PCOS is a lifestyle disorder. And when you fix your lifestyle and make changes to your diet, you target the root causes of PCOS —- namely insulin resistance, excess androgens and unexplained weight gain. You may have heard that a Low Carbohydrate-High Fat or LCHF diet can effectively reverse PCOS. But what makes this diet the most effective eating pattern for PCOS? Let’s find out!
Cutting back on your carb intake is the first step towards reversing PCOS. The LCHF diet, as the name suggests, focuses on limiting carbohydrate intake. In this diet, less than 30% of your daily caloric intake is derived from carbs.
Now, many women struggle with the idea of reducing their carbohydrate intake, especially so in India where most meals focus on eating carb-rich grains. Simple, refined carbohydrates get converted into sugars and will quickly spike your blood glucose levels. Most of these foods are highly processed to remove healthy fiber, so they digest rather quickly. Plus they are very high in calories, devoid of healthy nutrients, and can aid inflammation. Going on the LCHF diet helps you understand “how” and “where” to cut back on these bad carbs. If you’re currently eating too many sugars and carbs, going LCHF points you in the right direction.
When you’re on the LCHF diet, you get your carbs from healthy sources like fruits, vegetables, quinoa, seeds and brown rice. Researchers have found that the use of a low (100 gram/d) carbohydrate, high saturated fat diet in 15 overweight women with PCOS resulted in a 14.3% reduction in body weight, while their fasting serum insulin levels reduced by half in 24 weeks. Eating good fats like ghee, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, oily fish and nuts like almonds and walnuts ensure you stay satiated even when you’re eating far fewer carbs.
Research suggests that women with PCOS have a unique disorder of insulin action and are at increased risk to develop Type 2 diabetes. This defect is unique to women with polycystic ovary syndrome. It is not seen in other common insulin-resistant cases of obesity or other patients with non-insulin-dependent Diabetes type 2. Put simply, it means that regardless of whether your fasting insulin levels tested normal or high, women with PCOS have greater insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance compared to PCOS-free women.
The LCHF diet is particularly effective at improving insulin sensitivity, as it limits carbohydrate intake. A study was done in North Carolina to investigate the metabolic and endocrine effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on overweight and obese women with PCOS over a period of six months. Keto or ketogenic diet is a stricter form of the LCHF diet, which restricts carbohydrate intake to 20-30gm/day, and is especially effective in losing stubborn weight and balancing hormones. Researchers found that a Keto diet which restricted carbohydrate intake to 20 grams or less per day, led to significant improvement in weight, testosterone levels, LH/FSH ratio, and fasting insulin in women with obesity and PCOS over a 24-week period.
At the 76th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association, in New Orleans, a case was made for renaming Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and calling it “metabolic reproductive disorder”. Due to the complex metabolic, hypothalamic, pituitary, ovarian, and adrenal interactions that characterize the syndrome—and their reproductive complications, treating this disorder with medication is often unsuccessful. This is where the LCHF diet steps in.
Such a low-carb high-fat diet changes the metabolic picture of affected women. And that improves both insulin levels and menstrual cyclicity. Once hormones are balanced, getting pregnant without the need for fertility treatments becomes a possibility. In a study done at North Carolina, two women out of the 11 subjects became pregnant despite previous infertility problems. Additionally, a healthy LCHF diet can reduce the risk of pregnancy-related complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and overweight babies. And it does so, because it prevents blood sugar spikes in the first place.
An LCHF diet works well for most PCOS patients as cutting back on carbohydrates reduces insulin load on the body. The other reason we recommend LCHF instead of a Low Carb-High Protein diet is because both proteins and carbohydrates have an adverse effect on insulin resistance.
Experts are now of the opinion that cutting back on carbs and eating more healthy fats is the most effective way to drop excess weight. Researchers in Denmark found that a low-carbohydrate diet helps in weight loss. Further, weight loss improves ovulation, testosterone levels and insulin resistance in women with PCOS.
Eating more of the good fats help mobilize stored fats to be used up for energy, improving insulin function as well as providing satiety, which helps with appetite control. In fact, many women who go on the Keto diet for PCOS have found that boosting fat to 75% of their diet helps curb all kinds of cravings. Unlike carbohydrates or proteins, fats burn very slowly, keeping you full for longer. Such strategies for appetite control are particularly important for women with PCOS. Because disturbed appetite regulation has been associated with increased levels of testosterone.
You would think that eating more fats will wreak havoc on your lipid profile, but that’s not true. Women with PCOS are at high risk of heart disease. Also, many PCOS patients suffer from Dyslipidaemia – abnormal amount of lipids in the blood. However, the good news is that eating the right kind of dietary fats can actually improve lipid levels and improve heart health markers in women with PCOS.
When 15 obese PCOS women were put on a LCHF diet, they lost weight without adverse effects on serum lipid levels. In fact researchers noticed increased size of HDL (good cholesterol) and decreased size of LDL (bad cholesterol) instead after 24 and 52 weeks.
Here’s a concerning thought — the human body is still in its 1.0 model. It hasn’t been upgraded, yet the way we eat has evolved a lot over the ages. Some experts argue that LCHF diet closely mimics the way human being ate in ancient time, which is why such a diet results in hormonal balancing. Our modern diet with high consumption of sugar and carbohydrates is one of the main reasons that PCOS has become so common. Cut these culprits out of your diet, and you will notice a dramatic impact on PCOS symptoms. It’s just how we are genetically programmed to eat.
As you can see, LCHF diet helps improve insulin resistance and excess androgens. That’s how it can be beneficial for naturally treating all symptoms of PCOS — acne, hair fall, excess body and facial hair, dark skin patches and more.
Seplika’s 5-petal PCOD program includes detailed LCHF diet plans with food options for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. Sign up now to know more about our PCOS treatment plan.
Effect of a High Saturated Fat and No-Starch Diet on Serum Lipid Subfractions in Patients With Documented Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease – http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62710-9/fulltext
Hyperandrogenic anovulation (PCOS): A unique disorder of insulin action associated with an increased risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002934399800576
The effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: A pilot study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1334192/
American Diabetes Association 76th Scientific Sessions: It’s Time to Rename Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – https://www.endocrineweb.com/professional/meetings/its-time-rename-polycystic-ovary-syndrome
The effect of dietary carbohydrates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24914605