Hunger and Hormones

New research is showing that being hungry makes it harder to lose weight. It also shows that not eating will negatively affect women’s health more dramatically than men.

Whether we are trying to lose weight or trying to observe holy rituals, it is harder and more damaging for women to be in a hunger state. It is something I have been talking about a lot recently. The Yom Kippur fast is a challenge for a lot of female patients. Many women have told me their husbands can fast for the entire period, while they struggle to make it to noon.

Why is that? There are a variety of people who have combed the research and explained the impact of fasting on women.

Here is a video explaining how a woman’s body responds to fasting.

Here is a blog post summarizing the research on women and fasting.

Here is a podcast episode discussing fasting and weight loss for women.

The research is really clear that intermittent fasting is, on the whole, generally good for men and generally bad for women. The video above discusses research studies examining women fasting for Ramadan and women fasting to reduce symptoms of epilepsy. Researchers have found that women’s progesterone, estrogen and insulin levels were dramatically affected by these day-long fasts.

The blog post summarizes and explains many different studies on both rats and on people. There are not a lot of studies looking at how fasting impacts women. But the author of this post looks at many of them. She concludes that many of the purported benefits of fasting, from decreasing cholesterol to improving insulin sensitivity, occur only in men. And more than that, they seem to have the opposite effect on women. Fasting often makes a man’s cholesterol numbers better and makes a woman’s cholesterol numbers worse.

The podcast talks about how leptin, a hormone that tells your body when it is full, impacts weight loss. Start at minute 24:35 for the Leptin discussion. It is based on two papers that explore how the caloric constants on The Biggest Looser failed in the long run. Leptin is a hormone that tells your body when it is satiated. Like insulin, this hormone rises when we have eaten and it decreases when we are hungry. Like insulin (which causes diabetes when it is out of balance), leptin causes problems both when we are too hungry and when we are too full.

At Chiropractic First we talk a lot about listening to your body. We want you to trust that your body has a deep wisdom and knowledge. And yet, we celebrate scientific research that explains the experiences and truths we already know. These new research studies on leptin and the cortico-adrenal axis explains biochemically what many of us have been experiencing personally for a while: Being hungry isn’t good for women. It messes up our hormones, our mood and our health.

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