Is Fasting Different For Women
Both men and women have been fasting successfully since prehistoric times. Both genders have the same basic machinery to access stored body fat and make ketones to fuel the brain during times of scarcity.
Women, however, should pay special attention to reproductive health while fasting.
There isnt much evidence that fasting impairs fertility in humansbut we know that calorie restriction, nutrient deficiencies, and rapid weight loss can cause irregular periods and disrupt reproductive hormones. If the fasting protocol is too aggressive, this could be an issue.
Similarly, pregnant and nursing women should be careful with fasts longer than 12 or 13 hours. The potential for nutrient deficiency is too high.
Is There Any Science Behind Eat Fast And Live Longer
When I was training as a nutritionist, we were encouraged to fast once a week to give the body a chance to rest and mend, much like a mini-service for the car. There wasnt much science attached to it in those days.
Recent research is being carried out in the U.S. by experts such as Professor Valter Longo, Professor in Gerontology and Biological Science at the USC, and Director of its Longevity Institute. It claims that calorie restriction can help you live longer, live healthier, improve your brain function and lose weight.
There is obviously a lot more research to be carried out on humans. I can tell you that after my first year of practicing the 5:2 diet, my own experience was very positive.
Female Hormones And Intermittent Fasting
Female hormones are more sensitive to diet and other external circumstances. For example, the hunger hormone ghrelin increases as soon as you feel you are underfed.
Because from an evolutionary perspective, reproduction is the stated goal of the female body.
However, periods of hunger or other stress jeopardize the health of the offspring. Moreover, in these exceptional situations, the body focuses on the womans survival. Otherwise, she cannot give birth at all.
Therefore, the following situations can affect the female hormonal balance:
- Infections and inflammation
- Too much exercise
- High stress in everyday life
- Too little sleep
Accordingly, one study shows that excessive caloric restriction can have adverse effects on the release of two female hormones :
- Luteinizing Hormone .
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone .
If these reproductive hormones cannot communicate appropriately with the ovaries, periods, or, in some cases, the entire cycle may stop.
Likewise, the same study states that excessive exercise and psychological stress equally throw hormones out of balance .
However, as long as you do intermittent fasting correctly, it doesnt cause hormonal imbalance.
Above all, intermittent fasting is flexible. Therefore, to get started, choose a schedule fitting your daily routine that doesnt add stress.
If you cant go without breakfast, skip dinner instead. If 16 hours of fasting per day is too much for you, start with 12 or 14.
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Other Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting For Women
In addition to the numerous health benefits, it is the simplicity of intermittent fasting that has made it popular in recent years.
Hence, most common 16/8 intermittent fasting only has two rules:
- Skip breakfast
- Stop snacking
The simpler the rules, the easier it is to implement diets in everyday life.
It also brings a time efficiency to your everyday life that traditional diets cant offer:
- You dont have to prepare breakfast
- Instead, you can establish a morning routine
- You can still enjoy dinner with the family
- You dont have to cook as often, but you cook better quality food
When people start intermittent fasting, they first realize how much time is wasted each day by conventional eating habits.
Additionally, with intermittent fasting, you never have to be prepared. You can do it anytime, anywhere by skipping a meal.
Since Intermittent Fasting is all about the time you dont eat, you dont need any new recipes. On the contrary, you have to choose which food you dont prepare.
Does Intermittent Fasting Affect Women’s Hormones
So far, Dr. Rothberg notes, studies have primarily focused on how IF affects body weight, metabolism and mortality. Limited evidence suggests some hormonal changes, but such changes are almost always associated with overall caloric restriction, so they don’t seem to be unique to IF.
However, young women should be aware that, “When food supply is insufficient to meet metabolic demands, puberty is delayed and ovulation and the normal menstrual cycle is suppressed,” Dr. Rothberg says.
In other words, women run the risk of developing amenorrhea if calorie intake becomes too low, according to a June 2017 review in Seminars in Reproductive Medicine. That’s because a lack of calories can cause changes to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the menstrual cycle. It can also potentially cause a loss of bone density and do potential harm to a developing fetus if a woman was to get pregnant, Dr. Rothberg says.
If your calorie intake remains adequate, though, intermittent fasting alone should not put you at risk for amenorrhea or these other conditions it’s all about overall calorie and nutrient intake.
Other non-hormonal changes that women may experience due to fasting or calorie restriction include cramping, fatigue, headaches, fainting spells and if severe nausea and vomiting, says Dr. Rothberg. These symptoms typically occur due to shifts in electrolyte balance.
