Intermittent Fasting and Menopause: Does it Help?
Intermittent fasting has developed into a popular lifestyle choice in recent years and for good reason. Many studies have linked intermittent fasting to a range of health benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, and better overall health.
But can intermittent fasting help with menopause? This blog post will answer that question and explore the potential benefits of intermittent fasting for menopause.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
Known also as IF, it’s an eating pattern that alternates between periods of eating and not eating. During the fasting period, people typically do not consume any food or beverages except for water, black coffee, and tea.
Intermittent fasting can also involve skipping meals or reducing calorie intake for a set period of time.
One of the most popular IF methods is time-restricted eating (TRE), in which you eat only within a certain window of time each day, such as eating between 11 am and 7 pm.
Other types of IF include alternate-day fasting, 5:2 fasting, and 4:3 fasting. In these eating patterns, you eat up to 500 calories in the fasting days and without restriction on the eating days.
How Can Intermittent Fasting Help with Menopause?
Research has shown that IF can be effective for weight loss.
A 2020 review of 27 studies showed a weight loss between 0.8% and 13% among those who practiced IF, with five of those also showing improved blood sugar control.
Weight loss was also noted in a 2022 review of 47 studies.
The most obvious reason why people lose weight on IF is that they are eating fewer calories. People tend to especially cut out unhealthy night snacks, which are often consumed mindlessly.
Weight loss can also occur as a result of better insulin resistance and the regulation of hunger hormones.
Menopause causes fluctuations in hormone levels which may impact how the body uses insulin.
During menopause, the decrease in estrogen levels can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which is the cells’ ability to respond to insulin, leading to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can cause high blood sugar, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues.
Intermittent fasting can also lower the risk of diabetes and help manage blood glucose in those already diagnosed with type II diabetes.
Managing glucose is key to decreasing the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
Insulin resistance makes weight loss more difficult. Thus, lowering insulin resistance can lead to easier weight management.
Hunger Hormone Balance
A small but fascinating study suggests that time-restricted eating can help curb hunger and appetite.
In this study, participants ate for a period of 6 hours (8 am to 2 pm) and fasted for the rest of the day. During the fasting periods, the hormone ghrelin decreases, making the study participants less hungry. This type of IF also improves metabolic flexibility, which is the ability of the body to switch from burning glucose to burning fat for energy.
According to a study conducted in 2022, a group of participants who followed intermittent fasting for 12 weeks showed improvements in gut health and weight loss.
This is important, as early research suggests that an unhealthy gut is associated with increased fat, decreased metabolic rate, and insulin resistance. All of these issues make weight loss difficult.
Moreover, a healthy gut can significantly improve menopause-related digestion issues, like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, nausea, and indigestion.
Please note that more research is necessary to make a strong argument about using IF to improve gut health.
The transition to menopause can produce inflammation, which can worsen many menopause symptoms, including weight gain. Then weight gain can, in turn, increase inflammation.
New research indicates that intermittent fasting could help reduce inflammation, with fewer symptoms and improved overall health.
However, more research is necessary to make any conclusions.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
Intermittent fasting is generally considered safe for healthy adults. However, fasting can:
- Make you feel dizzy and fatigued
- Cause too much weight loss in those who are already thin
- Lower blood glucose too much, resulting in a medical emergency
- Increase the risk of developing an eating disorder
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not intermittent fasting is right for you.
If you have diabetes and are taking insulin or any other glucose-lowering medication, you MUST talk to your physician to adjust your medications before starting this type of eating plan. Typically, medications are planned for a larger eating window. Thus, IF can lower blood glucose to a dangerous level.
IF is not recommended for anyone who has an eating disorder.
Tips for Intermittent Fasting During Menopause
How to Start
Easing into intermittent fasting can make for an easier transition, as it gives your body time to adjust. Start small and increase the duration of fasting slowly.
For example, you could start by fasting for 12 hours a day and then gradually increase it to 15 or 16 hours at a time. The schedule for this example could look like this:
Week One: fast from 8 pm to 8 am
Week Two: fast from 8 pm to 9 am
Week Three: fast from 7 pm to 10 am
Week Four: Fast from 7 pm to 11 am
Choose an Eating Window That Works for You
The schedule will depend on the IF method you choose. Example 16:8 method
8:00 am First meal
4:00 pm Last meal finishes
11:00 am First meal
7:00 pm Last meal finishes
2:00 pm First meal
10:00 pm Last meal finishes
These are just examples; you can choose any schedule that works with your lifestyle.
Drink Enough Liquid
Hydration is always important for good health, but It’s especially crucial to stay hydrated while fasting. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can not only prevent dehydration but also improve mental functioning and help with the transition into fasting.
What to Eat on IF
There are no rules about what to eat on an intermittent fasting strategy. However, it works best when combined with an eating plan.
For women in menopause, this plan should support hormone balance by including enough protein, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables and fruits. Carbohydrates should be carefully selected to add fiber and nutrients to the overall diet.
Of course, you will want to minimize sugar, fried food, junk food, and alcohol.
The Mediterranean diet is for you if you want to avoid strict regimens.
This eating plan emphasizes whole foods, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, and plenty of vegetables. It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, beans, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
Intermittent fasting combined with a Mediterranean diet can help women in menopause manage their weight while still getting the nutrients they need. Plus, it’s absolutely delicious!
Best Macros for Menopause
Keeping track of your macros can be helpful in losing weight as it ensures that you are getting the right balance of nutrients to support your weight loss goals.
The perfect breakdown of macros will depend on your individual needs, but a: general breakdown looks like this:
- Protein: eat protein with all your meals and most snacks. A great goal is to get 30% of your total calories from this nutrient.
- Healthy Fats: Add healthy fats to your meals and snacks. Aim to get 25-30% of your total calories from fat.
- Healthy Carbohydrates: A diet lower in this macronutrient works best at around 40% of your calories. It’s essential to choose carefully, though. Eat plenty of vegetables, some fruits, and other carbohydrates that are high in fiber. Also, items like beans or Greek yogurt make an excellent source of carbohydrates.
Track your macros with an app like Chronometer or MyFitness Pal. Or get your individualized macros with a device like Lumen.
Read more on the best macros for menopause.
My Expert Opinion
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial for women going through menopause. To prevent any potential dangers, I suggest a moderate fast, like the 16:8 or 15:9 methods.
In practice, I often see that when patients follow IF, they naturally cut the unhealthy night snacks. In general, it’s much easier for people to maintain healthy eating during the daytime, and they find it harder to control their cravings at night.
Other good side effects of IF, such as reducing insulin resistance, can also be beneficial. Improving insulin resistance will help manage blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces the severity and intensity of hot flashes.
I am also very interested in seeing the research that will come up in the future about IF and inflammation.
For the greatest success, combine intermittent fasting with a healthy diet to get the nutrients and balance needed to achieve your weight loss goals and to manage menopause symptoms.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui is the former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.