What Is PCOS?
The most common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, and fertility issues, although it may also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, strokes, depression, and anxiety.
In addition, PCOS sufferers typically develop insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and diabetes.
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Is Intermittent Fasting Safe for People With PCOS?
Science has already proven that PCOS-suffering patients who integrate intermittent fasting into their habits may find relief from their symptoms, as this eating pattern can improve insulin sensitivity and regulate hormone levels.
- According to the American Diabetes Association, intermittent fasting may improve insulin sensitivity without causing weight gain.
- Another study does conclude that IF benefits weight loss and metabolic health in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Recent research suggests that IF can help reduce cholesterol, blood glucose, and lipid levels in patients with insulin resistance.
While research in this field still has a long way to go, studies suggest intermittent fasting is safe and potentially beneficial for people with PCOS. However, if you suffer from this hormone disorder, you should consult a doctor before starting IF or making any significant changes in your habits.
Effects of Intermittent Fasting on PCOS
Intermittent fasting is known for its benefits on overall health, but let’s look at how this habit may affect a body with PCOS.
Improved cognitive function and concentration
People with PCOS often suffer from headaches, difficulty sleeping, depression, and anxiety, affecting concentration and brain performance.
Practicing IF over long periods (months or even years) may improve memory function and overall cognition and even help fight anxiety disorders. So it can be a great way to relieve some of the symptoms of PCOS related to the brain.
However, it’s important to note that long-term calorie restriction may worsen existing mental illnesses, especially eating disorders and issues related to body image. If you have struggled with these in the past, talk to your doctor or therapist before making any changes to your habits.
Lower cholesterol levels
Women with PCOS tend to have low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL or high-density lipids) and higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipids), which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Additionally, there are indications that IF improves heart health by changing how your body metabolizes cholesterol and sugar, which can reduce your risk of PCOS-related weight gain and diabetes.
However, if you already have diabetes or are taking diabetes medications, consider talking to a doctor before implementing any significant changes in your lifestyle, as these could be detrimental to your health if applied without professional supervision.
Better insulin sensitivity
People with PCOS suffer from insulin resistance and struggle to process sugar, which they turn into body fat instead of using it for energy.
Research suggests that decreasing your energy intake with IF will reduce insulin levels and improve glucose metabolism, which could help patients with this condition.
The risk with intermittent fasting is that it leads to increased hunger, which can, in turn, result in sugar cravings. And since people with PCOS struggle to metabolize sugar, it is crucial to control their intake of this substance, even once fasting is a part of their lifestyle.
One way to keep sugar at bay in your diet is to complement your fasting journey with a balanced eating plan, like the Keto or Mediterranean diets. These regimes include healthy foods packed with nutrients necessary for your body that can help you break your fast safely and keep you satisfied for longer.
It can also be a good idea to start your fasting journey with one of the easier IF plans, like the 12:12 or the 14:10 methods. And if you have concerns about how IF can impact your health, talk to a specialized professional like a doctor or a nutritionist before starting.
More effective weight loss
Intermittent fasting is a popular way to lose weight. This eating pattern works by leading the body into a state of ketosis, in which it starts burning fat for energy instead of glucose, helping reduce excess weight. Some studies suggest that IF could even help you lose 7-11 pounds in 10 weeks.
PCOS sufferers may struggle to lose weight as, as we saw before, their bodies are often insulin resistant and tend to convert glucose into fatty tissue, so IF could help them revert this process.
As mentioned above, you should supplement your IF diet with an emphasis on clean foods for optimal results. To prevent giving into sugar cravings, include more fiber in your diet—this will help you slow your digestion process and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, leading to more effective weight loss.
People with PCOS often suffer from increased inflammation and digestive issues due to the dysbiosis caused by their condition.
Unfortunately, IF alone won’t solve your problems if you struggle with chronic inflammation, although it could be a good start.
If you constantly feel bloated or show other signs of inflammation, consider talking to your doctor to find the actual source of your issue.
Tips for Safe Fasting With PCOS
While IF can help fight PCOS symptoms, there are certain precautions that you should take to ensure that this new habit is as safe as possible for you.
Watch your portions during the eating window
It’s normal to feel tempted to overeat when you finish a fast. Unfortunately, introducing eating windows to your habits won’t help you lose weight and control insulin levels without some degree of portion limitation.
Luckily, this can be done by simply planning your meals ahead of time and sticking to your plans. If you need some meal prep ideas and guidance to keep you accountable, you can try the DoFasting app—it’s full of recipes packed with healthy ingredients in safe portions, while its timer can keep you on track during your fasting adventure.
Don’t fast during your period
During the menstrual cycle, hormone levels fluctuate. Your blood sugar and insulin resistance may increase a few days before your period starts, so your body could be more sensitive to stress during this time, making it harder for you to follow through with your intermittent fasting plan and even end up leading to unplanned cheat days.
If you feel like hormonal changes significantly impact your daily life, it could be a good idea to skip your fast during the days of your luteal phase.
Another option could be to choose a longer eating window during your period or the days leading to it. This way, you’ll help your body adapt to your new habits while making it easier for yourself to stay on track.
To make this process even smoother, you can consider the following:
- Using a period tracking app — there are plenty of free apps that can help you keep track of your cycle, as well as related symptoms and feelings. These apps can also help you accurately predict when your next period is due.
- Planning your fasting windows — planning your meals ahead, batch cooking, or making your own meal plan can help you stick to your goals.
Use your bedtime as a fasting window
The timing of your meals can throw off your circadian rhythm, so it is crucial for you to plan your dinner at least a couple of hours ahead of your usual bedtime. This is especially true if you already suffer from diabetes or obesity, as disruptions in this cycle can worsen these conditions.
Interestingly, our bodies process sugar better in the morning than at night, when insulin resistance declines. For this reason, limiting your sugar intake at night and even planning lighter dishes for the last meal of your day can be tremendously beneficial in the long run.
General Diet Tips for PCOS
What you eat can have a massive impact on your PCOS symptoms, either for better or worse. Let’s look at some tips to help you make healthy choices to help you deal with this condition.
Include hormone-friendly foods in your diet
PCOS is a hormone imbalance, so it is crucial to prioritize hormone-friendly foods that help you bring some stability, like:
- Cruciferous vegetables — cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.
- Fatty fish — salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, etc.
- Leafy greens — lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.
- Nuts — walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.
Maintaining hormonal balance by making healthier food choices can help manage weight in the long term.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammatory foods like red or processed meats and high-sugar drinks can worsen PCOS symptoms, so it is crucial to avoid them or at least reduce their intake if you suffer from this condition.
- Olive oil
- All kinds of fruits
- As well as all the food groups listed in the section above
Get regular exercise
Unless you’re suffering from some lesion or certain conditions ruling out sports, physical exercise is hugely beneficial, even for people with PCOS.
Studies show that exercise improves psychological and physiological results in patients with PCOS, with guidelines recommending exercising for at least 150 minutes weekly to improve their symptoms.
If you’re not used to exercising, you can start with a short walk, a yoga routine for beginners, or simply by looking for a quick cardio workout online.
PCOS sufferers struggle with insulin resistance, high blood pressure, weight, and fertility issues. And while it isn’t a cure for this condition, intermittent fasting can be a great option to help manage its symptoms in the long term, especially when paired with healthy eating and regular exercise.
If you have PCOS, fast with care and speak to a medical professional before changing your eating habits.
This is an evidence-based article that includes scientific citations. DoFasting’s professional writers and editors prepared the content, which a team of medical experts verified to be accurate.