The ketogenic diet (popularly referred to as keto) is all the rage these days. Originally developed as a therapeutic approach to treating neurological conditions such as epilepsy, keto is now gaining popularity amongst many nations as a way to lose weight, improve cognitive performance and increase longevity. While there is no denying the fact that it has shown to be beneficial for all the above mentioned goals, there is one subset of people that the long term implementation of keto may be very detrimental to. They are women, especially those engaging in any type of intense activity.
The thing about the ketogenic diet is that it looks really appealing and it often is in the beginning. You would likely notice a rather significant initial drop in weight (which is predominantly water loss from eliminating carbs), and many report feeling energized and having improved mental clarity. But once this initial honeymoon phase is over, things start to get dicey and many women begin reporting symptoms that clearly show it has stopped being the panacea for all their health and physique woes.
Decreased performance, poor recovery from workouts, mood issues, skin problems, sleep disturbances, hormonal issues, amongst many others, are common complaints from women who have been devoted to the diet for an extended period of time. This is besides the bad breath, increased ketones in the blood and urine, and digestive issues that often occur due to the resulting ketosis.
But why is this the case? Why can men do better on keto for a long haul while women seem to eventually hit the wall? The answers to these questions boil down to stress and hormones, and the fact that women’s bodies are much more sensitive to stressors.
Eating low – carbohydrate diet can have a significant impact on female hormones specifically sex hormones and thyroid function. The body needs glucose to convert thyroid hormones into its active form. Therefore, keto has the potential to impair thyroid function, which essentially runs every process in the body.
Going too low on carbohydrate sources of foods also increases cortisol, sending a signal to a woman’s body that it is under stress thereby altering sex hormones which can lead to increased length or worse, complete cessation of the menstrual period/cycle all together and some studies have shown that women may require up to 150g carbs just for ovulation purposes.
Carbohydrates are also the primary fuel source for the body and they essentially provide our fiber. So, if carbs make up only 5 – 10% of the diet, it would be really difficult to get the fiber needed from fruits, vegetables, and nutrient dense starches that are necessary for your overall health and the health of your gut and hormones.
Now, the ketogenic diet may have very well been of merit to some people, under some conditions mentioned earlier. It might also serve as an initial catalyst and solution for insulin resistance, thyroid disease and, in few cases, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). But if you are simply aiming for a healthy lifestyle, you are much better off consuming a balanced diet consisting of all the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in required proportions. Eating in moderation without exceeding the daily calorie is enough to keep out the excess weight and live a healthy life.