The Ketogenic Diet and Hormones Connection

Hormones receive the most play in life around puberty for everyone, and throughout menopause for women. Even women who have years of experience with keto, like our champs at Konscious Keto, know the havoc hormones can play on our bodies.

Many people are unaware that hormones regulate every function performed by the body, and maintaining balance in all our hormonal systems is essential to achieve vitality and optimal health.

Furthermore, in the context of the lives of those within the Konscious Keto community, it's worth taking the time to examine how our hormones are affected when eating a ketogenic diet.

The benefits and balancing compounded effects of eating a ketogenic diet and subsequent hormone regulation make the two a winning pair.

Are Your Hormones Out of Whack?

Firstly, what are hormones, and what is the ketogenic diet and hormones connection? Hormones are essentially chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands and are responsible for working synergistically in the body to regulate different functions and processes.

Fortunately, there are physician appointed tests we can administer to determine our hormonal health with incredible accuracy, but our first line of defense to maintaining hormone health is us knowing our bodies and listening when we don't quite feel like ourselves.

Each person will be impacted differently with hormonal irregularities, mainly depending on which hormones are being affected, but the following are some tell-tale signs to note and use as a gauge of whether your body may be out of balance.

Common Symptoms of Hormone Irregularity

Women and men are deeply impacted if afflicted with a hormonal imbalance, but imbalances don't behave equally between the sexes.

The following are some commonly-experienced symptoms experienced by women with a hormonal imbalance:

  • unexplained weight gain or loss
  • fatigue (usually as a result of excess progesterone in the body)
  • heavy, irregular, or painful periods
  • acne during or just before menstruation
  • vaginal dryness
  • reduced sex drive
  • infertility
  • breast tenderness
  • sleep disruptions
  • depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
  • night sweats and hot flashes
  • diarrhea and constipation
  • indigestion
  • headaches

Men experience some of the same symptoms as women when in a state of hormonal imbalance, with standouts being the following:

  • brain fog
  • a decrease in libido and sexual performance
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • inability to maintain or gain muscle mass
  • anxiety
  • insomnia

It's intense; our hormones regulate our mood and stress levels, appetite and metabolism, heart rate, and even our general development and growth!

A ketogenic diet can have a profound effect on the quality of our hormone health and is a fantastic benefit to all of those on keto. Being in ketosis naturally helps to regulate our hormones and bring the body into a better state of balance.

From our metabolism to our sex drive, to our reproductive health and beyond—mastering our body's glucose needs and keeping levels depleted enough to maintain nutritional ketosis is a powerful tool in the effort to boost hormone vitality.

Insulin Resistance and Uncontrolled Blood Sugar

The Standard American Diet (SAD), replete with highly-processed, sugary, foods sets the stage for the development of disorders and disease due to its propensity to spike blood sugar and cause glucose instability, which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

In addition to contributing to metabolic damage and rapidly increasing rates of obesity, most health-related issues can be directly linked to elevated levels of the hormone insulin—our primary metabolic regulator.

Through the production of insulin in the pancreas and subsequent release into the bloodstream, this informs the body to transport glucose into the body's cells and store fat. 

Fat is a normal part of the body oscillating between fuel sources (r.e., relying on glucose, fat, and ketones for fuel at different times and to varying degrees). The SAD diet's protocol however, saturates the diet with carb-heavy foods which then prohibits the body's ability to manage large amounts of glucose. This results in disorders like type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

Our hormonal ecosystem is intricate and co-dependent. We may initially think of the hormone cortisol when we think of the result of a stress response in the body, but consuming carbohydrates actually causes a stress response in the body that also triggers the release of cortisol—yet again informing the body on a hormonal level to store fat.

The good news for those of us on or considering a ketogenic diet is that the eating protocol is known as an excellent way to regulate glucose, naturally, enabling us to impact our wellness with every meal.

Keto-friendly foods tend to be much less taxing on the body than carb-heavy foods and often provide more bioavailable nutrients than their sugar-laden counterparts.

Furthermore, the metabolic ketosis triggered when we deplete our glycogen stores by removing carbs from our diet offers many additional benefits that we'll touch on below.

Ketosis, the HPA Axis, and Cortisol

The HPA axis is an integral component of our hormonal system and a trifold hormonal production process.

Our hypothalamus releases hormones and signals to the pituitary and adrenal glands to do their jobs toward producing sufficient levels of endogenous hormones.

The HPA axis includes three components of the body:

  • the hypothalamus (part of the forebrain)
  • the pituitary gland (just under the hypothalamus)
  • the adrenal glands (at the top of the kidneys)
Some speculative banter has attempted to downplay the benefits of the ketogenic diet and its ability to contribute to balancing the HPA Axis, but ketosis helps to balance the body and mitigate the fat-storing efforts of cortisol and insulin; keto is on our side!

 

Enjoy delicious keto-friendly shakes with a quality exogenous ketone supplement like Keto Activate, to further boost overall ketone levels and to experience all the related benefits we've mentioned related to nutritional ketosis.

We share several tasty and decadent recipes to keep your appetite low and your ketones high on our blog, read more here.

Reproductive and Infertility Problems (PCOS)

Hormones are at the center of every function of the body, and this is true also with women's fertility and reproductive health.

