The ketogenic diet has been growing in popularity recently. This is because keto can be a life-changing diet that can help reduce PCOS symptoms. PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders for women, and keto helps reduce PCOS symptoms by regulating insulin levels. If you are looking for an alternative way to manage your PCOS, then keto may be what you need!
This article will discuss how ketogenic diets work and how they can help reduce PCOS symptoms. We’ll also briefly talk about what PCOS is and its causes, so that you know why keto could help with it. First off, let’s start by talking about ketogenic diets.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat eating pattern (2). A keto diet typically consists of foods such as:
- Butter and oils
- Full-fat dairy products like milk and cheese
- Nuts or seeds for snacking on (some nuts are higher in carbs than others)
- Some fruits (some keto followers don’t eat any fruits)
- Beef, chicken, fish, and other seafood
In contrast to the ketogenic diet’s low-carb nature, it does allow a moderate amount of carbohydrates. For some people, this may be around 50 grams per day, though others can go up to 100 or even 150 grams per day. Keto typically doesn’t provide more than 50 grams of carbs at one time in order to maintain a ketosis state. It is important to keep in mind that even someone on a ketogenic diet needs to eat some carbohydrates every day.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It’s one of the most common hormonal disorders for women, and keto can help keep insulin levels regulated.
Insulin resistance is a hormone condition where cells stop responding to insulin which leads them not being able to use glucose properly (glucose metabolism). This causes high blood sugar which in turn may lead someone with this disorder to have (8):
- Weight gain around their belly and waistline due to excess fat storage
- Irregular periods because ovulation becomes irregular
You’re probably wondering how keto helps reduce these symptoms. So, let’s find out!
How Does The Keto Diet Reduce PCOS Symptoms?
A keto diet could help reduce PCOS symptoms because it regulates insulin levels through dieting (10). If you are looking for alternative ways on how to manage your condition, ketogenic diets could be an option since a ketosis state reduces glucose production. There are many different benefits from starting keto including weight loss, better focus and concentration, and reducing inflammation in the body to name a few.
Reducing Hormone Levels
The keto diet could act on these hormonal factors directly or indirectly. It may improve androgen levels in PCOS by decreasing IGF-I activity (5). It also causes the body to produce ketones that it can use as fuel, which may help with symptoms of insulin resistance such as acne or hair loss.
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Improving Insulin Sensitivity
The keto diet improves insulin sensitivity by increasing ketones in the body. Ketones are a byproduct of fat breakdown that can help to improve insulin sensitivity when there is not enough glucose present (i.e., when on keto).
Ketones also make your cells more sensitive or receptive to insulin since they reduce inflammation and strengthen cell membranes, so it’s easier for nutrients and key metabolic molecules like calcium to get inside the cells (10).
In PCOS women, this will improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. This improves symptoms such as weight, acne breakouts, and ovulation.
However, the ketogenic diet is typically high in fat, moderate protein, and low carb intake, which can lead to increased insulin resistance due to a significant reduction of carbohydrates (9). Additionally, the fat going into your body becomes more saturated as it takes longer for processed carbs to leave through digestion.
Therefore, for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, diets that help control insulin levels such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet may be more effective than low-carbohydrate options to control insulin sensitivity.
Keto diets are very popular for people who want to lose weight because they help reduce insulin levels which can cause inflammation throughout the body. Some studies show that this type of dietary restriction reduces inflammation by decreasing the production of inflammatory cytokines (3).
Ketogenic diets may reduce systemic and local inflammation markers through a variety of mechanisms, including reduced levels of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-17).
Potentially Reducing Oxidative Stress
This low-carb diet could potentially be beneficial for PCOS because it is low on sugar intake or other factors that affect blood glucose control and antioxidant status like reactive oxygen species generation from excessive mitochondrial respiration with high free radical production rates found intra-abdominally in PCOS patients (3).
One of the reasons that this diet may be so beneficial for PCOS sufferers is because it helps regulate hormones, which can combat fertility issues in some women. This is because, in addition to being high-fat and low-carbohydrate that prevents spikes in insulin levels, keto is nutrient-dense which helps balance hormone production.
When you eat carbs your body needs to produce insulin to regulate our blood sugar levels. When there are lots of sugars available in our bloodstream, we don’t produce much of an appetite-controlling hormone called leptin. And when this happens overeating as well as weight gain becomes much more likely.