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What Are The Potential Drawbacks Of Intermittent Fasting
A main thing to keep an eye on when you start intermittent fasting is low energy, Bach says. Food is fuel for the body, and if youre not getting the right kind of fuel during your non-fasting hours you wont feel good. If you feel low on energy, make sure youre meeting your nutrient needs, especially if youre following a vegetarian or vegan diet as well.
Bach also recommends keeping an eye out for intense cravings, which can be your bodys way of trying to tell you something. For example, craving red meat can be a sign of iron deficiency, and craving citrus can mean that you need more vitamin C. She also notes that it’s important to stay on top of your hydration. Sometimes we confuse thirst for hunger, she says, so really stay on top of your hydration game so you can help keep any kind of appetite shift in check.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, a nutrition therapist in New York City says a main problem with intermittent fasting is that it leads people to become out of touch with what their body is telling them.”With intermittent fasting, since people are only allowing themselves to eat in a certain window of time, they are completely ignoring their internal cues of hunger,” she tells Woman’s Day. “This then often means once they are ‘allowed’ to eat, they are starving, and it can be hard to stop eating.”
You May Deal With Low Blood Sugar
This is why people with diabetes should steer clear of fasting. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia is a side effect of diabetes and insulin medication, but it can happen to non-diabetics, too .
Not eating enough and skipping meals are common triggers for hypoglycemia. So, people prone to hypoglycemia might feel dizzy or have nausea or shaking, warns Dr. Seltzer.
Other symptoms of mild to moderate hypoglycemia include headache, blurred vision, sweating, fatigue, and paleness, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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What Human Studies Tell Us
One study found that while IF improved insulin sensitivity in male subjects, female subjects saw no such improvement. In fact, the glucose tolerance of fasting women actually worsened. Another study examined the effect of alternate day fasting on blood lipids. Womens HDL improved and their triglycerides remained stable mens HDL remained stable and their triglycerides decreased.
Later, both obese men and women dropped body fat, body weight, blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyercides on a fasting regimen. These people were obese, however, and perimenopausal women were excluded from the study, so the results may not apply to leaner people or women in the perimenopausal window.
One study compared continual calorie restriction to intermittent calorie restriction in overweight and obese women. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, but the intermittent restriction group lost significantly more lean body mass. As Ive always said, the kind of weight loss we want isnt weight loss. Its fat loss and lean mass retention .
In the only heretofore extant human study on fasting and chemotherapy, seven females and three males found that IF improved their tolerance to and recovery from chemotherapy.
Takeaway: male and female chemotherapy patients appear to benefit equally from IF.
Start Slow Take Your Time To Get To A Full 12 Hour Fast
There is no reason you need to start out fasting for the full 12 hours. This is not a sprint, its a marathon. It takes time for your body to adjust to not eating especially if you typically have an evening snack or grab breakfast right when you wake.
For me, I typically take my evening supplements around 9pm. Then, I wake up slow and take my time getting ready in the morning.
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Improves Genetic Repair Mechanism
Research has shown that cells have a greater lifespan during famine and times of food scarcity. Fasting mimics this state, helps certain genetic mechanisms, and enhances cellular rejuvenation.
Fasting increases the human growth hormone HGH) which stimulates fat burning, supports muscle and bone development, improves cellular healing, and reduces inflammation. It also acts as an anti-aging serum .
Intermittent Fasting: Women Vs Men
Reading Time: 8 minutes
Like the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting is a trending diet. A quick internet search for intermittent fasting will yield more than ten million search results. These results link to an enormous number of articles touting the amazing health benefits of this style of eating. And many of these articles are backed by ample, sound, and positive research. So, whats not to like about intermittent fasting?
While intermittent fasting can be a great option for men, it is often not as great an option for women. Women need to be aware that intermittent fasting does not affect men and women the same way. Lets explore.
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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.
Reduced Inflammation By Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can help reduce your bodys overall inflammation. This is done through enhanced detoxification.
12 Hour Intermittent Fasting turns on the NRF2 gene pathway, which not only produces a dramatic increase in antioxidant protection and enhanced detoxification, but also decreases inflammation.
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Insulin Resistance And Diabetes
In particular, our Western diets refined carbohydrates and sugars stimulate insulin secretion tremendously.
Since insulin levels that are too high can be life-threatening, the body must protect itself by making cells insulin resistant.
As a result, the cells need even more insulin to react and ensure essential bodily functions. Thus, you set off a vicious cycle. Insulin resistance fuels itself.
Therefore, insulin resistance is not only a major cause of type 2 diabetes but also contributes to other modern diseases:
- Metabolic syndrome and obesity
Nonetheless, researchers have known for more than 50 years that intermittent fasting can combat insulin resistance .
