If you have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, you may be curious if you can relieve some of your symptoms by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle. PCOS, like type 2 diabetes, is characterized by insulin resistance. This means that your body does not respond appropriately to insulin, which helps with fat storage and the regulation of blood sugar levels.
According to some research, the low-carb, high fat keto diet may improve insulin resistance in people who have type 2 diabetes. Therefore, it is believed that it may also be beneficial for those who have PCOS.
In this article, we’ll explore more about PCOS, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using a keto diet to control the symptoms associated with PCOS.
PCOS: What is it exactly?
PCOS is a hormonal condition. Research shows that it affects 1 in 10 women in their childbearing years. It has an effect on hormone levels and metabolism and is one of the primary causes of infertility in women. That being said, with proper medical attention, PCOS is treatable. Research indicates that there’s not just one particular factor, but several that could contribute to PCOS.
Some of the potential contributing factors include:
- Low-grade inflammation
- Imbalance of hormones, such as testosterone and insulin
It’s important to note that all women produce and require testosterone. However, women with PCOS seem to have higher levels than women who do not have this condition.
Some of the symptoms associated with PCOS include the following:
- Weight gain, difficulty losing weight, obesity
- Irregular periods/no period
- Excessive body hair, especially on the face and/or chin
- Thinning hair
- Skin changes, such as skin tags, acne, or dark spots
Typically, PCOS is managed with a variety of lifestyle changes and medications. For women who have PCOS and obesity, weight loss plans such as keto are recommended because there is some evidence that it promotes hormonal balance and improves insulin resistance.
Keto Diet & PCOS: What Happens?
When you get on the low-carb, high fat keto diet, your carb intake is decreased. This triggers your body into a state of ketosis so that you are burning fat instead of carbs for fuel.
Typically, on a keto diet, people reduce their carb consumption to under 50 grams of carbs daily. Research indicates that keto diets may promote weight loss in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as improve insulin sensitivity and balance hunger hormones.
There have been several recent studies showing that keto diet plans may also have an effect on PCOS as well, including the following:
There is some belief that insulin resistance may contribute to PCOS. After all, insulin is a hormone that helps with the regulation of blood sugar levels. It does this by shuttling glucose from your blood into your cells where it is stored for later use or used immediately for energy.
Individuals with insulin resistance have elevated blood sugar levels and insulin levels because their body is producing extra insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance. This condition is created when your cells no longer respond to insulin, increasing blood sugar levels and causing the pancreas to make more insulin.
Since insulin is responsible for fat storage, high levels of insulin and insulin resistance are associated with weight gain and obesity. If it is not properly handled, insulin resistance could ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes. Therefore, since the keto diet is believed to improve insulin sensitivity, it may also help manage PCOS symptoms.
In one 12-week study involving 14 female participants with PCOS, a keto diet high in plant-based foods significantly decreased blood sugar and insulin levels- which resulted in better insulin resistance scores, indicating improved insulin sensitivity.
Another study involving 18 female participants with PCOS, obesity, and liver dysfunction were either given medications or put on a keto diet for a period of 12 weeks. Research showed that the group on the keto diet experienced improvements in blood sugar levels, indicating an improvement in insulin sensitivity. However, this study did not look at insulin resistance scores or insulin levels.
One other study involving 17 female participants with PCOS and obesity, found that a keto diet plan reduced blood sugar levels by approximately 10 mg/dL and average insulin levels by almost 13 micro-IU/mL. In addition, insulin sensitivity was improved based on insulin resistance scores. This study lasted for 45 days.
Basically, research indicates that a keto diet may substantially reduce the symptoms of PCOS by effectively regulating insulin levels.
The same studies outlined above also showed improvements in fertility, hormone levels, blood lipids, weight, menstrual regularity, and liver function.
In one 12-week study involving a plant-rich keto diet, the female subjects lost almost 21 pounds on average. They also experienced improvements in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a reduction in testosterone levels.
In a 12-week study of PCOS and liver function in females with obesity, 6 of the 7 women who were on the keto diet had no signs of fatty liver disease by the end of the 12 weeks. In addition, these participants lost a lot of weight.
In the 45-day study, the female participants lost an average of 21 pounds. In addition, their fat mass and waist/hip ratio were significantly reduced. Finally, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, testosterone, and total cholesterol were significantly decreased and HDL cholesterol was increased.
Plus, over the course of the study, 5 of the 17 women had their period after not having one for several years, 12 experienced improved regularity, and 5 women were able to conceive after many unsuccessful attempts previously.
However, in order to learn more about the long-term effects of keto on PCOS, we need more research.
Side Effects of Keto on PCOS
Though keto does seem to help with the symptoms of PCOS, there may also be a few disadvantages or challenges to the keto diet for PCOS.
First of all, some studies have indicated that following a keto diet may increase cholesterol levels, which could be a concern for some- especially if they are already dealing with high cholesterol.
Additionally, the keto diet plan is quite restrictive, so it can be hard to stick to. Some of the foods that are not allowed on the keto diet are: cereals, most fruits, rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, and foods that are high in sugar and/or carbs.
If you do decide that you want to try the keto diet to manage PCOS, you’ll want to work with your medical provider to track your progress. You may find that a less restrictive, low-carb diet may help with PCOS, and it’s easier to adapt to than a keto diet plan. In fact, there have been some studies showing similar outcomes using less restrictive diets, such as the Mediterranean diet.
Since one of the symptoms of PCOS is insulin resistance, it is believed that the keto diet may help, since it has been proven to improve insulin sensitivity. Researchers have also discovered that the keto diet can help women with PCOS lose weight, reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improve fertility, normalize menstrual cycles, and improve their balance of sex hormones.
That being said, keto is extremely restrictive for most people, and cycling on and off keto may increase your body’s sensitivity to high-carb foods.
Finally, more research is required to determine the long-term effects of keto on PCOS.
One thing is clear, transitioning to a low-carb eating plan that you can stick to, may provide some relief from the symptoms of PCOS and help you manage your condition.
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