For women with PCOS who are trying to conceive, this often means that their insulin levels will be continuously high, and they may struggle to lose weight or may also have an increased chance of developing diabetes (4).
A keto diet has several proven benefits for those suffering from the condition including stabilizing blood sugar levels which in turn can reduce inflammation, regulate hormone production, as well as prevent weight gain. This type of dietary intervention could represent a novel approach for increasing fertility rates in women with PCOS by regulating hormonal dysfunctions associated with the condition (4).
Is the keto diet safe for women with PCOS who are breastfeeding? Yes, it could be. Breastfeeding moms who have PCOS are more likely than other nursing mothers to experience low milk production due as their increased prolactin levels can inhibit lactation (7)
The high-fat content of the keto diet will promote higher prolactin hormone levels during breastfeeding, increasing production and helping moms maintain their breast milk supply while also getting all of the diet’s benefits.
If you’re struggling to manage your weight while breastfeeding, you might be able to experience a significant reduction in symptoms by following the ketogenic diet. It can help reduce insulin resistance that often accompanies being overweight or obese. The ketogenic diet makes it so that carbohydrates are not converted into sugar very quickly, and instead, your body burns fat for energy (4). Make sure to talk with a dietitian if you are breastfeeding and want to start a ketogenic diet.
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When you eat carbs your body produces insulin which regulates our blood sugar levels (this stops us from getting too hungry). If there are lots of sugars available, we don’t produce much of an appetite-controlling hormone called leptin (6). When this happens, overeating, as well as weight gain, becomes much more likely.
The ketogenic diet puts the body in a state of ketosis, which is characterized by higher levels of blood glucose and fat metabolism. This means you can have elevated levels of blood sugar without any negative effects from too much sugar, as long as there aren’t also high amounts of other carbs like starches or sugars (which would kick you out of ketosis).
A ketogenic diet for PCOS may be the best option if you’re looking to lose weight. A 2012 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism found that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome who followed a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet lost more body weight than those on an isocaloric low-fat control group over six weeks (5). And this was despite increased energy expenditure during exercise sessions that counteracted some of the potential beneficial effects of decreased carbohydrate intake.
Another 2016 randomized controlled trial also showed promising results from following a calorie-restricted, very low carb ketogenic diet, especially for overweight or obese women over six months (1).
Some experts recommend increasing protein intake (to maintain muscle mass) while decreasing carbohydrates to 30 grams or less per day (12). This is best combined with a moderate-intensity exercise routine and the elimination of “white” refined bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and added sugar from your diet. You can also try intermittent fasting for 14 hours each night, which may help lower insulin levels by evening out when cortisol peaks in response to stressors that occur during waking periods.
For women with PCOS who are looking into keto diets, there are some things to consider when transitioning from carbohydrates to fat-based metabolism: Weight management becomes more difficult due to increased caloric intake without an increase in exercise; this leads many people back into old habits like restrictive eating and exercise.
However, women with PCOS can find success by following a modified version of the keto diet that includes fewer carbs and more fiber-rich foods such as leafy greens, vegetables, berries, or nuts/seeds. Even adding these few tweaks could help regulate hormones by reducing inflammation throughout the body which may be an added benefit not seen on other diets.
PCOS is a complex disease to diagnose and treat. It can be difficult for the average person unfamiliar with this disorder to understand how long PCOS treatment will take, so you must speak directly with your doctor about some patient-to-patient factors.
The first factor to consider is whether or not you have insulin resistance that may be causing your PCOS. If you have insulin resistance, your doctor will want to work with a dietitian and exercise physiologist to get the best outcome for you in terms of weight loss, fertility, and long-term health.
If you’re struggling with infertility due to polycystic ovaries (PCO) then treatment can take anywhere from two months to five years. It largely depends on how severe your symptoms are, which typically correlates to age: younger women tend towards milder symptoms while older women suffer more severely from PCOS because it progresses exponentially over time, especially past menopause when hormone levels drop considerably (11).
Keto can help but it’s not guaranteed that this is the right treatment path for everyone. Some people may need lifestyle changes or medication alone before considering keto; while others may require an entirely different type of therapy like IVF or surgery first.
Your doctors should be able to give guidance on what steps are appropriate depending on how severe your symptoms are and whether they fit into one or multiple categories. You must communicate openly with them so that you can make the best decision for your own care.
