Read this article if you are a fan of keto diet. The high-fat, low-carb diet could be wreaking havoc on your hormone balance.

Obesity is a public health issue in the US. In fact, the cases of obesity and related health problems have been rising at an alarming rate. Consequently, a number of diet plans have gained popularity in the recent years. Keto diet, Atkins diet, very low-calorie diet (VLCD) are some of the common examples. While the science is still skeptic of the benefits of these diet plans, you may consider using one. But only after analyzing the risks and potential benefits.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a low-calorie diet may help to lose some pounds, at least for a short period of time. However, the long-term effects are still unknown. Essentially, this should be a cause of worry if you thinking to follow a diet plan for prolonged periods.

In this article, we will explore how keto diet could be bad for hormone balance. Especially, how a diet too high in fat can trigger a condition called insulin insensitivity. Note that prolonged insulin insensitivity could be a strong predictor of type 2 diabetes.

Keto Diet and Hormone Imbalance?

Keto or ketogenic diet is a type of weight-loss diet that is high in fat and protein but low in carbs.

It changes the metabolic processes in the body and thus shifts your source of energy. Normally, you get a major portion of total energy from the carbs. When your carb intake is drastically reduced, your body derives the necessary energy by burning the fats. This state is called ketosis, which results in accumulation of ketones produced from the degradation of fat.

This might look like an easy and simple task. But what happens at the cellular level is far more complex than what you could ever imagine. Continue reading to discover more.

Keto Diet, Insulin Insensitivity and PCOS: How A High-fat Diet Affects Insulin Use

When you deprive your body of carb and replace them with high-fat foods, a series of hormonal changes, particularly involving insulin, occur. Here are some clinically important effects of keto diet on insulin sensitivity.

  • Keto diet decreases the ability of insulin to suppress the production of glucose in the body.

According to the studies, high-fat diet results in insulin resistance in the liver. Meaning, taking more fats causes problems with insulin use by the liver cells. When the researchers fed the experimental mice fed with keto diet, the blood levels of insulin and glucose fell significantly. However, when attempting to restore the normal glucose levels, they noticed it required very little glucose. This suggests insulin in the keto-fed mice was not working properly.

  • Keto diet interferes with how insulin functions.

Insulin is the most powerful hormone for preventing the breakdown of glucose and maintaining an optimal blood glucose level. There are two mechanisms behind these actions. First, it blocks the transport of glucose molecules from the cells into the bloodstream. Second, it promotes the transport of glucose (already in your bloodstream) into the cells. This whole mechanism is known as insulin signaling. Keto diet causes a marked decrease (up to 34%) in the ability of insulin to perform the second action.

  • Long-term use of keto diet decreases insulin production.

For a brief period time, taking a high-fat diet may increase the secretion of insulin by the pancreas. A study conducted on the rats shows such effect may last for not more than 3 hours after the consumption of a high-fat diet. After 3 hours, the production of insulin falls significantly and the trend lasts for the next 45 hours. On the long run, if you feed your body with increasing amounts of fat, the insulin-secreting pancreatic cells may wear out. This condition is called beta cell dysfunction and can lead to full-blown diabetes.

How Keto Diet Affects Female Hormones?

In addition to affecting insulin, keto diet has widespread effects on a woman’s hormone balance.

Keto Diet May Cause Irregular Periods

According to a study, following a keto diet for 6 months, 45% of the participants developed menstrual problems and 6% missed their periods.

When you take very few carbs, the levels of key female hormones (estrogen and progesterone) drop. In some cases, it might also slow down the functions of a brain region that controls hormone release.

Keto Diet Increases Cortisol and May Cause Adrenal Fatigue

We are not sure if you will lose weight with a keto diet, but it will most probably raise your stress. That said, a very low-carb diet is one of the reasons behind an increased production of the stress hormone “cortisol”.

According to a 2007 study, a low-carb diet does this by two ways. First, it promotes the regeneration of cortisol. Next, it blocks the breakdown of available cortisol. Together, it boosts cortisol levels and makes you prone to various negative health effects. For example,

  • Weakened immune system.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High blood sugar.
  • Problems with insulin use.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Excessive fat accumulation on the face, neck, and belly.
  • Reduced sex drive.
  • Loss of bone mass.

Long-term stress is a known cause of a more complex health problem called adrenal fatigue. In adrenal fatigue, your adrenal glands do not function properly.

The Bottom Line

Keto diet may be more effective in promoting weight-loss for some individuals but the same may not be true for you. Some studies say it helps to lose weight but others suggest it might just prevent weight gain. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan that has gained universal acceptance. The benefits depend on your genes, unique individual characteristics, and age among other. Thus, before you opt for a specific diet, know what your body needs and how it responds to the dietary approach.

If you have any chronic illness or a specific health condition, consult your doctor first.

There is enough evidence to show that a high-fat diet is not good for hormone balance. High fat intake for prolonged periods can affect the levels of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol. Most notably, the effects on insulin are something you should not ignore.

Keto diet can increase insulin insensitivity and thus make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Keto is typically best when used for short term weight loss goals. If adapted for a long period of time, it may have negative impacts on hormones and general health.

We would love to hear from you. Have you tried the keto diet before? Have you felt any impact of the keto diet on your hormone health? Please share in the comment box below

Article References

  1. Jornayvaz, François R., et al. “A high-fat, ketogenic diet causes hepatic insulin resistance in mice, despite increasing energy expenditure and preventing weight gain” American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism 2010 Nov; 299(5): E808–E815.
  2. Paolisso, G., et al. “A high concentration of fasting plasma non-esterified fatty acids is a risk factor for the development of NIDDM.” Diabetologia 1995 Oct;38(10):1213-7.
  3. Boden, G., et al. “Free fatty acids in obesity and type 2 diabetes: defining their role in the development of insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction” European Journal of Clinical Investigation June 2002; 32(s3): 14–23.

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