Jordan Swain, 27, credits the keto diet with helping her lose weight and ease the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The San Antonio resident was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 21. She originally went to her ob-gyn because she was concerned that she had stopped getting her period six months earlier. “I was in a relationship with no sex at the time as well, so I knew something was up,” she told Health.
Blood tests revealed that Swain had a high level of testosterone in her body, which combined with her missed periods led her doctor to diagnose her with PCOS, a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age that results in infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess testosterone levels, and can lead to long-term complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and endometrial cancer.
Experts are unsure as to why approximately 10% of women of childbearing are diagnosed with the disorder. “I didn’t really know how bad it could be, so I kind of ignored it,” Swain said. “It was an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. I was in denial about having PCOS, so I didn’t get an ultrasound of my ovaries done until five years after my diagnosis.”
Swain had a pelvic ultrasound last year and was shocked by the results. “[My ovaries]were swollen and covered in cysts. I knew then I had to do something—my husband and I had just gotten married a month beforehand and had begun talking about having kids,” she said. “I was also almost 300 pounds, which was making my life difficult.”
Swain decided to try the keto diet, which restricts carb intake to 5% and increases fats to 75% of your daily calories, with protein adding the rest. In a few months, she had lost quite a bit of weight and had more energy. Her husband, Steven, also gave it a try, helping the couple improve their relationship. “Keto has helped my confidence in the bedroom, mainly with being confident about myself,” Swain said. “We had a great marriage to begin with, but us both taking our health seriously has allowed us to connect on some deeper levels.”
Eventually, Swain’s periods became more regular and less painful. The keto diet also relieved other PCOS symptoms, such as facial acne and hair loss. Her skin has cleared up and her hair has grown back fuller. According to Angela Chaudhari, MD, a gynecologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, keto has an impact on PCOS because weight loss in obese women can “improve hormonal levels and insulin resistance and help regulate cycles.”
Research also shows that a low-sugar, low-dairy diet can help women manage PCOS by decreasing inflammation and insulin resistance, which can result in abnormal hormone levels that are common with PCOS. “Patients with PCOS who have issues with fertility may find that the diet helps restore regular periods and might help fertility by making the patient more responsive to fertility treatments,” said Ula Abed Alwahab, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
So far, Swain is down to 177 pounds. She is currently trying to conceive, despite the fact that her PCOS may have affected her fertility. Still, the diet has given her hope and confidence that she will have a baby in the future. In the meantime, researchers are continuing to search for new ways to treat PCOS by focusing on genetics, environmental exposure, ethnic and racial differences in symptoms, medication and supplements to restart ovulation and the link between obesity and PCOS.