Life with PCOS, short for polycystic ovarian syndrome, can be a bit of a nightmare and is certainly not something anybody would wish on their worst enemy. While doctors have said for years that there is no cure for this nightmarish syndrome, evidence has proven countless times now that the ketogenic diet could be the key to reversing it.
Many women who have PCOS battle pesky issues such as weight gain, hormonal imbalances, and insulin resistance. The world has been told that there is no cure for this disorder, yet the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome are the very issues that the keto diet is known to balance out. Reducing your carbohydrate intake is one of the key points of following a ketogenic diet and is also one of the most effective ways to lose weight, cut down on visceral fat and lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
How the Ketogenic Diet Can Reverse PCOS
What You Need to Know About PCOS
PCOS affects up to ten percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, and it may be more likely to occur in women who are obese or who have a family history of the disorder.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine disorder in which reproductive hormonal imbalances can alter the development of your egg or entirely prevent it from being released during ovulation. The exact cause of the disorder is unknown but it is believed that it can stem from factors such as genetics, high androgen levels and high insulin levels.
Higher levels of androgens are typically found in men, as they are responsible for the development of certain male traits. High levels of androgens in females can negatively impact ovulation and cause unwanted issues such as acne and hirsutism, which is excess hair growth on the face, chest and back.
Insulin is also a hormone, but this one determines how effectively your body turns food into energy. High insulin levels typically occur because of high glucose levels in the blood. Frequent or consistent high glucose levels can lead to consistently high insulin levels where insulin does not do its job as well as it should; this is termed insulin resistant. It is unknown whether high levels of androgens and insulin cause PCOS or if they are symptoms of it.
If you have not been diagnosed with this disorder but wonder if you may have it, take a look at some of the symptoms that point to it:
- Skin tags
- Excessive weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Hirsutism - effecting nearly 70 percent of those living with PCOS
- Irregular menstrual cycle - women may miss periods or stop having them altogether
- Thinning hair
- Darkened skin
If you have PCOS or think that you may because of your symptoms, then making the change to a ketogenic diet may be one of the most beneficial choices you could make for your health.
Heal Your Body with the Ketogenic Diet
While there haven't been many studies on the effects of this diet on PCOS, one of the latest ones clearly indicates that there are several ways in which a low-carb high-fat diet can help treat PCOS and begin to reverse your symptoms!
Reduce and Eliminate Symptoms
The five women who participated in this study[i] had to meet the following criteria
- They had to be between the ages of 18 and 45.
- Their diagnosis had to suggest PCOS based off of a history of irregular menstrual cycles or high levels of androgens.
- They could have no other medical conditions that required supervision or medication.
- Their BMI was 27 kg/m2 or greater.
The women were instructed to follow a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet for six months. This allowed them to eat unlimited meat, eggs and seafood, up to six ounces of cheese daily, and three cups of vegetables daily. The goal when following the diet, as always, was to limit their carb intake to under 20 carbohydrates per day and to stay in ketosis (thus burning fat at a quicker pace) for as long as possible.
At the end of the six months, it was found that some of the symptoms these women had been experiencing had shown improvement. The following results are given as the average of all of the women participating in the study.
- The average amount of weight lost was 12% of their body weight.
- Percent free testosterone went from 2.19 down to 1.70.
- Luteinizing hormone/follicle stimulating hormone dropped by 36 percent.
- Perhaps the reduction in insulin was the most extreme, with a 53.7 percent reduction, going from 23.5 to 8.2.
Further results show that following this particular diet also lowered their blood pressure and had positive effects on emotions, menstrual cycles and excessive hair growth. Two of the women who had been dealing with infertility even got pregnant during the course of the study! It's amazing that all of these changes came about simply from changing the foods that were put in their body.
Amber also found relief from polycystic ovarian syndrome symptoms through using the ketogenic diet and has shared her success story with the world.
To sum it up, after being on the low-carb high-fat diet for just a little over a month she saw a drastic change in her menstrual cycle, jumping from a 70-90-day cycle down to a 35-day cycle (a normal cycle is 28 days). Her periods also stopped being so painful and would only last about four days, which is a huge improvement to last for weeks at a time. The terrible migraines she had been dealing with daily all but vanished and she noticed a major improvement in her severe mood changes.
Before adopting the ketogenic diet she was always tired and hungry, but now she has more energy than ever and almost never feels like she needs to eat something extra. She even lost 10 percent of her body fat, or 28 pounds, in six and a half months on the keto diet without exercising at all!
