all of the proper nutrients from the calories you are consuming. Focusing on real, whole foods, getting in healthy fat, fiber and protein while skipping out on processed, sugar-laden foods that will derail your wellness goals.
Intermittent Fasting In Aging Women
Puberty, periods, maybe pregnancy and postpartum. What a rollercoaster.
Then comes menopause, another hormonal transition point in womens lives that can stir us up physically, psychologically, and socially.
Women in this phase may be returning to themselves after decades of being devoted to children, spouses, and careers. Or, they may be busier than ever, taking care of aging parents and young adult kids.
Whatever the context, increasing age often triggers a desire to focus on health.
Some women become interested in intermittent fasting because of its association with longevity. Others just want to lose fat in an uncomplicated way.
While we dont have quality science on whether or not intermittent fasting is beneficial to women who are menopausal or post-menopausal, we do know that restricting food is also a stressor.
Women who worry about limiting food intake to manage body weight tend to have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than women who dont.24 Add that to the sleep disruptions so common in menopause, and your stress bucket is getting pretty full.
Lower estrogen levels also means your body has a decreased capacity to deal with stress. That bucket fills up quicker than it used to.
Even though many stressors are good for uslike exercise, learning, and changethey only make us stronger if we give ourselves the chance to recover from them.
So, if youre a woman in this hormonal phase, try intermittent fasting only if:
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Metabolic Testing Options For Fasting Patients
If you and your patient decide that intermittent fasting could complement their current treatment plan, and provide health benefits, consider the following testing to monitor metabolic progress and the effects of intermittent fasting.
At Access Medical Labs, we offer results within 24 hours, so you can quickly get a baseline on file, review the data and give your patient the green light to get started with intermittent fasting. Then, set up regular check-ins and follow-up testing to chart hormonal imbalances and fluctuations.
Learn more about our precision testing solutions for physicians here.
So How Do You Control It
Many people complain that they are intermittently fasting and following the keto-biotic diet but arent seeing results. Thats because your hormones are out of sync and messing up your results.
With intermittent fasting, you can regulate all of your body processes by regulating these six hormones. While fasting, dont worry about results like losing weight. Treat Intermittent fasting as a lifestyle change and try as much as possible to keep your oxytocin levels up.
Play with your pets, watch a comedy, give and receive hugs from your loved ones. Whatever you do, be happy so that your cortisol levels would drop. Only then will you see the changes you want to experience.
For estrogen and progesterone, know when and how to fast based on your cycle. Women are sensitive to fasting, so you have to watch how much and when you fast within their cycle.
Intermittent fasting can give us a better grip on our hormones and help us meet our goals for fasting in the first place.
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The Side Effects And Risks Of Intermittent Fasting
It seems like a no-brainer to add fasting to your daily habits with all these potential benefits and that is in fact the allure that has so many people jumping in. But there are a few things to consider before starting, especially for women.
Like any other significant change to the way you eat, you should talk to a health care provider before starting any type of fast. Even gentle fasting can carry risks, especially for people who have:
- A history of eating disorders or disordered eating habits.
- Diabetes or hypoglycemia, especially if you take medications that lower blood sugar.
- Trouble gaining sufficient weight or people working through nutrient deficiencies.
- A history of electrolyte imbalances, especially with longer periods of fasting.
It’s not that you can’t fast if you fall into any of these categories, but it makes it extra important to ensure you have the proper guidance to see if it’s safe for you. I cant stress enough, if you have a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, it is best to discuss it with a qualified health practitioner before beginning. The potential risk may not outweigh the benefits.
In some cases, fasting should be avoided altogether:
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding.
- History of amenorrhea or concerns with fertility or missing ovulation.
- High stress or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation .
Additionally, there are a few reported side effects, but most of them are generally mild, including:
May Extend Your Lifespan Helping You Live Longer
One of the most exciting applications of intermittent fasting may be its ability to extend lifespan.
Studies in rodents have shown that intermittent fasting extends lifespan in a similar way as continuous calorie restriction .
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to increase the lifespans of fruit flies 30443-3.pdf” rel=”nofollow”> 43 ).
In some of these studies, the effects were quite dramatic. In an older study, rats that were fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats who werent fasted .
In a 2017 study, mice that were fasted every other day saw their lifespans increase by around 13% .
Daily fasting was also shown to improve the overall health of male mice. It helped delay the onset of conditions such as fatty liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma, which are both common in aging mice 30512-6″ rel=”nofollow”> 46 ).
Although this is far from being determined in humans, intermittent fasting has become very popular among the anti-aging crowd.
Given the known benefits for metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
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But Why Does Eating Less Put Our Bodies On Alert
For many years, scientists believed a womans body fat percentage regulated her reproductive system.
The idea was this: If your fat stores dipped below a certain percentagesomewhere around 11 percenthormones would get messed up and your period would stop.
