New research has discovered that a low-carb, high-fat diet has been linked with improved reproductive hormone levels in women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Figures from the charity Verity revealed that one in eight women have PCOS, making it the most common female hormone condition.
According to the NHS, the condition affects how a woman’s ovaries work and can impact fertility. But, a recent study has suggested that the ketogenic, or as it is often called, keto diet, could potentially improve fertility for those living with the condition.
The findings, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, found women following the diet for a minimum of 45 days saw an improvement in their reproductive hormone levels and experienced significant weight loss.
A lower follicle-stimulating hormone ratio also suggested an improved chance of ovulating, while lower testosterone levels could help to reduce symptoms of PCOS including excess hair growth.
Other potential effects of the keto diet for women living with the condition include more regular periods and improved cholesterol levels.
Commenting on the findings study author Karniza Khalid, from Malaysia’s Ministry of Health in Kuala Lumpur, said: “We found an association between the ketogenic diet and an improvement in reproductive hormone levels, which influence fertility, in women with PCOS.
“These findings have important clinical implications, especially for endocrinologists, gynaecologists and dieticians who, in addition to medical treatment, should carefully plan and customise individual diet recommendations for women with PCOS.”
What is the keto diet?
Registered dietician, Dr Sarah Schenker, previously told Yahoo Life the keto diet is a bit like a modern-day version of the old Atkins diet, which means it is a very low carbohydrate, high fat, high protein eating regime.
She adds: “The difference is it concentrates on healthy fats and healthy proteins, rather than too much processed meats and saturated fats, which was the problem with the Atkins diet”.
Dr Schenker says the biggest reason people often look to the keto diet is for a fast weight loss, which she says happens because denying your body carbohydrates pushes the body into ketosis, causing it to use fat as a fuel.
There are other supposed health benefits to the keto diet, including controlling insulin response.
One study in Italy also showed that those patients on a keto diet experienced fewer migraines than those on a different type of diet, while another review looked at the positive impact a keto diet has on epilepsy seizures.
Watch: A low-fat diet is more effective than keto, study finds
Why the Keto diet may not be sustainable
However, Dr Schenker says there is still much more research needed on the true health benefits of a diet that is low in carbohydrates.
She also describes something known as “keto flu”, where dieters experience a lack of energy, fatigue and an inability to sleep properly.
Another downside is that you’ll probably have to take additional vitamin and mineral supplements while on this diet.
“When you exclude carbohydrates from your diet, particularly whole grains, along with other things like beans and pulses and even fruit and fruit juices, aren’t strictly allowed on the keto diet, you could miss out on valuable nutrients, such as vitamin C, maybe magnesium,” she explains.
The biggest problem according to Dr Schenker, however, is that it may not be sustainable.
“It will work, to begin with, but it is difficult to sustain an eating regime like this,” she explains. “And if you don’t learn to change your eating habits over the long term, once you go back to your old habits, you will gain all that weight you lost and you’ll just have to start all over again!”
Read more: The 10 big wellness trends of 2023: From ‘skin HIIT’ to mushrooms and meditation 2.0 (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
What is PCOS?
The NHS says the main features of PCOS are:
irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation)
excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs
Symptoms of PCOS usually become apparent during your late teens or early 20s and can include:
irregular or no periods
difficulty getting pregnant
excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
thinning hair and hair loss from the head
oily skin or acne
Read more: Three-person babies, artificial wombs and other groundbreaking fertility treatments in the works (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
Treatment for PCOS
While there’s no cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be treated.
For those living with PCOS who are overweight, the NHS suggests losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better.
Medicines are also available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems.
If fertility medicines are not effective, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be recommended.
The procedure involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that’s producing androgens, such as testosterone.
With treatment, most women with PCOS are still able to conceive.
Speak to your GP if you believe you may have PCOS.
Read more: What is ZOE? Carrie Johnson joins nutrition platform backed by Dragon’s Den Steve Bartlett (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)