What Else Can a Ketogenic Diet Do for You?
Aside from helping you to lose weight, the ketogenic diet can also help in treating or resolving a variety of health issues. For decades this diet has been used to treat symptoms of epilepsy and is known to prevent the onset of diabetes, as it is so effective at lowering and maintaining insulin and glucose levels. On a normal diet, glucose levels range from 80-120 while they range from 65-80 on the ketogenic diet. The reduction in insulin levels is just as astounding. When eating a normal diet typical insulin levels range from 6-23, while they don't exceed 9.4 on the ketogenic diet.[ii]
How a Keto Diet Helps with Infertility
Eating a ketogenic diet doesn't only help women with PCOS lose weight and lower their insulin levels. It's also proven to be effective in helping women who are facing infertility issues due to polycystic ovarian syndrome!
Weight and Infertility
In a study of 170 women, it was concluded that pregnancy was harder for overweight women to achieve. When using assisted reproductive technology 42% of women with a healthy BMI were successful in getting pregnant and carrying a child, while only 23% of obese women were able to get pregnant and carry the child to full term. Thus, it is apparent that infertility can be associated with being overweight or obese.[iii]
Even when obesity is not an issue it is far less likely for women who have PCOS to get pregnant when they consume a higher amount of carbohydrates.
Because a ketogenic diet focuses on cutting carbohydrates (especially simple carbs) and encourages weight loss, it can be helpful to those who are having difficulty getting pregnant. Several women have found success in getting pregnant only after adopting a diet low in carbs, high in fat and moderate in protein.
A Ketogenic Diet's Effect on Fertility Hormones
Losing weight, by any means, can be beneficial to balancing hormones. Furthermore, extreme weight loss isn't necessary to see these results. Hormonal imbalances can start to improve after a woman has lost as little as five percent of her body weight! However, being intentional to limit carbohydrates has an even better impact on fertility hormones.
Six studies show evidence that limiting your carbs while increasing your protein and fat consumption greatly improves reproductive hormone numbers. The keto diet doesn't work to regulate just one reproductive hormone, but instead regulates nearly every hormone involved in fertility and reproduction! The studies found that the following hormones neared a level much closer to being normal after study participants turned from their old eating habits and adopted a ketogenic lifestyle:[iv]
- Sex hormone binding globule
- Luteinizing hormone/follicle stimulating hormone
Results also showed that eating a keto diet significantly improved these women's menstrual cycles and ovulation rates. It has not been determined how many of the participants in these six studies were attempting to get pregnant at that time, but it has been confirmed that 26 of the 350 women who participated were, indeed, successful in getting pregnant by the time the trials concluded.
Customizing the Keto Diet to Combat PCOS and Infertility
Using food to heal your body is one of the most effective treatments you can use, and this is no different when it comes to PCOS and infertility. If living a healthy life starts with what we choose to fuel our bodies with, then it would stand to argue that creating a new life is most certainly dependent on which foods you eat. This is particularly true if you have health issues, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, that makes it more difficult to become pregnant.
When your aim is reversing polycystic ovarian syndrome and normalizing fertility hormones, there are certain tweaks that you should make to the ketogenic diet. You want to be sure to eat plenty of foods that are high in lignans, which are a type of fiber that is beneficial in reducing insulin and androgen levels.[v] Flaxseed, sesame seeds, broccoli, kale, pumpkin and berries are all low in carbohydrates and rich in lignans.
Omega-3s found in fatty fish like herring, sardines, mackerel and salmon have proven to be effective in lowering insulin levels. They can even improve insulin sensitivity amongst women who have PCOS.
Polyunsaturated fat, in small amounts, can also be beneficial to women who are battling PCOS. When given a choice you should always choose polyunsaturated fats over trans fats - instead of soybean oil and hydrogenated oils use olive oil and coconut oil. Nuts are also a good source of healthy fats.
Although people tend to associate dairy with messing with hormone levels, this is not necessarily the case. Full fat dairy may be the key to keeping dairy in your diet, but low-fat dairy products should be avoided when trying to become pregnant. For reasons not yet fully understood, studies have found that eating low-fat dairy daily can cause you to be 85 percent more likely to become or remain infertile. Compare this to the 25 percent reduced risk of infertility amongst women who were eating full-fat dairy each day.[vi] It's quite apparent that the full-fat dairy products are far more beneficial to women who are trying to become pregnant.
