Do you think you may have PCOS and would like to get a diagnosis? It can be daunting to take that first step, especially when you do not know what tests you need to get done and when in your cycle you should get them done. Well, don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place!
Ketogenic diet, or keto diet, has become all the rage in the last few years. From celebrities to an aunty you know – everyone has tried keto. So should you follow the keto diet for PCOS? Let’s dive into what the research says!
Keto diet is a no/very low carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are macronutrients essential to any balanced diet – they are your body’s primary sources of energy and are found in foods like rice, potatoes, sugar, wheat flour, breads etc. The aim of the keto diet is weight loss – by not providing your body with carbohydrates, you force it to dip into its fat reserves for energy. As a result, your body burns down the fats in your body for energy instead of carbohydrates in your diet. The burning of fats instead of carbohydrates creates a by-product called ketones, and that’s where the name comes from!
Counterintuitively, the keto diet involves eating fats instead of carbohydrates to aid weight loss – mostly healthy fats, though! Healthy fats are found in foods like nuts, olive oil and avocado. There is also a focus on protein; food items like eggs, fish, meat, tofu and soybeans are commonly found in a keto diet. The only sources of carbohydrates in a keto diet are vegetables and low sugar fruits.
A research study conducted on overweight women with PCOS shows that a low carbohydrate, keto diet helps improve many PCOS features. However, it is important to note that the study was only conducted on 14 women. In order to get a more accurate understanding of the effect of a keto diet on PCOS, we need a larger sample size, i.e. the diet needs to be tested on a lot more PCOS patients. According to the study, women following a ketogenic diet show reduction of body weight, BMI and visceral fat levels. This was expected as curbing carbohydrates drives the body to break down stored fats for energy. Other markers of heart health, like total cholesterol and triglyceride levels also showed a decrease; so the keto diet may help improve heart health.
Additionally the 14 women in the study showed reductions in blood glucose and insulin levels, and an improvement in insulin resistance after following a keto diet. 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which is the root cause of major PCOS symptoms like irregular periods, excess facial and body hair growth, and weight gain. Reduction in insulin resistance also decreases the risk of diabetes.
Women with PCOS often have high amounts of LH and low amounts of FSH. LH and FSH are female hormones. Imbalance in their levels leads to irregular periods and problems with fertility. The participants in the keto study showed a balancing of the two hormones. This has the potential to improve cycle regularity and fertility outcomes (however, this has not been proven yet). Women with PCOS also tend to have high male hormone (testosterone) levels, and this research study showed a reduction in testosterone levels in women with PCOS, which has the potential to improve PCOS symptoms like excess hair growth and irregular menses.
Overall, this study shows a keto diet may benefit overweight women with PCOS. However, further research is needed to confirm this, as this study has many limitations. As mentioned earlier, it was only conducted on 14 women. Studying the effect of a keto diet on a larger number of women will give us a better, more accurate understanding of how a low carbohydrate diet can help with PCOS. Secondly, the research study only assessed the effects of a keto diet on women with PCOS for 12 weeks, so we are yet to learn about the long term effects of following a low carbohydrate diet on PCOS symptoms.
Apart from biological benefits, a successful diet needs to be easy to follow and sustainable. Sometimes, diets can be effective in clinical studies and on paper, but may not have the same effectiveness on a day-to-day basis. According to many nutritionists, keto is an example of such a diet.
Nutritionists and people who have tried keto in the past frequently talk about how unsustainable it is. Our regular diets are often rich in carbohydrates and completely cutting out this food group,
1) could have long term effects on the body as you are no longer following a balanced diet, and
2) can be very difficult to follow in the long run.
Most nutritionists believe that a diet should first and foremost be sustainable because well, what is the point of following a diet, if it only lasts a few months? Once you stop following it, you will only see your symptoms return, sometimes at a much faster rate. A successful diet is one that can seamlessly integrate into your lifestyle.
It is especially difficult to follow a keto diet in India, where healthy fat sources like avocado and olive oil are hard to find and expensive. Additionally, a big chunk of the Indian population prefers to eat vegetarian diets and the keto diet significantly reduces food options for this group as it focuses on various types of meats for fats and proteins.
Keto, like intermittent fasting, is considered an extreme form of diet by many nutritionists and is often not recommended as it is hard to make it a part of one’s day to day lifestyle. Instead, it is recommended to follow a balanced diet, which contains all food groups, in portions that help you keep your hormones balanced and PCOS in check.
So if you are deciding whether to try keto, think of all these points. Yes, it will help you lose weight, and may improve your PCOS symptoms to some extent, but at the same time, it is very difficult, expensive and time consuming to follow. Ask yourself if you can cut out carbs from your diet for a long-term basis. If the answer is no, then we recommend considering portion control and substitution, as these techniques are less rigid, extreme and more sustainable to follow in the long run.
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician