Should Women With PCOS Follow a Low-Carbohydrate Diet?

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Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often have insulin resistance or diabetes. Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells in the body do not properly respond to insulin, resulting in high blood sugar and diabetes.

Research shows women with PCOS can benefit from following a low carbohydrate or low glycemic index diet, which can aid in managing weight loss and reducing the risk of diabetes.

More Regular Periods

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who followed a low GI diet had better insulin sensitivity, reported more regular menstrual cycles, and rated higher improvements in their quality of life.

The study included 96 women aged 18 and 40, who were diagnosed with PCOS. Women who were taking metformin were still eligible, though women who had diabetes or depression were excluded from the study.

The women were assigned to follow either a low-fat, low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate diet (50 subjects), or a low-fat, otherwise healthy diet with moderate to high glycemic index carbohydrates (46 subjects). Subjects were followed for one year, or until they lost 7% of their body weight.

While all participants reached their weight loss goal, 41% of the low-GI dieters and 50% of the regular GI dieters failed to reach that goal within the specified one-year goal. Women who took metformin in addition to following a low GI diet had significantly higher improvements in their glucose tolerance testing as well.

Weight Loss and Improved Insulin Sensitivity

A 2015 study in the Journal of Obesity and Weight Loss Therapy found that women with PCOS who follow both a low starch and low dairy diet can lose weight, improve their insulin sensitivity and reduce testosterone levels.

The study included 24 women who were overweight or obese who followed a diet low in carbohydrates and dairy products for 8 weeks.

At the end of the study, the women lost an average of 19 pounds, reduced their body mass index, and lost about 3 inches from their waist circumference. In addition, the women saw a reduction in insulin levels and insulin resistance measures, as well as a reduction in testosterone levels.

The researchers noted that while carbohydrates are the main stimulators of insulin release, dairy products and starches result in higher post-meal insulin secretion than non-starchy vegetables and fruits. In addition, high levels of insulin are believed to increase androgen levels in women with PCOS.

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Article Sources

  • Marsh KA, Steinbeck KS, Atkinson FS, Petocz P, Brand-Miller JC. Effect of a low glycemic index compared with a conventional healthy diet on polycystic ovary syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jul;92(1):83-92. Epub 2010 May 19.
  • Phy JK, Pohlmeier AM, Cooper JA, et al. Low Starch/Low Dairy Diet Results in Successful Treatment of Obesity and Co-Morbidities Linked to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). J Obes Weight Loss Ther. 2015 Apr;5(2). pii: 259.