Accordingly, a study of more than 100 overweight women showed that intermittent fasting over six months could reduce insulin levels by 29% and insulin resistance by 19% .
Furthermore, research has underlined intermittent fasting as a safe treatment for insulin resistance .
Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting not only can reverse insulin resistance but also type 2 diabetes .
Who Benefits From Intermittent Fasting
As will be discussed in more depth below, men in particular can benefit from intermittent fasting. The core benefits of intermittent fasting are weight loss and better body composition. But there are also many other health benefits associated with fasting. These include improved testosterone levels and cardiovascular health as well as decreased insulin resistance.
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The Effects Of Intermittent Fasting On Womens Wellness
If youve been following health and nutrition for a while, though, you may have heard that fasting isnt great for women. There is some truth there: while some women feel great when they fast, others run into trouble, particularly with their hormones.
The good news is that there are alternatives to traditional fasting! This article will cover the benefits of fasting and the standard approach to fasting, as well as a couple gentler options that you may prefer if you find you dont do well with full-on daily fasts. Heres everything you need to know about intermittent fasting for women.
My Initial Fasting Experience
Knowing the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting for women, I was eager to give it a try. Unfortunately, I failed MISERABLY at my first attempt. Lets just say I did NOT experience increased energy and clear-mindedness.
The first day I under-ate and couldnt sleep for hunger pangs. The next day, tired and cranky, I overate with the veracity of a starved animal. Thats when my hunger and hormone roller coaster began. And after one full week of this, I had to quit.
As a physician I wondered if other women had experienced something similar. And when I searched the internet, I discovered that, across message boards, blogs and online communities, women were complaining about intermittent fasting and its effect on their hormones. In fact, there was scientific literature that supported all of our experiences.
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The Secret To Intermittent Fasting For Women
By Amy Shah, MD
May 22, 2016
Chances are if you are health and fitness savvy, youve heard of intermittent fasting and its benefits for fat loss and overall health.
But did you know that, if youre a woman, fasting could lead to hormonal imbalance and could lead to fertility issues if not done properly? Here, well discuss the best ways for women to enjoy the positive aspects of intermittent fasting without putting their health at risk.
Are There Any Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting For Women
Based on what we know, intermittent fasting probably affects reproductive health if the body sees it as a significant stressor.
Anything that affects your reproductive health affects your overall health and fitness.
Even if you dont plan to have biological kids.
But intermittent fasting protocols vary, with some being much more extreme than others. And factors such as your age, your nutritional status, the length of time you fast, and the other stressors in your lifeincluding exerciseare also likely relevant.
And, as we mentioned in the research update box above, there may be some support for trying intermittent fasting in women who have PCOS.
But for most women, intermittent fasting is probably not the best approach.
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So Is Intermittent Fasting Bad For Women
Well, not necessarily.
But certainly, fasting is not for everyone.
And the truth is, some women shouldnt even bother experimenting. Dont try intermittent fasting if:
- youre pregnant
- you have a history of disordered eating
- youre chronically stressed
- you dont sleepwell
- youre new to diet and exercise
Pregnant women have extra energy needs. So if youre starting a family, intermittent fasting isnt a good idea.
Ditto if youre under chronic stress or if you arent sleeping well. Your body needs nurturing, not additional stress.
And if youve struggled with disordered eating in the past , you probably recognize that a fasting protocol could lead you down a path that might create further problems for you.
Why Its Hard For Women To Get A Six
We know low-energy diets can reduce fertility in women. So can being super lean. 3 4 5
When you think about it, it makes good evolutionary sense that the body might want a little emergency padding on the abdomen.
Human females are unique in the mammalian world. Get this: Nearly all other mammals can terminate or pause a pregnancy when conditions arent right.
If it doesnt seem like a good time to raise young, embryonic development is paused until conditions improve .6
Youve known this since middle school health class: Female humans cant pause pregnancies.
In humans, the placenta breaches the maternal blood vessels, and the fetus is in complete control.
The baby can block the action of insulin in order to hoard more glucose for itself. It can even make the mothers blood vessels dilate, adjusting blood pressure to get more nutrients.
That baby is determined to survive no matter what the cost to the mother. This phenomenon, which scientists actually compare to the host-virus relationship, is whats known as maternal-fetal conflict.7 8
Once a woman becomes pregnant, she cant sweet-talk the fetus to stop growing. The result: Fertility at the wrong timelike, during a famine could be fatal.
Hence, a little calorie-storage pooch is reproductively protective in case times get tough.
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