Boom: no chance of pregnancy.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this made a lot of sense. For our ancestors, who didnt have access to Costco and Amazon, a low food supply would be cause for major concern.
So if you were losing body fat, your body might assume there isnt much to eat, and try to prevent reproduction.
But the situation is actually more complicated than that. Female bodies seem to go on alert even before body fat drops.
As a result, women who arent especially lean can also stop ovulating and lose their periods.
Thats why scientists now suspect that overall energy balancehow many calories youre eating versus how many youre burningmay be more important to this process than body fat percentage.
Intermittent Fasting During Menopause
Menopause, one of the biggest hormonal changes in a woman’s life, is another common concern.
As you approach your 50s, the average age when menopause begins, estrogen and progesterone levels naturally go down. You also become less sensitive to insulin.
These hormonal changes can slow down your metabolism, making you more prone to weight gain. They can also cause other uncomfortable symptoms like mood changes, fatigue, brain fog, and psychological stress.
This brings up questions about whether peri- and postmenopausal women should take up fasting.
Bhatia calls intermittent fasting an ideal tool to help get you through the discomfort of menopause, explaining, “If you’re struggling with weight gain, fatigue, and/or insulin resistance during menopause, you may want to give it a try.”
Of course, you don’t have to just take her word for it. Research shows that intermittent fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity and promote fat loss.
In one specific animal study, researchers found that intermittent fasting helped improve insulin resistance in obese postmenopausal mice, even without calorie restriction.
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Can Help You Lose Weight And Visceral Fat
Many of those who try intermittent fasting are doing it to lose weight .
Generally speaking, intermittent fasting will make you eat fewer meals.
Unless you compensate by eating much more during the other meals, youll end up taking in fewer calories.
Additionally, intermittent fasting enhances hormone function to facilitate weight loss.
Lower insulin levels, higher HGH levels, and increased amounts of norepinephrine all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy.
For this reason, short-term fasting actually increases your metabolic rate, helping you burn even more calories .
In other words, intermittent fasting works on both sides of the calorie equation. It boosts your metabolic rate and reduces the amount of food you eat .
According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 38% over 324 weeks. This is a huge amount .
The study participants also lost 47% of their waist circumference over 624 weeks, which indicates that they lost lots of visceral fat. Visceral fat is the harmful fat in the abdominal cavity that causes disease .
One 2011 review also showed that intermittent fasting caused less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction .
However, a 2020 randomized trial looked at people who followed the 16/8 method. In this diet, you fast for 16 hours a day and have an 8-hour window to eat.
Improves Your Relationship With Food
Mindless snacking, emotional eating, binge eating, overeating, and craving unhealthy, sugary junk food is a common problem in our modern world. When you begin intermittent fasting, you may notice that you stop relying on food as a crutch when youre bored, stressed, or otherwise emotional. Fasting may help to repair food addictions and reset your neurochemistry. While practicing IF you will notice that you become more mindful when it comes to food.
Females: Effects Of Intermittent Fasting On Reproductive Hormone Concentrations
Estradiol is a naturally occurring form of estrogen . It is the main female reproductive hormone and is involved in the development and maintenance of female reproductive tissues and the regulation of the menstrual cycle . Women with overweight and obesity have higher levels of estrogens relative to their normal-weight counterparts . An increase in estrogens derived from excess adiposity is linked to adverse health outcomes such as polycystic ovarian syndrome , anovulation, and increased breast cancer risk . Weight loss interventions have been shown to reduce estrogen levels among females with obesity .
Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition characterized by high levels of androgens, i.e., testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate , and androstenedione. In females, hyperandrogenism is portrayed by hirsutism , seborrhea , and disorders in the menstrual cycle . Studies have reported that hyperandrogenism promotes insulin resistance and visceral adiposity among females by decreasing whole-body glucose uptake . In females with PCOS and obesity, weight loss has been shown to decrease testosterone and androstenedione levels while increasing SHBG concentrations . Abnormal androgen status is measured by the free androgen index . The FAI is a ratio that is calculated by dividing total testosterone by sex hormone-binding globulin and then multiplying by 100.
2.1.6. Females: Summary of Findings
Intermittent Fasting And Your Period
A small study that followed 15 women with PCOS over six weeks found that fasting for 16 hours significantly improved body weight and other markers of insulin resistance and inflammation. While it was only a small study, it’s worth noting that the authors noted that more than 70 percent of the women had improvements in their menstrual cycles.
However, another review found evidence that longer fasts increased cycle lengths in overweight or obese women. Three days of fasting also affected luteinizing hormone dynamics for women with regular menstrual cycles. This study concluded that while none of these changes were dramatic, more research is needed to understand exactly how caloric restriction during fasting impacts women’s hormones.
Needless to say, the science behind fasting and your period is inconclusive and depends on many factors, but overdoing it with longer fasts or extensive calorie restriction may not be ideal for hormone balance.
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