Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Everyone is talking keto these days, but is it right for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a condition of insulin resistance and ovulatory dysfunction. This is why keeping blood sugar balanced is CRUCIAL for managing PCOS and putting it into remission. For women with PCOS (and everyone else as well!) it’s imperative to design meals with the number one goal of making sure they will balance your blood sugar and give you the nutrients you need.
Your meal should keep you full for at least 3-6 hours, and if you’re hungry 1-2 hours after eating, then this is an indicator that your meal did not promote balanced blood sugar levels.
The link between high blood sugar and PCOS is due to the hormone called insulin.
When the insulin level is elevated due to high blood sugar levels, it will block the receptors on the ovaries that are designed to receive ovarian hormones, and this can stop ovulation. Also, when excess insulin attaches to the receptors, it stimulates the ovaries to produce excess androgen's (male hormones). So the overall effect of eating lots of sugar and processed carbs is progression towards infertility and hormonal imbalance (such as manifests with PCOS).
This is why the journey to hormonal balance (not just for women with PCOS but for ALL women) starts with balancing blood sugar levels.
And that is where a keto or ‘ketoish” diet comes in!
PCOS and the Keto Diet
For women with PCOS, I’m a huge fan of the Keto or “ketoish” diet, but only as a therapeutic diet observed for about 4-12 weeks. This is because the Keto diet can be harmful if practiced too long.
There was a small study in 2005 that tested the ability of the keto diet to help manage PCOS and even put it in remission, and it showed promising results. However, the trial groups only practiced the keto diet for 12 weeks.
You see, although the keto diet is excellent for reversing PCOS, diabetes, and balancing blood sugar, if practiced over a long period of time, women can stop menstruating.
This is because women need a certain amount of carbohydrates (somewhere around 150 grams daily) to ovulate and have a period. The keto diet calls for less than 50 grams a day, so women who practice this diet very often stop having periods a few months later.
Keto for 4-12 weeks (in tandem with working with a health practitioner) and then practice intermittent fasting while observing a “ketoish” diet that includes healthy carbs like a serving of white rice or sweet potatoes once a day, ideally taken in the evening. As women we need to aim at about 150 grams daily.
A great form of Intermittent Fasting for women with PCOS is what’s called “Time Restricted Eating”. This means one goes 12-16 hours without eating, and eats all of their food for the day within a certain window. Starting at 12 hours is best (for example stopping eating at 8PM and then having breakfast at 8AM) and then working up to 14 or 16.
It's best to limit your extended fasts of 14-16 hours to 3-4 times a week, but 12 hours should be your daily baseline.
It’s very important to note that you must listen to your body and let it tell you how long of a fast is right for you. Personally, I find that 14 hours is my magic spot! But it took some trial and error.
Intermittent fasting is an excellent tool to balance blood sugar levels, increase mental clarity, boost energy levels, repair our DNA, and reset our digestive system. Basically, the more time you let pass between your dinner and your first meal of the next day, the more of an advantage you are giving your body to regenerate and replenish.
This is all due to ketones.
When you go 12 hours or more without eating, our body switches from using glycogen for fuel to fat. When the fat is burned for fuel it produces ketones. Ketones are a more efficient source of fuel for the body, as they promote weight loss as well as lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and insulin resistance.
An example schedule of how you can practice IF:
-Wake Up: Bulletproof Matcha or Coffee
-8AM Breakfast (12 hours fasting)
-10AM Breakfast (14 hours fasting)
Remember, PCOS is not a curse. No it can't be cured, but with the right diet and lifestyle hacks, along with the correct supplements, you can be symptom free and be a #PCOSTHRIVER just like me!
Health Coach Jenna
Jenna Longoria is a board certified holistic health coach specializing in hormonal health. She was listed by The Huffington Post as one of the top 20 new health writers to follow in 2017. Her work has been featured in Mind Body Green and The Elephant Journal, and she is the author of 7 Steps to a Healthier You: An Attainable Guide to Health.
Jenna helps women reclaim their hormonal health by working with them to achieve pain-free, regular periods and optimize their fertility. Through her private practice, Healthier Notions, she helps women balance their hormones by using holistic methods such as personally tailored food and exercise plans, lifestyle adjustments, and supplements. Jenna is a firm believer that the right diet can put any hormonal condition into remission.
You can follow her on Instagram @JennaLongoriaHealth.