PCOS is a hormonal metabolic condition that affects between 5% to 10% of childbearing women in the U.S. Experts don’t know exactly what causes PCOS, but it’s believed that a combination of genetics and environmental, hormonal, and metabolic factors may apply. Women with PCOS have more androgens (male hormones), which can show up as acne, extraneous hair growth, and/or a missed or irregular menstrual cycle. Also, 75% of women experience visceral obesity, which is dangerous since this type of fat can change the general hormonal function of fat tissue that leads to low-grade inflammation causing dysfunction of ovaries and insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance, a state wherein the body isn’t responding to insulin, often leads to high insulin levels even when fasting or limiting carbs. Women who are above 40 years old, overweight, with high blood pressure and cholesterol, and living a sedentary lifestyle that have been diagnosed with PCOS were more likely to be resistant to insulin. Roughly 75% had insulin resistance. It’s believed insulin resistance is not only a symptom but it also a major contributor to PCOS. A high amount of insulin causes ovaries to secrete excess testosterone, which impairs ovulation to causing infertility, acne, and hair on the face and chin.
Women with PCOS may also be more inclined to an imbalance in gut health. A bacterial microorganism that lives in the digestive tract, serves a crucial role in maintaining health by regulating the digestion, immune, and central nervous systems. Imbalances between healthy and unhealthy bacteria negatively affect health, causing weight gain and insulin resistance.
While no cure for PCOS exists, finding relief with lifestyle modifications like exercise and weight loss is recommended. Losing weight lowers glucose and insulin levels and helps balance the hormones. Even a 10% weight drop results in a higher chance to be pregnant if you’re considering starting a family.
Low carb diets significantly improve associated symptoms. For instance, one study evaluated 17 women with obesity and PCOS over 45 days. They had a daily maximum carb of 30g, which resulted in a weight drop of 20.7 lbs, an average waist reduction of 9.4cm, a drop in insulin by 12.90 μU/mL and improved glucose by 10.07mg/dl. Studies have found women with PCOS experiencing irregular periods achieved a regular menstrual cycle between 4 to 8 weeks after a low-carb diet with an improvement in overall fertility results.
Understanding the science behind restricting carbs helps improve PCOS. Limiting carbohydrates in a diet means there is no stimulus for more insulin sent to your body, which allows your insulin levels to naturally decrease. Also, when carbs are restricted the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. Making the switch will have a lot of health benefits, such as weight loss, lowering insulin and glucose levels, and reducing androgen secretion that results in improved fertility.
Sources: Can a Low Carb Diet Help Alleviate PCOS?
Effects of Mixed of a Ketogenic Diet in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome