Is the Ketogenic Diet Effective for Women?
The ketogenic diet is a popular very low carb, high fat diet favored by many people for its ability to promote quick weight loss.
There are other benefits related to the keto diet as well, including improved blood sugar regulation and other markers of metabolic health.
However, you may wonder whether the ketogenic diet is equally effective for all populations, including women.
This article reviews how the ketogenic diet affects women’s health.
The ketogenic diet shows promise when used therapeutically to improve certain factors of health.
Studies have shown that it can be used as a way to reduce body fat and improve blood sugar, and even as a complementary treatment for certain cancers.
Although much of the research focuses on how well the keto diet works in men, a decent number of studies have included women or focused exclusively on the effects of the keto diet on women.
Keto and weight loss for women
One of the main reasons why women turn to the keto diet is to lose excess body fat. Some research suggests the keto diet may be an effective way to encourage fat loss in the female population.
Studies have shown that following a keto diet may aid weight loss by increasing fat burning and decreasing calorie intake and hunger-promoting hormones like insulin — all of which may help encourage fat loss.
For example, one study in 45 women with ovarian or endometrial cancer found that women who followed a ketogenic diet for 12 weeks had significantly less total body fat and lost 16% more belly fat than women assigned to a low fat, high fiber diet. Another study in adults with obesity that included 12 women demonstrated that following a very low calorie ketogenic diet for 14 weeks significantly reduced body fat, decreased food cravings, and improved female sexual function.
Although research supports the use of this very low carb way of eating to enhance fat loss in the short term, keep in mind that there’s currently a lack of studies exploring the long-term effects of the keto diet on weight loss.
Keto and blood sugar control for women
The ketogenic diet typically limits carb intake to less than 10% of total calories. For this reason, the diet is favored by women with high blood sugar, including those with type 2 disbetes.
A 4-month study that included 58 women with obesity and type 2 diabetes found that a very low calorie keto diet caused significantly greater weight loss and reductions in fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) than a standard low calorie diet. HbA1c is a marker of long-term blood sugar control.
A 2019 case study in a 65-year-old woman with a 26-year history of type 2 diabetes and depression demonstrated that after following a ketogenic diet for 12 weeks, along with psychotherapy and high intensity exercise, her HbA1c dropped out of diabetic range. Her fasting blood sugar and her markers for clinical depression normalized. Essentially, this case study showed that the ketogenic diet reversed this woman’s type 2 diabetes.
A study in 25 people that included 15 women showed similar results. After 34 weeks of following a keto diet, approximately 55% of the study population had HbA1c levels below the diabetic level, compared with 0% who followed a low fat diet.
However, it’s important to note that currently, studies on the long-term adherence, safety, and efficacy of the ketogenic diet on blood sugar control are lacking.
Plus, many other less restrictive diets, including the Mediterranean diet, have been researched for decades and are well known for their safety and beneficial effects on blood sugar control and overall health.
One of the largest concerns over following a very high fat, low carb diet is its potential negative effects on heart health.
May not be appropriate for some women
Due to its restrictive and hard to maintain macronutrient ratio, the ketogenic diet isn’t appropriate for many people.
For example, it’s not recommended for the following populations:
- women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- people who have liver or kidney failure
- those with alcohol or drug use disorders
- people with type 1 diabetes
- people who have pancreatitis
- people who have disorders that affect fat metabolism
- people who have certain deficiencies including carnitine deficiency
- those who have a blood disorder known as porphyria
- people who can’t maintain adequate nutritional intake
In addition to the contraindications listed above, there are other factors to consider when thinking about trying the ketogenic diet.
For example, the ketogenic diet can cause unpleasant symptoms known collectively as the ketones flu during the adaptation phase of the diet.
Symptoms include irritability, nausea, constipation, fatigue, muscle aches, and more.
Although these symptoms typically subside after a week or so, these effects should still be considered when thinking about trying the keto diet.