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Conception Oct 30, 2019
5 Minutes

How to: avoid a common diet trap for your hormones!

These days it is all about the low carb or ketogenic diet. However, could this inadvertently be pushing our hormones off balance? Particularly when it comes to thinking about, or trying to have a healthy small person. We take a look at what you need to know…. 

Low Carb

Our hormones are pretty delicately balanced. However, sometimes we (inadvertently) do a great job at making it hard for our bodies to maintain that balance. The low carb or ketogenic diet can be a potential example of this. 

The 90s was all about ‘low fat’, now it’s all about ‘low carb’ and ‘ketogenic’. Whilst different things work for different people and different circumstances, when it comes to the process of fertility, conception and pregnancy it is always being mindful. Particularly when it comes to some potentially unintended consequences of cutting out entire food groups….

Here is what you need to know about the sometimes hidden effect of very low carbs. Specifically when when it comes to trying to have healthy little people…

There are two main areas that can potentially be impacted by a low carb or ketogenic diet.

Low Carb and Thyroid hormones: 

The Thyroid is crucial to pretty much everything in our bodies. It is especially important for fetal development and reproduction/menstrual cycle. 

The trouble with very low carb diets is that it typically means you have very little insulin. 

Why does that matter? Don’t we want low insulin?!! 

As usual, its all about ‘Goldilocks’. Not too much, not too little. Insulin is important for transforming the inactive form T4 to the active form T3. (4, 5) Without it we get problems…. 

On the flip side of course you don’t want too much insulin. Particularly if you have things like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) click here for much more. 

So, what are we saying? 

This seems obvious to say, but: it is all about moderation. All we are trying to do with this article is to show the evidence-backed consequences on hormones. Consequences that we may not think of which happen when we follow some of these more extreme diets. Particularly for any protracted period of time. Especially if you are trying to have kids. 

Stress and low carb diets: 

We all know that too much stress is bad. No prizes for pointing that out! However, did you know that too little carbohydrate can cause a physical and hormonal stress response in our bodies when done for a protracted period of time? 

Our bodies are pretty primordial. If we are not getting enough food, calories or have physical stress our hormones react accordingly. It thinks we are in famine. Usually producing hormones that are designed to protect us and promote survival. Pretty smart really! 

You may have heard of these hormones before – particularly in our chronically stressed modern lives: Cortisol and Norepinephrine.

When these hormones are released in large amounts or over a long period of time you body is in ‘survival mode’. That means the body is not going to prioritise bringing a small human into that situation. Fair enough!

The trouble is, very low carbs (amongst other things like protracted mental stress/anxiety, very high intensity physically stressful exercise) signal a potential threat. The body will react accordingly and produce more of these ‘stress hormones’. Research has shown evidence that when this happens over a long period of time it can have a very real impact on our menstrual cycle. (3) 

It is also known as ‘HPA axis dysfunction’ (1, 2) 

Click here for a number of ways to tackle stress. From exercise to using Adaptogens like Ashwaghda and to practical tips for mind health. 

Bottom line: what to do! 

It’s not rocket science really. It sounds obvious in fact to eat a ‘balanced diet’, but sometimes when we are faced with these ‘new’ diets that promise the earth it is easy to overlook the fact that there can be unintended knock on consequences. It is even more important to help the body stay in balance when you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or have a small person. 

How to approach carbs for our purposes: 

We are by no means advocating a high carb diet either. That equally can play havoc, particularly if you have things like PCOS. First and foremost if you have any medical complication the first port of call is to always speak to and listen to your doctor. For everyone else, a more sensible recommendation is to eat between 15-30% of your diet from carbs and more crucially to remember that not all carbs are created equally.

Not all carbs are created equally: 

White, refined and processed carbohydrates will do nothing but push your body out of balance. Not to mention your blood sugar up and all over the place. Not what we want. On the flip side a moderate amount of whole, low GI carbs like brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain fresh bread, oats and Quinoa are the way to go. Balanced (you may have noticed the key word here!) with a mix of protein and fat to help you feel full and keep that all important blood sugar stabilised! 

Simple! 

References:

  1. Ebbeling CB, Swain JF: Effects of dietary composition on energy expenditure during weight-loss maintenance: JAMA: 2012 Jun 27; 307(24)
  2. Stimson RH, Johnstone AM: Dietary macronutrient content alters cortisol metabolism independently of body weight changes in obese men: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology: 2007 Nov
  3. Payne NE: The ketogenic and related diets in adolescents and adults – a review. Epilepsia. 2011 Nov 
  4. Danforth E, Horton ES: Dietary-induced alterations in thyroid hormone metabolism during over nutrition: Journal Clinical Invest. 1979.
  5. Spaulding SW, Chopra IJ: Effect of caloric restriction and dietary composition of serum T3 and reverse T3 in man: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology: 1976

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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