Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormone disorder affecting women of reproductive age (1). It affects up to 21 percent of Australian women, but it is estimated that 70 percent of these go undiagnosed (2)(3). Symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycles, reduced fertility, cysts on the ovaries, and high male hormone levels (called hyperandrogenism), including testosterone, which can cause excess facial hair and acne (1).
Like any chronic illness, PCOS negatively affects quality of life – and PCOS can also prevent a woman from having children, contributing to anxiety and depression (1). PCOS is also associated with multiple chronic diseases – including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Women who are overweight or obese are more likely to have PCOS, especially women with high levels of fat around the stomach area (4). PCOS is so closely related to type 2 diabetes that medication used for diabetes can also be used to improve fertility, even if the woman doesn’t have diabetes!
Like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a long-recognised common feature of PCOS is insulin resistance and having high levels of insulin circulating in the blood (hyperinsulinemia) (5)(6). High insulin levels can stimulate the production of androgens (the male sex hormones), which then bring about many of the symptoms of PCOS (7). The high insulin levels also prevent the body from accessing its fat stores for fuel, and so women can find it very difficult to lose weight (4).
A low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to reduce circulating insulin levels and improve a woman’s hormone balance (6)(8). A six month study of women with PCOS on a low-carbohydrate diet found that eating low-carb improved body weight, reduced testosterone levels, reduced insulin levels and, importantly, improved the symptoms of PCOS for women (like negative emotions, facial hair and acne) (8).
Even without weight loss, a low-carbohydrate diet limits the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream and so reduces levels of insulin in the body – which reduces the secretion of androgens in women with PCOS, promoting normal ovulation and so improving the chances of falling pregnant (6)(7).
PCOS may be one of the most stressful syndromes a woman has to face – at the Low Carb Clinic, our team can work with you to address the underlying causes of PCOS, help you learn more about your body, and improve your chances of having a baby.
Teede, H., Misso, M., Deeks, A., Moran, L., Stuckey, B., Wong, J., . . . Costello, M. (2011). Assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome: summary of an evidence-based guideline. Medical Journal of Australia, 195(6). doi:10.5694/mja11.10915
March, W., Moore, V., Willson, K., Phillips, D., Norman, R., & Davies, M. (2010). The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in a community sample assessed under contrasting diagnostic criteria. Human Reproduction , 25(2), 544-551. doi: doi:10.1093/humrep/dep399
Goss, A., Chandler-Laney, P., Ovalle, F., Goree, L., Azziz, R., Desmond, R., . . . Gower, B. (n.d.). Effects of a eucaloric reduced carbohydrate diet on body composition and fat distribution in women with PCOS. Metabolism, 63(10), 1257-1264. doi:doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2014.07.007.
Barbieri, R., Smith, S., & Ryan, K. (1988). The role of hyperinsulinemia in the pathogenesis of ovarian hyperandrogenism. Fertility and sterility , 50(2), 197-212.
McGrice, M., & Porter, J. (2017). The effect of low carbohydrate diets on fertility hormones and outcomes in overweight and obese women: a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(204). doi:doi:10.3390/nu9030204
Gower, B., Chandler-Laney, P., Ovalle, F., Goree, L., Azziz, R., Desmond, R., . . . Bates, G. (2013). Favourable metabolic effects of a eucaloric lower-carbohydrate diet in women with PCOS. Clinical Endocrinology, 79(4), 550-557. doi:doi:10.1111/cen.12175
Mavropoulos, J., Yancy, W., Hepburn, J., & Westman, E. (2005). The effects of a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: a pilot study. Nutrition & Metabolism , 2(35). doi:doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-35