So, I got an email not long ago asking my thoughts on intermittent fasting and the potential effect on the menstrual cycle in women.
First off, I have no experience or real knowledge of intermittent fasting so I had to do some digging. I found this article helpful in explaining why it might be good for women to do.
And from what I’ve found there are some women who swear by it, stating that it actually made their hormonal issues better. And then there are women who say it completely messed up their menstrual cycles, threw their hormones out of whack and were completely against it.
So, first off (from what I’ve learned) there’s a difference between intermittent fasting and just regular fasting where you don’t eat. Intermittent fasting is where you cycle between periods of time where you fast, and where you don’t. I’ve heard of having an “eating phase” of 8, 10, 12 hours and plenty of other variations. And besides that set number of hours, you fast the rest of the day.
Now, there are plenty of variations of intermittent fasting, but that’s the general idea of it.
From what I’ve read this type of fasting can have a very beneficial effect on men, while having a not so positive effect on women (but not all women). And this is because those hormones that are in charge of regulating the key functions in our bodies like ovulation are pretty darn touchy when it comes to how much fuel you’re putting into your body.
Our HPG (hypothalamic-pituaitary-gonadal) axis sends out a lot of directions into our body. Things like telling the pituitary to release LH and FSH, which as you might know triggers the producing of estrogen and progesterone in women.
Your body can tell when you’re not in a healthy enough state to carry a pregnancy and will delay or stop something like ovulation all together because of the signals it is receiving. This is why if you’re really stressed you might notice that you ovulate a few days later than normal. And this is also why women with eating disorders or a too low body fat percentage can stop ovulating and having a normal menstrual cycle.
If your body receives those signals that it’s being starved it will start producing more leptin and ghrelin, the hunger hormones.
There was one study I found that tested intermittent fasting on rats, and after just two weeks of this the female rats stopped having menstrual cycles, their ovaries shrunk and they started having more insomnia when compared to the male rats in the study.
This can really mess with our fertility, not to mention worsen eating disorders.
I know the important role that hormones play in the balance of my health and my body. And because of this and what I’ve read I don’t think intermittent fasting would be something I would have interest in.
If it’s something you’re interested in, as with anything else, I recommend doing your research before diving in. I know there are different lengths of fasting, and possibly a shorter one would be better. I also saw that doing it long term could cause more issues than doing it only for a short period of time say once a year.
I don't have the answer if there's a right way to do it but I did want to share this list I found that talks about how you should stop intermittent fasting if any of these things happen after starting:
+ your menstrual cycle stops or becomes irregular (we are meant to have menstrual cycles, they are a healthy, normal bodily function just like our cardiovascular system. Loosing your period is not a good thing.)
+ you have problems falling asleep or staying asleep
+ your hair starts falling out
+ you start getting acne or dry skin
+ you don’t recover from exercise as quickly
+ it takes more time for your injuries to heal
+ you get every bug that’s going around
+ you handle stress worse
+ you start having mood swings
+ your heart starts beating oddly
+ your libido drops
+ your digestion slows down (less bowel movements)
+ feel cold all the time
Like I said I don’t know enough to say one way or the other what you should do. I don’t recommend it, but who am I to stop you from trying something out. Just make sure to pay very close attention to what’s happening with your body and mind.
I would recommend avoiding it if you have any tendencies towards an eating disorder, are looking to get pregnant soon, or already struggle with lack of ovulation or irregular cycles.
Have you tried intermittent fasting? How did you do it, what were your results?