Intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits. But if you use the wrong variation or do it inappropriately, it can affect the hormone balance and even lead to infertility.
Fasting is not the same for men and women. Some women experience hair loss, mood swings, sleep problems, or irregularities in their cycle.
Because our hormones influence our metabolic functions
Intermittent fasting and the role of hormones
Hormones control our bodies. They control energy metabolism, stress metabolism, and how we feel.
So they can have either a positive or negative influence on your metabolism and bodily functions.
In fasting, the body goes into survival mode, so the adrenaline and cortisol levels rise because the fasting phase signals to the body, “There’s no food; your life is in danger!”
As a result, reproductive function takes a back seat – and so does the production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. In addition, when too much energy is needed to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, the production of the other hormones is cut back.
This leads to a hormone imbalance. Among other things, this affects our menstrual cycle – and negatively impacts fertility.
In a study with rats, the female rats fasted intermittently for 12 weeks. After just two weeks, the researchers noticed a shrinking in the ovaries’ size.
In addition, the animals suffered more from sleep disturbances than the male rats, who also fasted.
The sex hormones estrogen and progesterone
Estrogen also influences our metabolism, our mood, and weight loss.
It is involved in the development of anxiety and stress, and It is important for our skin and hair, bone density, muscle tone, and cognitive functions.
If you’re a woman, the wrong variation of intermittent fasting can destroy the estrogen balance and negatively affect all of these essential physiological processes.
Progesterone, like estrogen, is a vital pregnancy hormone, but it’s also significant in making us feel happy.
But suppose our progesterone levels are low, and we’re producing more cortisol at the same time. In that case, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, PMS, mood swings, water retention, weight gain, sleep problems, or extreme fatigue.
Hormone production: The difference between women and men.
The hormones that regulate ovulation in women and sperm production in men are regulated in both cases by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.
After the release of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the follicle-stimulating hormone” (FSH) is released in women, which causes ovulation and estrogen synthesis. Progesterone is then produced. Estrogen and progesterone are extremely sensitive to when and what we eat.
In men, the GnR hormone triggers the production of testosterone and sperm.
The difference is that this response occurs more constantly in men, but in women, it only occurs at a very specific time within their cycle. Because the GnRH pulses are precisely timed, small changes can upset hormone balance, which is why women are more sensitive to IF than men.
How can women fast properly?
So, for our bodies to function properly, for us to feel good and full of energy, our hormones must be properly balanced. Prolonged periods of fasting can turn hormone balance upside down.
Should women fast at all then?
The short answer is yes! You can do intermittent fasting in a way that will improve your hormone health rather than harm it.
Done correctly, we can easily bypass the risks and reap all the health benefits of fasting: lower body fat, improved insulin sensitivity, improved inflammatory markers, and more energy.
The hormone experts recommend women these simple rules:
- Don’t fast on consecutive days. Instead, fast on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for example.
- Do not fast for longer than 12 to 13 hours. A fasting period between 7 to 8 p.m., for example, is optimal. A longer fasting window will trigger a stress response.
- Don’t exercise too hard on fasting days. Instead of intense workouts like HIIT, long runs, or strength training, focus on yoga or light cardio.
- Do not fast during your period.
- Make sure to drink enough water when you fast.
- Your diet should be adapted to your hormonal needs and low in inflammatory substances. This means no gluten, no sugar, no dairy products, or red meat.
- Very important: Listen to your body. If you don’t feel well during fasting, have headaches, or are irritable, don’t overdo it. Every woman reacts differently to abstaining from food. Be mindful of yourself and take it easy on the days you fast.
When women should not consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is not for every woman, though. You should not fast if you
- have had an eating disorder in the past or have one now
- are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant
- have sleep problems
- have low blood pressure, diabetes, blood sugar problems, adrenal insufficiency, or cortisol problems
- are taking medications
- Are underweight
- suffer from amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)