Did you know about this disturbing side effect of intermittent fasting?

While the intermittent fasting diet can be a successful method for many, it might not be a good fit for all women, and this is why.

 Can intermittent fasting be dangerous for women? (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Can intermittent fasting be dangerous for women?
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The intermittent fasting diet has surged in global popularity, embraced by celebrities, colleagues, and even health experts. Indeed, numerous studies validate its potential health benefits, spanning weight loss, enhanced blood sugar control, and reduced bodily inflammation.

Julia Zompano, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, advocates for intermittent fasting, specifically for appropriate candidates, due to its potentially remarkable outcomes. Nonetheless, she explains, a significant portion of the population is affected by a notable drawback.

Female sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen experience a substantial detrimental impact from intermittent fasting. Consequently, the approach might not be a simple and rapid solution, particularly for women in their childbearing years and those who haven't reached menopause.

Fasting has an impact on ovulation and the menstrual cycle, and these hormonal patterns have an influence on the body, according to Zompano. She notes that even if the goal is not pregnancy, these rhythms still play a role. For women, intermittent fasting can remain beneficial, but it requires careful implementation.

Zompano explains further, detailing the way that intermittent fasting influences women and details a health-conscious fasting approach:

Intermittent fasting for women: Does it work? (credit: INGIMAGE)
Intermittent fasting for women: Does it work? (credit: INGIMAGE)

Effects of fasting on women's well-being

  • Weight reduction
  • Enhanced immune function
  • Diminished inflammation
  • Improved blood sugar regulation
  • Optimized gut health
  • Reduced appetite
  • Enhanced blood pressure
  • Decreased blood triglycerides

Nonetheless, intermittent fasting's impact on women usually falls short of the dramatic results seen in men, largely due to hormonal factors.

Fasting's Hormonal Impact

Across the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) mainly governs these hormone variations.

Zompano explains that GnRH can be remarkably receptive to environmental cues, and that fasting and similar factors can hinder its function, impeding the release of essential elements to stimulate estrogen and progesterone.

Evolution might provide insight into this phenomenon. Specific hormones surge during ovulation, the prime time for conception. Fasting, per this theory, might trigger the body's starvation response, hindering optimal conditions for a healthy pregnancy. Consequently, the body curtails ovulation to prevent potential pregnancy under such circumstances.

Intermittent fasting effectively diminishes estrogen and progesterone levels in the body, engendering diverse symptoms, such as:

  • Alterations in the menstrual cycle, possibly skipping cycles
  • Mood fluctuations or nervousness
  • Hot flashes and nocturnal sweats
  • Headaches
  • Reduced libido
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Palpitations
  • Compromised fertility
Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Fasting safely for women

Intermittent fasting isn't advised during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or when attempting conception. However, for premenopausal women, reaping intermittent fasting's benefits with minimal hormonal disruption might be possible.

It's not that women should abstain from intermittent fasting altogether, Zompano stresses, explaining that moderation is key. 

Approaches to intermittent fasting vary, ranging from intense to milder methods. Some individuals restrict eating to specific daily hours, while others alternate regular eating days with calorie-restricted days. For pre-menopausal women, Zompano suggests starting with a gentle 12-hour fasting routine.

Start with a 12-hour fasting window, she says, adding that it's a relatively safe entry point for most individuals.

For instance, fasting could begin at 8 p.m. and end at 8 a.m. If this progresses smoothly for a week, extend it by two hours—add an hour of fasting on either side. Thus, if your initial fasting window was from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the morning, you can now fast from 7 p.m. until 9 a.m.

However, it's important to remember that ensuring proper alignment with your menstrual cycle is essential in any case.