Fasting for Hormone Health: In this day and age, many are led to believe the key to hormone health comes primarily from a doctor’s prescription or a trip to the drug store. Having a hormone imbalance has become a “normal part of aging” to many. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there have been many beneficial advances in modern medicine and science, fasting is still one of the best ways to maintain (and achieve) good health.
Fasting for a hormone imbalance has been around for centuries and is practiced in most religions and cultures around the world. It is also known to rejuvenate the mind and revitalize the body. Even animals will fast when they are stressed, ill, or feel unease. The refusal to eat is a natural form of self-preservation that is designed to remove waste products from the body and promote healing.
Fasting For Hormone Health: The Best Prescription
Today, the philosophy of eating is the polar opposite of the ancient practice of fasting.
We are now in a constantly fed state. We have gone from an average of eating three meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) to eating five or six meals a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and another snack. This change in eating habits has had a detrimental effect on our health.
Fasting for hormonal health its effects on the body have been studied extensively, and one of its amazing benefits is how it affects hormonal health.
Fasting for Hormone Health: The Endocrine System
Hormones play a pivotal role in a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Part of the endocrine system, hormones are often called the body’s “chemical messengers,” traveling throughout the body via the bloodstream. They eventually make their way to the various tissues and organs, where they control many bodily functions.
The following are all impacted by hormones and the endocrine system:
- Heart rate
- Converting food to energy
- Sleep cycles
- Growth and development
- Stress management
Unfortunately, a person could experience a variety of health issues and not realize they could be due to a hormone imbalance.
Here are a few symptoms of hormone imbalance:
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in sex
Countless individuals have taken medications for the above issues, not realizing all they are doing is treating the symptoms. In order for treatment to be effective, they must dig deeper. That means attacking the problem on a cellular level.
This is where fasting comes into play.
Fasting for Hormone Health: Hormone Sensitivity
A key factor in overcoming many of the issues described above is becoming hormone sensitive. A common assumption is the body needs more hormones to feel better, but that’s not necessarily the case. In actuality, the body simply needs to listen to its hormones more effectively.
Studies indicate this is accomplished via fasting:
Hormone Imbalance: Fasting and Growth Hormone. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that growth hormone (GH) secretion increases during fasting and GH causes insulin resistance. During a study of nine obese males, researchers discovered GH levels increased with fasting and reduced levels of counterregulatory hormones.1
Hormone Imbalance: Thyroid Health. Another key component to good health is having a healthy thyroid. These are the glands of the endocrine system that produce and store the hormones and release them into the bloodstream as described previously.
Having good health is nearly impossible if the thyroid is not functioning properly.
There are three important hormones that are key to thyroid health: TSH, T3, and T4. These hormone levels can appear normal when checked, but they hold the key to potential thyroid conditions that may go undetected.
All of these thyroid conditions can be altered for the better through the art of fasting:
- In one study conducted on laboratory mice, researchers note that nuclear T3 levels are maintained at relatively normal levels in the pituitary of the fasted animal and fractional T3 receptor occupancy may actually increase.2
- Another study comparing the levels of thyroid levels between impaired fasting glucose and impaired glucose tolerance found that fasting subjects had higher levels of F3, while those who were glucose impaired had lower levels of F3. Researchers concluded that the difference in thyroid hormone levels may play an important role in the different pathological mechanisms of IFG and IGT.3
- A study conducted at the University of California Merced found that prolonged fasting increased the sensitivity of thyroid hormones (TH). When researchers studied prolonged fasting in elephant seal pups, TH levels were maintained during fasting. The researchers would describe it as “adaptive fasting.”4
As a person gets accustomed to fasting, the body becomes more and more efficient with every subsequent fast. Cells increase their ability to utilize fat, which burns cleaner than glucose. In addition, the body becomes more responsive to hormones, brain fog dissipates, weight loss is easier, and most hormonal problems may be eliminated. That also includes thyroid conditions.
Fasting for Hormone Health: Longer Fasts for Hormone Imbalance
While short, intermittent fasts of 14 hours have a positive impact on hormones, studies indicate longer fasts can have many benefits as well:
A study conducted on 30 female Europeans analyzed their metabolic and physiological response after completing a 7-day fast. At the end of the fast, their results showed “marked decreases of levels of LDL-cholesterol, leptin, and insulin and increases of levels of adiponectin, leptin receptors, and resisting.” The researchers also noted the test subjects had “decreased anxiety, depression, fatigue, and improved vigor.”5
Although it may sound complicated, intermittent fasting is actually a very simple concept. A person only eats within a 4- 8-hour window. As the body becomes more fat-adapted, it will burn higher amounts of fat for energy, and be able to fast for longer periods.
Eating all the time is detrimental to a person’s health and with that said, intermittent fasting doesn’t mean cutting calories, it simply means to eat less often. For those with hormone issues, fasting may be a viable option to regaining their good health.
- Pedersen MH, Svart MV, & Lebeck J et al. “Substrate Metabolism and Insulin Sensitivity During Fasting in Obese Human Subjects: Impact of GH Blockade.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Apr 1;102(4):1340-1349. doi: 10.1210/jc.2016-3835.
- Jing S, Xiaoying D, & Ying X, et al. “Different levels of thyroid hormones between impaired fasting glucose and impaired glucose tolerance: free T3 affects the prevalence of impaired fasting glucose and impaired glucose tolerance in opposite ways.”Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2014 Jun;80(6):890-8. doi:10.1111/cen.12384.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24330392
- Fasting and Thyroid Conditions: Is it Possible? Pompa et al. https://drpompa.com/fasting-diet/fasting-thyroid-conditions/
- Martinez B, Scheibner M, & Soñanez-Organis JG et al. “Increased sensitivity of thyroid hormone-mediated signaling despite prolonged fasting.” Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2017 Oct 1;252:36-47. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2017.07.023.
- Li C, Ostermann T, Hardt M et al. “Metabolic and psychological response to 7-day fasting in obese patients with and without metabolic syndrome”Forsch Komplementmed. 2013;20(6):413-20. doi: 10.1159/000353672.