This co-dependent relationship is particularly evident in women's reproductive health as it relates to the onset of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—a disorder that can cause everything from infertility, abnormal menstruation, the absence of menstruation, irregular menstruation, heavy menstruation, short and light menstruation or spotting, along with weight gain and hair loss.

More than half of the women diagnosed with PCOS are obese or overweight, and many experience symptoms linked to elevated blood glucose, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance.

While there's currently no cure for PCOS, the glucose and metabolic regulation experienced by many on a ketogenic diet make the eating style a hopeful approach to mitigate the symptoms of this disorder—helping to prevent disease, support a healthy body weight, and improve fertility!

Thyroid Disorders and Diseases

Insulin and cortisol are definitely power players concerning metabolic health, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the thyroid gland. 

In addition to working with the hormones cortisol and insulin to regulate weight, our thyroid is a crucial element in the body as an imbalance can lead to disorders like Grave's disease, hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s disease.

Some assert that keto may damage the thyroid, but there's a lot of anecdotal feedback that speaks to the contrary. The absence of sugar, the presence of elevated ketones, and ketosis all contribute to homeostasis—where all our body's systems are operating optimally.

Furthermore, ketones are excellent weapons against inflammation and disease and have a healing and regulating effect on the body—hopeful news for anyone suffering from a thyroid disorder, as ketones fortify the immune system and create a positive domino effect to thwart the effects of inflammation and disease.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Gender aside, we have all been slain by the proverbial arrows of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Whether you're the long-suffering female enduring the monthly biological invasion, or a loved one in the life of another being visited upon by 'Auntie Flo', we've all experienced its wrath.

From insatiable cravings to mood swings and cramps, PMS is no picnic. But what if there was a simple way to tamp down the undesirable effects of this uninvited monthly visitor?

You know we wouldn't tease you and then leave you hanging. Yep, you guessed it…a ketogenic diet is even scientifically proven to improve or eliminate many of the PMS-related symptoms mentioned above.

Keto is particularly beneficial for women's hormone regulation and overall health when customized per each woman's personal health condition and goals.

Read more about the specific benefits of a ketogenic diet for women in our recent in-depth post, here.

Periods on Keto & What to Expect

First things first, some exciting news related to women's health and the ketogenic diet is its ability to regulate every system in the body and help women suffering from disorders like amenorrhea—the extended absence of ones' menstrual cycle—and living in a ketotic state also aids in creating an environment ripe to conceive, if that's a goal.

Although the cramps and other not-so-lovely symptoms that some women experience during periods of menstruation may not seem like anything one would miss, experiencing a disorder like amenorrhea is more importantly indicative of imbalances and inflammation in the body that require remediation.

Luckily, a ketogenic diet and ketosis offer some vital benefits that directly help to mitigate symptoms of PMS.

The increase of endogenous ketones, those made by the body, that occurs in ketosis, helps to naturally suppress the appetite, increase energy, boost mental cognition, and facilitates accelerated fat loss, even in those with disorders like PCOS who often find weight loss particularly challenging.

That time of the month may just become bearable now, once on keto—encouraging news for women of childbearing age worldwide!

Summary

Eating high-quality fats and proteins are vital components in our body's production of healthy hormones. Our bodies are comprised of lipids (fat), amino acids (protein), and cholesterol (a primary element of virtually every building block in our bodies)!

The eating protocol suggested on a ketogenic diet, no matter the iteration, advises a meal plan that is very low in carbs (about 5%), moderate in protein (approximately 15%), and high in fat (around 80%), and this eating style is ideal for those looking to regulate hormones and glucose levels—and if you ask us that should be everyone on the planet!

Again, our hormones regulate every biological system and function in the body. 

The colossal takeaway here is that a ketogenic diet is a highly effective way to biohack the proverbial health algorithm and create balance in the body with the foods we eat every day. We ultimately have the power to maximize our vitality and create optimal health.

Studies

Balkau, B., & Eschwége, E. (n.d.). Epidemiology of the Insulin Resistance Syndrome. The Epidemiology of Diabetes Mellitus, 285-300. doi:10.1002/0470846429.ch20

Liepa, G. U., Sengupta, A., & Karsies, D. (2008). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Other Androgen Excess–Related Conditions: Can Changes in Dietary Intake Make a Difference? Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 23(1), 63-71. doi:10.1177/011542650802300163

Murphy, P., Likhodii, S., Nylen, K., & Burnham, W. (2004). The antidepressant properties of the ketogenic diet. Biological Psychiatry, 56(12), 981-983. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2004.09.019

Stimson, R. H., Johnstone, A. M., Homer, N. Z., Wake, D. J., Morton, N. M., Andrew, R., . . . Walker, B. R. (2007). Dietary Macronutrient Content Alters Cortisol Metabolism Independently of Body Weight Changes in Obese Men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(11), 4480-4484. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-0692

Strandberg, T. E. (2013). Low carbohydrate diets increase saturated fat consumption. Bmj, 346(Feb13 1). doi:10.1136/bmj.f812

Volek, J. S., Phinney, S. D., Forsythe, C. E., Quann, E. E., Wood, R. J., Puglisi, M. J., . . . Feinman, R. D. (2008). Carbohydrate Restriction has a More Favorable Impact on the Metabolic Syndrome than a Low Fat Diet. Lipids, 44(4), 297-309. doi:10.1007/s11745-008-3274-2

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