Keto For PCOS, Can It Really Help You?
Is Keto for PCOS the Right Option for You?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting women, characterized by irregularity in menstrual periods or an excessive amount of male hormone levels.
While the causes of PCOS remain unknown, there are a number of long-term complications that can occur as a result, including heart disease and type two diabetes.
Weight loss, as well as early diagnosis and intervention, can reduce the risk of these complications, and one option gaining popularity among women is going Keto for PCOS.
Symptoms of PCOS
Women affected by PCOS will often develop symptoms in conjunction with their first menstrual period during puberty, but in other cases, symptoms might not occur until later.
The following are some of the potential symptoms of PCOS, although every individual may experience symptoms differently.
Too much androgen, which is a male hormone that can lead to some of the outward signs of PCOS, including excess facial and body hair, severe acne, and in some instances, male-pattern baldness.
- Ovaries may become enlarged and contain follicles surrounding the eggs, which can impact the functionality of the ovaries. This symptom is known as polycystic ovaries.
- Irregular periods, including infrequent or long-lasting periods, are one of the most commonly experienced signs of PCOS. Someone with PCOS might have fewer than nine periods a year or may go more than 35 days between periods.
- Darkening of areas of the skin can occur, including on the neck and groin, as well as under the breast.
- Weight gain is a nearly universal symptom of PCOS, with an estimated 80% of women who have the condition being characterized as overweight or obese.
While the specific causes are unclear, there are some theories as to what can contribute to PCOS or play a role in the development of the condition.
There may be genetic components, and if the ovaries produce an abnormally high amount of androgen, it may factor in as well.
Excess insulin can increase the body’s production of androgen which may lead to some of the symptoms of PCOS, and low-grade inflammation may also be a contributor.
Up to 70% of women who have PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning their cells don’t utilize insulin the way they should.
When your cells can’t utilize insulin effectively then your body demands more insulin, which the pancreas makes to keep up.
Having an excess of insulin, in turn, leads the ovaries to produce more male hormones.
Obesity is also another cause of insulin resistance.
PCOS affects women during their childbearing years, and anywhere from 2.2% to 26.7% of women between the ages of 15 to 44 are believed to have PCOS.
Complications of PCOS
There are a number of complications that can occur with PCOS, including:
- Infertility: Ovulation is required to become pregnant, and if you don’t have regular cycles of ovulation you might not release as many eggs. PCOS is believed to be a major cause of infertility in women.
- Metabolic Syndrome: Since being overweight and obese are common in PCOS, you may be at a higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high LDL which is bad cholesterol. This triad of factors is described as metabolic syndrome. Having metabolic syndrome may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
- Sleep Apnea: This causes problems in breathing during the night leading to interrupted sleep, and it’s more common in overweight women and particularly if they simultaneously have PCOS.
- Endometrial Cancer: If you don’t ovulate every month, then the uterine lining builds up, and that can increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
- Depression: PCOS can have an impact on mental health, including leading to depression and anxiety because of both the emotional impact the condition can have as well as the effects of hormonal changes.
There are some medications used to treat the symptoms of PCOS. For example, hormonal birth control can help regulate the menstrual cycle and lower the risk of endometrial cancer.
It can also help with symptoms like acne and excess hair growth on the body and face.
Anti-androgen medicines aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration for PCOS, but they are an option that blocks the effects of androgen.
Metformin is medicine for type 2 diabetes that may help lower blood sugar, insulin, and androgen levels, but it doesn’t alleviate symptoms like excess body hair or acne.
Along with medicines, there are many at-home steps and lifestyle changes that you can make to potentially help with the treatment of PCOS.
In fact, many health professionals advise lifestyle changes are the first step that women take.
These lifestyle changes include diet, weight loss and exercise.
Losing even just 5% to 10% of your body weight can help improve symptoms, regulate your menstrual cycle, and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
What About Going Keto for PCOS?
The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, may be a viable option for women who want to manage their PCOS symptoms, lose weight and improve their health.
The keto diet is high in healthy fats and proteins and low in carbohydrates.
The overall objective of the keto diet is to get more of your calories from fat and protein than carbs.
Then your body depletes its sugar stores, and it starts to break down protein and fat for energy. This causes ketosis and as a result, weight loss.
You can learn more, as well as how to get started with Keto in my beginner series here.
The keto diet for PCOS is becoming an increasingly popular option, and many of the benefits of this diet are in-line with improving the symptoms of PCOS.
Is Keto Good for PCOS?
There have been several large-scale studies that have looked at keto for PCOS.
One study looked at the effects of a low-carb, ketogenic diet on overweight and obese women with PCOS for six months.
Women participating in the study limited their carb intake to 20 grams or less a day for 24 weeks. They then returned to the research clinic every two weeks for measurements and to go over their diet.
In the women who completed the study, there were significant reductions in body weight, free testosterone, and fasting insulin.
From the baseline weight to the 24-week weights of participants, there was an average reduction in body weight of 12%.
Another study was conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic. The goal was to see if the ketogenic diet would help improve the outcome of fertility treatments by reducing insulin levels in study participants.
The participants who adhered to the keto diet for PCOS lost anywhere from 19 to 36 pounds.
Within four-to-eight weeks of starting the keto diet for PCOS, all the participants started regular menstruation, and two of the four participants conceived without ovulation induction.
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Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic said the initial results of the study were promising in showing the benefits of going keto for PCOS, and they believe this type of diet could help alleviate PCOS symptoms faster than other methods.
What Does Keto Do For PCOS?
When you follow a keto diet, it forces the body to release ketones into your bloodstream.
