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Think Fast: The Surprising Effects of Fasting on Women’s Hormone Health

Think Fast: The Surprising Effects of Fasting on Women’s Hormone Health

By Deborah Holmen, M.Ed., NBCT 

Fasting has gained popularity recently as a method for weight loss and improved health. When done correctly and under a healthcare professional’s guidance, fasting can support hormonal balance and overall wellness. 

Rasha Haykal, MD, an assistant professor at The George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, explains the distinction between fasting and caloric deficit. “Caloric deficit means eating fewer calories than your body needs, regardless of when or how you consume them. Fasting, however, involves eating only during specific times or days of the week,” she said. 

One key difference between fasting and simply restricting calories is the effect on metabolism.  

Dr. Haykal said, “While studies have shown that either method leads to weight loss, intermittent fasting can be superior to caloric restriction. While caloric restriction can slow down the metabolism, intermittent fasting can improve metabolic balance. Studies have shown that refraining from eating during certain hours of the day, and having consistent periods of fasting on a daily basis, can alleviate disruptions to the circadian rhythm and, as a result, improve the metabolic state.” 

When a person fasts, their body enters a state of ketosis, where they burn fat for energy instead of glucose. This can positively affect hormone levels, particularly insulin and cortisol, vital in metabolism and weight management. 

Fasting can be particularly beneficial for women’s hormone health. Research suggests that intermittent fasting can help regulate hormone levels, improving menstrual cycles and PMS symptoms. This is especially true for women with conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where hormonal imbalances are common. 

Fasting can also support the body’s natural detoxification processes, positively impacting hormonal health. By giving the digestive system a rest, the body can focus on repairing and rejuvenating cells, improving hormone balance. 

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According to Dr. Haykal, fasting can stress the body, especially for women of childbearing years. “Prolonged fasting can put some stress on the body. Generally speaking, any stress can lead to shutting down the reproductive system. Typically, if a woman’s body is under [significant] stress, whether the stress is due to starvation, sickness or anything else, as a survival mechanism, the body will focus on redirecting energy to relieving the stress, healing and surviving rather than focusing on reproduction… prolonged fasting can be stressful to the body which leads to what we call hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, or missed periods. This can negatively affect fertility. So, it is best to be under a physician’s guidance when fasting longer.”  

For those considering fasting, Dr. Haykal shares some tips to get started: 

  • Start slowly to build sustainability. Begin with shorter fasting periods, such as 8 – 12 hours a day, and gradually increase the duration as the body adapts.  
  • Plan not to eat a few hours before bed and aim for 7 – 8 hours of sleep.  
  • Gradually increase the fasting time from your last meal and delay the first meal until you achieve 12 -16 hours of fasting. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, green tea, black coffee or carbonated drinks during fasting periods to stay hydrated and support the body’s detoxification processes.  
  • Avoid any crash diets and stick to healthy foods when breaking a fast. Any major change is usually unsustainable, so build upon growth.  
  • Listen to body cues: It is crucial to pay attention to the physical response during fasting and adjust routines as needed. The body’s signals are unique and essential, so always consult a healthcare professional in the case of any adverse symptoms, such as fatigue or dizziness. 

Fasting can be a powerful tool for supporting hormone health in women. By understanding the differences between fasting and calorie restriction and following some simple tips, women can harness the benefits of fasting for improved hormonal balance and overall well-being. Those who participate in fasting should always listen to their body and consult a healthcare professional before making significant dietary changes. 

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