Getting your daily folic acid is very important when you are trying to conceive or are with child. Not many foods that are high in folic acid are keto friendly, so you'll have to stick with your leafy greens or a multivitamin. Prenatal vitamins are always a good plan during pregnancy anyway, as your baby needs tons of vitamins and minerals for proper growth and protection against defects, disorders and illness.[vii]
Diet and Lifestyle Changes That Will Help You Conceive
When trying to conceive, adjustments to the ketogenic diet aren't the only thing you should consider. A few other things are known to help raise your chances of conceiving, while other things can greatly decrease your chances of becoming pregnant.
Healthy Changes and Choices
- Exercise: Exercise helps you to lose weight, which will increase your chances of becoming pregnant. However, exercising throughout your pregnancy can also help to alleviate symptoms that are commonly associated with pregnancy such as leg cramps and swelling of the legs. Keeping your stamina up throughout your pregnancy can also make it easier to give birth and shorten the amount of time that you are in labor!
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture stimulates beta-endorphins and neurotransmitters that "causes the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone". This can assist in regulating ovulation and menstrual cycles. Acupuncture can also improve "the micro-circulation of blood in the uterus".
- Herbs: Herbs are a natural way that we can heal the body, and this holistic method has picked up in popularity over recent years. There are quite a few herbs that are known to help with treating PCOS. Licorice root, maca and tribulus are just a few of these powerful herbs.
What You Should Avoid
- Xenoestrogens: Environmental oestrogens coming from plastic and pesticides. They are a main culprit in bringing imbalance to your hormones. Choosing organic foods helps in avoiding xenoestrogens.
- Alcohol: Even drinking alcohol on occasion can cut your chances of conceiving in half. The more you or your partner drink, the harder it can be to conceive.
- Caffeine: Not unlike alcohol, just one cup of coffee a day can halve your chances of becoming pregnant. Drinking two cups of coffee a day increases the chance of a miscarriage. Studies have also found that issues with sperm increase as the person consumes more caffeine.
- Smoking: Not only has smoking been linked to infertility in women, it has also been discovered that it can send you into early menopause. The effects that smoking has on men facing fertility issues are just as bad. It can decrease sperm count while increasing the number of abnormal sperm!
Ultimately, the positive effects that a keto diet has on reversing PCOS and increasing fertility rates of women with PCOS have not yet been studied enough for doctors and healthcare professionals to acknowledge how beneficial this diet can be.
It is important to acknowledge that the keto diet is not ideal for everybody and will not have the same healing effects on every medical issue. However, several women have participated in studies and support groups, as well as sharing the success they had with the keto diet on their own. What could be the harm in giving it a try?
Keto During Pregnancy
While the ketogenic diet is certainly something that can help with PCOS and fertility, once your become pregnant, you may want to adjust your diet. There just honestly have not been enough studies to say that the ketogenic diet will or won't cause complications during pregnancy.
One study[viii] found that following a strict keto diet during pregnancy could cause alterations in your baby's organ growth. These changes could cause organ dysfunction and behavioral changes once the baby is born.
However, dietician Lily Nichols states that it's safe for women to eat a low carb diet during pregnancy as long as they are eating proper foods for nutrition and are finding the proper balance between glucose and ketones.
Since there is contrasting information just about everywhere you look on whether or not a keto diet is safe and healthy during pregnancy, you should consult with your doctor before continuing with the keto diet after successfully getting pregnant. If you do choose to remain on the keto diet there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Your goal should no longer be weight loss, but making sure to fuel your body and your baby's body with the proper nutrition.
- Whole foods that you should absolutely include in your diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and some dairy. You should eat more fruits during pregnancy than you did while trying to conceive.
- Continue to avoid simple carbohydrates, grains, added sugar, and processed foods.
- Avoid fasting during pregnancy!
Is the Keto Diet Worth it for Women with PCOS?
Doctors have told us for too long that there is only treatment available for PCOS but that there is no cure. Medications with unbearable side effects have been prescribed to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome in the past when the real cure has been right in front of our faces all along! Healing your body naturally is often the best choice, as taking a regimen of medications can cause unwanted side effects and becomes quite expensive.
If you want to lose weight, manage your insulin levels, get pregnant, or reverse any other symptom of PCOS then it's time that you give the keto diet a try. It is, naturally, a hard diet to stick to as it is very restrictive in carbohydrates. So if you stumble and mess up along the way, have a little grace with yourself. The chances are that your immediate weight loss and improved symptoms will leave you eager to jump right back on that bandwagon.