Can The Keto Diet Mess With Your Menstrual Cycle?

The keto diet has become one of the most buzzed-about diet plans in recent years, according to Mayo Clinic. The diet focuses on consuming high-fat and low-carb foods, triggering a state in the body called ketosis. In this state, the body burns more fat for energy than usual, which could speed up weight loss (per Healthline). Going keto may also benefit people with type 2 diabetes. One 2005 study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that a low-carb diet significantly improved insulin sensitivity in a small group of patients with type 2 diabetes. Other potential benefits include improved brain function, a reduction of seizures in people with epilepsy, and even protection against some cancers (per Medical News Today).

However, the keto diet may not be right for everyone. Healthline notes that certain populations, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with type 1 diabetes, people prone to nutritional deficiencies, and several other groups should generally avoid following a ketogenic diet. Even without these conditions, menstruating women may want to think twice before trying this low-carb eating plan.

How keto affects menstruation

Women who menstruate may notice changes to their cycle after starting the keto diet, according to experts. Healthline explains that restrictive diets, such as a low-carb ketogenic diet, can cause amenorrhea, or the absence of a menstrual period. As registered dietitian Crystal C. Karges told Insider, "As women, we need both adequate calories and nutrients to function normally and to maintain a regular menstrual cycle." Limiting carbs, she says, can trigger nutrient deficiencies in many women. Additionally, the rapid weight loss associated with the keto diet is also known to disrupt women's menstrual cycles (per Everyday Health).

Another reason why low-carb, ketogenic diets may mess with menstruation relates to hormones. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy suggested that keto diets contribute to hormone imbalances in women. This may include a drop in leptin, a hormone necessary for regular menstruation (via Insider).

Finally, dieting in general is associated with higher levels of stress, according to a 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. As Cleveland Clinic explains, this can also cause irregular or missed periods.

Potential dangers of missing periods

Not getting a period, especially for women who aren't trying to conceive, may seem like an added bonus of going on a keto diet. However, the absence of menstruation can lead to other health complications that could negate the benefits of low-carb eating. According to Mayo Clinic, missing periods may cause osteoporosis and heart disease. Women who become pregnant despite the absence of menstruation may also be at risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.

OB-GYN Dr. John Thoppil told Everyday Health that in some cases, women on a keto diet can consider estrogen supplements to prevent bone loss. To jumpstart menstruation again, he also suggests increasing body weight. One way to do this is by consuming more carbs at least a couple of days each week.

If you're concerned about missed periods due to a keto diet, talking to a doctor about your diet plan can help you find the right fit for both your health goals and your menstrual cycle. A medical professional may offer meal suggestions or recommend an alternative diet that better suits your body.