Women’s Health Watch: Low-Carb Diets and PCOS

One in ten women has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common reproductive abnormality in premenopausal women, putting them at higher risk for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. PCOS is also the most common cause of infertility.

One of the major biochemical features of PCOS is the combination of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia (elevated insulin levels). The ability of obese women with PCOS to use glucose (sugar) is significantly impaired, and they have a marked reduction in insulin sensitivity.

A new study from the Center for Androgen-Related Research and Discovery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has shed even more light on the hormonal irregularities of PCOS. Seems that fat tissue in women with PCOS behaves somewhat differently from fat tissue in women without the syndrome.

Here’s why that matters: Fat tissue is actually a kind of endocrine gland. In fact, it’s the body’s largest hormone-producing organ. Far from sitting passively on your hips and thighs, fat cells actually produce a wide range of hormones and other chemicals which affect metabolism and health, impacting appetite, bowel function, brain function and the metabolism of both sugar and fat.

According to the study, the fat tissue in women with PCOS produces an inadequate amount of an important hormone known as adiponectin. Adiponectin helps the body to make use of insulin, helping to metabolize fats and sugars and also- not incidentally- reducing inflammation. Women with PCOS produce less adiponectin than women without PCOS. Higher levels of adiponectin also reduce the risk of type ll Diabetes, which makes total sense since adiponectin makes your cells more insulin sensitive (which is exactly what you want). Diabetics, on the other hand, tend to be insulin resistant.

PCOS gets a lot of attention in the low-carb community because a low-carb diet is the diet of choice for women with PCOS. One major reason is that low-carb diets lower circulating insulin.

The insulin connection may also account for why women with PCOS have sex-hormone related issues like excess hair growth and polycystic ovaries. Here’s why: When your body is insulin resistant, the muscle cells tend to not accept insulin (and sugar), leaving you with elevated levels of both. Eventually even the fat cells can become resistant. But the cells of the ovaries tend to remain insulin-sensitive. So now your body’s producing all this insulin, which is bathing the poor ovaries in the stuff.

One of the responses to all that insulin hitting the ovaries is that they over-produce testosterone and androstene, which leads to acne, “male” hair issues (like hair loss on the head and hair growth where you don’t want it!), and the other familiar symptoms of PCOS.

I discuss the use of low-carb diets for PCOS in my new book, “Living Low Carb: Controlled Carbohydrate Eating for Long-Term Weight Loss”.

jb@jonnybowden.com'

Author: Jonny Bowden

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Nutrition Myth Buster") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity including three best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “Living Low Carb”, and "The Great Cholesterol Myth".

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10 Comments

  1. MSU1987sparty@hotmail.com'

    Dr. Jonny,

    For women with PCOS, have you come across much discussing the possibility of using d-chiro-inositol to help mitigate issues?

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  2. netwriterm@gmail.com'

    I would love for you to look at inositol as I can’t tolerate metformin–it affects my muscles. I have your original edition of Living Low Carb–I just reordered to read what you have to say about PCOS. :)

    M
    .-= Motherhood for the Weak´s last blog ..Hysterical White Female =-.

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  3. netwriterm@gmail.com'

    I wanted to mention there have been 2 double blind placebo controlled studies of Inositol involving something like 400 women. They are generally regarded as well designed but were done at the same clinic so the science community is wanting some outside replication. It looks very promising but since it’s not a drug, I doubt anything much will happen here in the US, which is unfortunate.

    M
    .-= Motherhood for the Weak´s last blog ..Hysterical White Female =-.

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  4. Schirmer459710@gmail.com'

    Took me time to read all the comments, but I truly enjoyed the post. It proved to be very useful to me and I am sure to all of the commenters right here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also engaged! I am certain you had joy writing this article.

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  5. sansal.geel40@gmail.com'

    Approximately 5 million women in the US suffer from poly cystic ovary … I was taken off the low-carb diet, and placed on a low-fat diet. … Consult with your health care provider before switching to a low-glycemic index/low-carb diet. … and who are following low-carb diets to also watch their calorie intake and …

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  6. kaktus@gmail.com'

    I was diagnosed with PCOS and got my period back to normal shortly after starting a low carb diet. My doctor says I probably wont have any problems getting pregnant now if I want to, because my hormonal levels are good now.

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  7. queencajun@live.com'

    Although I have experience with low carb diets, I was unaware of PCOS until now. This just gives me more incentive to continue keeping carbs at bay.

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