Why Women Should Approach Fasting Differently Than Men

Science discovered long ago that the female reproductive system is very sensitive to diet, stress, and caloric restriction.[1]  The prevalence of menstrual problems in women with eating disorders suggests that limited food intake can disrupt the female menstrual cycle. [2]  When it comes to fasting, women should consider their unique physiology and how it impacts their response to fasting.


Current Research On How Women Respond To Fasting

Research that examines the gender differences in response to fasting is limited. However, we do have preliminary data that suggests that women might have a different metabolic response to fasting as compared to men.

  • A 2018 study reported the effects of two-day fasting on eleven obese women. The women in the study experienced higher stress and sympathetic nervous system activation as compared to when they were not fasting. [3] No similar response has been observed in men so far.
  • Kisspeptin, a neuropeptide, is responsible for regulating reproduction. It stimulates the release of GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) in both sexes. [4] Though there is a lack of human studies, a 2015 study reported a decrease in kisspeptin levels in female lambs after fasting. [5] Kisspeptin is sensitive to negative energy balance and, since women have higher kisspeptin levels, their reproductive system is more likely to be affected by caloric restriction. [6]


Female Reproductive System And Energy Intake – What Women Need To Know

The female menstrual cycle requires energy. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition reports that women have relatively higher energy intake in the luteal phase [7]. As a result, women might naturally crave more food before their period. [8] Insufficient food and energy may suppress the release of female reproductive hormones and result in amenorrhea, or absent menstruation leading to infertility. [9] Consequently, women need to be careful about fasting the week before their period.


Should Women Fast At All?

Despite the potential of some negative effects, women can still benefit from fasting with caution. For instance, women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may be able to restore their ovarian function and fertility [10] through fasting and weight loss. Different fasting regimens might also help improve mental health and reduce depression. [11] In addition, fasting may lower the risk of heart disease. [12]

Women can benefit by trying less restrictive fasts such as a daily 12 to 16 hour fast or the Crescendo method (3 non-consecutive fasting days in a week). By being aware of their body’s energy needs and avoiding excessive weight loss, women can enjoy the benefits of intermittent fasting while keeping risks at a minimum.



  1. Elias SG, van Noord PAH, Peeters PHM, den Tonkelaar I, Kaaks R, Grobbee DE. Menstruation during and after caloric restriction: the 1944-1945 Dutch famine. Fertil Steril [Internet]. 2007;88(4 Suppl):1101–7. Link
  2. Chernukha GE, Gusev DV, Tabeeva GI, Prilutskaia VY. Pathophysiological features of the development of functional hypothalamic amenorrhea in patients with anorexia nervosa. GYNECOLOGY [Internet]. 2018;20(1):16–22. Link 
  3. Solianik R, Sujeta A. Two-day fasting evokes stress but does not affect mood, brain activity, cognitive, psychomotor, and motor performance in overweight women. Behav Brain Res [Internet]. 2018;338:166–72. Link 
  4. Skorupskaite K, George JT, Anderson RA. The kisspeptin-GnRH pathway in human reproductive health and disease. Hum Reprod Update [Internet]. 2014;20(4):485–500. Link 
  5. Polkowska J, Cieślak M, Wańkowska M, Wójcik-Gładysz A. The effect of short fasting on the hypothalamic neuronal system of kisspeptin in peripubertal female lambs. Anim Reprod Sci [Internet]. 2015;159:184–90. Link 
  6. Katagiri F, Kotani M, Hirai T, Kagawa J. The relationship between circulating kisspeptin and sexual hormone levels in healthy females. Biochem Biophys Res Commun [Internet]. 2015;458(3):663–6. Link 
  7. Barr SI, Janelle KC, Prior JC. Energy intakes are higher during the luteal phase of ovulatory menstrual cycles. Am J Clin Nutr [Internet]. 1995;61(1):39–43. Link 
  8. Souza LB de, Martins KA, Cordeiro MM, Rodrigues Y de S, Rafacho BPM, Bomfim RA. Do food intake and food cravings change during the menstrual cycle of young women? Rev Bras Ginecol Obstet [Internet]. 2018;40(11):686–92. Link 
  9. Nader S. Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea: case presentations and overview of literature. Hormones (Athens) [Internet]. 2019;18(1):49–54. Link
  10. Chiofalo B, Laganà AS, Palmara V, Granese R, Corrado G, Mancini E, et al. Fasting as possible complementary approach for polycystic ovary syndrome: Hope or hype? Med Hypotheses [Internet]. 2017;105:1–3. Link
  11. Nair PMK, Khawale PG. Role of therapeutic fasting in women’s health: An overview. J Midlife Health [Internet]. 2016;7(2):61–4. Link
  12. Nematy M, Alinezhad-Namaghi M, Rashed MM, Mozhdehifard M, Sajjadi SS, Akhlaghi S, et al. Effects of Ramadan fasting on cardiovascular risk factors: a prospective observational study. Nutr J [Internet]. 2012;11(1):69. Link