Here’s what your day on Keto might look like (remembering it’s important you are getting the right balance of macronutrients):
- Breakfast: Eggs cooked in avocado oil and served with fat bacon, spinach or other greens, mushrooms, tomato slices, and pepper. This meal contains about 30 grams of protein from eggs plus meat and 50 grams worth of carbs from leafy vegetables.
- Lunch: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas served on top of lettuce cups with cilantro lime cauliflower rice – 20 grams protein/40g carbohydrate mix.
- Dinner: Meatballs with Marinara Sauce and Parmesan Cheese served on zucchini noodles – 40 grams protein/60g carbohydrate mix.
- Snacks: Keto Chocolate Muffins or Fathead Pizza Crust.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado – 30 grams protein/40g carbohydrate mix.
- Lunch: Keto Lasagna made with ground beef, cream cheese, mushrooms, spinach, or other greens for a low-carb pasta noodle substitute. Topped off with some fat-free ricotta mixed in to make it creamy- 50 grams protein/60 g carbohydrates plus a small number of healthy fats from the meat and dairy.
- Dinner: Ground Beef Curry served over cauliflower rice – 20 grams protein/60g carbs (slow cook this dish all day!)
- Snacks: Avocado Deviled Eggs or Chocolate Chip Cookies.
- Breakfast: Bacon Rancheros Bowl – egg scotchups cooked in avocado oil, black beans cooked with bacon and onion; topped off with avocado slice – 20g protein/40g carbohydrates.
- Lunch: Keto Taco Salad made from ground beef, spinach, or other greens for a low carb noodle substitute, avocado chunks served on top of romaine lettuce – 30 grams protein/50g carbohydrate mix. Add some salsa to really spice things up!
- Dinner: Beef Stroganoff over zucchini noodles (no cream!) – 20 grams protein/60g carbs plus a small number of healthy fats from the meat and dairy).
- Snacks: Chia Seed Pudding or Banana Berry Crumble Cake.
- Breakfast: Pancakes made with almond flour and served with butter, fresh berries, eggs cooked in avocado oil. This meal contains about 40 grams of protein from the eggs plus meat.
- Lunch: Keto Pizza – 50g carbs/30g protein (can be a low carb pizza crust recipe or just use mozzarella cheese).
- Dinner: Leftover Beef Stroganoff Served on top of zucchini noodles- 20 grams protein/60g carbohydrate mix. Add some more Parmesan cheese to make it even tastier!
- Snacks: Coconut Macaroons or Chocolate Almond Shortbread Cookies.
- Breakfast: Breakfast burrito with bacon or sausage– 30g/50g mix.
- Lunch: Smoked Salmon served on top of lettuce cups with cauliflower rice – 20g protein/40g carbohydrate mix.
- Dinner: Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage Rolls cooked in a crockpot for eight hours– 100 g total carbs from cabbage roll mixture plus 25-gram net carbs from additional ingredients such as almond flour & coconut milk; 60 g protein content.
- Snacks: Keto Chocolate Muffins or Fathead Pizza Crust.
- Breakfast: Avocado Egg Cups with bacon – 30g protein/50 grams carbohydrate mix.
- Lunch: Grilled Chicken Salad– 20-gram protein/40 grams carbohydrate mix.
- Dinner: Grilled Salmon served on top of zucchini noodles and topped with avocado salsa- 80 grams total carbs including zucchini, salmon, and avocado; 60g protein content from the fish.
The Bottom Line
For women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, diets that help control insulin levels such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet may be more effective than low-carbohydrate options. But a ketogenic diet for PCOS may be a good option if you’re looking to lose weight as well.
Sticking to a healthy diet based on your health needs, allergies and preferences is a great idea, however when combined with a workout plan that meets your goals, it might bring you significant benefits. Better mood, stronger muscles and endurance are just some.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A randomized trial comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ketogenic Diet: A Review Article (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet: New Perspectives for Neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s Disease (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary composition in restoring reproductive and metabolic physiology in overweight women with polycystic ovary syndrome (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ketogenic Diet for PCOS (2020, naturalmedicinejournal.com)
- Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- PCOS and Lactation (n.d., washingtonmidwives.org)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (2019, health.harvard.edu)
- Short-term feeding of a ketogenic diet induces more severe hepatic insulin resistance than an obesogenic high-fat diet (2018, physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- The effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: A pilot study (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Role of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Reproductive and Metabolic Health: Overview and Approaches for Treatment (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- When it comes to protein, how much is too much? (2020, health.harvard.edu)