Typically cells want to use blood sugar from carbohydrates as their primary source of energy, as it is the easiest and quickest to burn.
However, when there’s not enough blood sugar circulating and available, the body will start breaking down stored fat into molecules that are described as ketone bodies.
This process is known as ketosis.
When you reach this point of ketosis, your body will keep using ketone bodies to create energy.
A ketogenic diet includes meats, eggs, cheeses, fish, nuts, oils, and fibrous vegetables.
Check out some of our amazing recipes and see for yourself how delicious Keto can be!
It’s a departure from the standard American diet which is based primarily around carbohydrates.
According to Harvard University, a ketogenic diet shows good results in terms of weight loss even compared to people who follow a low-fat or Mediterranean diet.
Keto diets have been shown effective at helping control blood sugar as well.
A meta-analysis was done looking at 13 controlled trials, and five of those showed significant weight loss from a ketogenic diet.
The diet is high in protein, so, in addition to the fact that your body is turning fat into energy, you’re also less likely to experience hunger and cravings when you follow keto for PCOS.
There are several specific benefits of the keto diet that speak directly to the symptoms and potential complications of PCOS.
The Keto Diet and Reduced Inflammation
One way keto for PCOS works so well is because this diet helps lower inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to PCOS.
Systemic inflammation isn’t just associated with PCOS, but almost all chronic health problems and diseases.
The keto diet forces your body to produce ketones, and these can fight inflammation.
For example, there is a substance called BHB that’s produced when you are in ketosis, and it has anti-inflammatory effects and blocks specific inflammatory pathways.
BHB also activates the AMPK pathway, which helps inhibit inflammation and also regulate your energy levels.
Following a keto diet for PCOS can trigger biochemical effects that directly fight inflammation.
The Keto Diet and Insulin/Type 2 Diabetes
Whether insulin resistance is a contributor or a symptom of PCOS, it’s an issue for most women with this condition either way.
Up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance and this can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Some research suggests a keto diet might help improve glycemic control in people with diabetes and help them lose extra weight. It could reduce the risk of diabetes in people who don’t have it yet but are considered prediabetic.
The reasons for these benefits may stem from the fact that the keto diet helps your body maintain low glucose levels. You’re consuming fewer carbohydrates, so you’re not getting big blood sugar spikes, and that reduces the body’s need for insulin.
There was a study published in 2018 and it looked the glycemic control in children and adults with type 1 diabetes when consuming a very low-carbohydrate diet. The researchers described “exceptional glycemic control” of diabetes as a result of the low-carb diet.
Keto Diet and Acne
Acne is frequently seen with PCOS, and a ketogenic diet may help. High insulin levels are thought to lower the levels of IGF-1 binding protein. Women with PCOS have lower IGF-1 binding protein levels and that means there are higher amounts of IGF-circulating in their body, which worsens acne. If you reduce your insulin levels it can also boost IGF-1 binding protein and improve symptoms of acne.
In a general sense, when you eat a diet that’s high in processed carbohydrates, it can change the balance of bacteria in your gut, and that can influence the health of your skin as well.
Other ways the keto diet for PCOS can be a good option include:
- Following a keto diet for PCOS may help improve cardiovascular health. There was a study that found when you follow a keto diet, it can improve your HDL cholesterol levels, which are considered “good cholesterol” while lowering LDL which is “bad cholesterol.”
- The keto diet can help with brain health, and it’s currently being studied for its effects on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A study of children who followed a keto diet found it improved cognitive function and alertness.
- A keto diet can help reduce abdominal fat, which is the most dangerous type of body fat. The greater proportion of fat lost when following a low-carb diet tends to come from the abdominal cavity.
- Going keto for PCOS can help combat metabolic syndrome.
How to Go Keto For PCOS
If you’ve decided that keto for PCOS is the right option for you, it’s relatively easy to get started with this diet once you learn the basics. In many ways, it’s less restrictive than other diets because you don’t have to count calories or stick to a strict regimen, beyond the fact that you reduce your carbohydrate intake.
Foods that you’ll avoid on a keto diet for PCOS include:
- Sugary foods
- Grains and starches like rice, pasta, and cereal
- Fruit except for small portions of berries
- Beans and legumes
- Root vegetables like potatoes and carrots
- Highly processed foods
- Some sauces and condiments
- Unhealthy fats
Foods to eat on the keto diet for PCOS can include:
- Meat such as steak, sausage, chicken, turkey, and bacon
- Fatty fish like tuna and salmon
- Butter and cream
- Unprocessed cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Health oils like avocado and coconut oil
- Low-carb vegetables like green vegetables and tomatoes
Having PCOS can impact every part of your life, from your physical and mental health to your relationships and your ability to become pregnant. There are ways to get the condition under control and alleviate many, if not all, of your symptoms, and going keto for PCOS is a great option.
Have you been struggling with PCOS? Have a story to share or how Keto helped you? We’d love to hear all about it, shoot us an email or leave a comment!
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Alwawab, Ula Abed, et. al. “A ketogenic diet may restore fertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A case series.” AACE Clinical Case Report. 2018;3 (No. 5). Accessed January 16, 2020.
Campos, Marcelo MD. “Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimately low-carb diet good for you?” Harvard Medical School, July 30, 2019. Accessed January 16, 2020.
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Lennerz, BS et. al. “Management of Type 1 Diabetes with a Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet.” Pediatrics, June 2018. Accessed January 16, 2020.
Cole, Will Dr. “Exactly How the Keto Diet Lowers Inflammation.” DrWillCole.com, November 19, 2018. Accessed January 16, 2020.
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