Ah, a lady’s period; the universal sign of female maturation. Throughout history, cultural attitudes towards the monthly event have varied. Some cultures deemed it powerful, while others viewed it as a source of shame and cause for ostracization.
Women in the middle ages, for example, took no measures to absorb menstrual bleeding. Instead, they went out publicly with blood-soaked clothes, which led to associations of humiliation. Ancient Romans, on the other hand, had a more positive attitude, believing that a menstruating woman had the power to protect crops by warding off harmful weather and pests.
In modern western culture, the popular attitude towards a woman’s period is one of disgust. Words like “gross” are commonly used to describe this uncontrollable bodily function. (Fun fact: Freud says this disgust stems from mankind’s fear of blood.)
Even for those who don’t think menstruation is gross, most will agree that it’s an inconvenience. From bloody sheets and undergarments to cramps, mood swings, and headaches, the side effects of a monthly cycle are certainly not fun.
For a woman with PCOS, a period is a source of relief, rather than a nuisance.
I stopped getting my period in 2012, after I got the Skyla® IUD. My gynecologist had warned me that my IUD would make my period irregular for the first 3-6 months, so its absence was expected. However, even after 6 months, my period never came back.
Shortly after this, my long-term boyfriend passed away, which threw me down a rabbit hole of mental health issues. Quite honestly, during this time, my period’s absence became more of a convenience than a cause of concern. I didn’t bring it up to my doctors because I had other, bigger health issues.
In late-2016, the pieces of my life started falling back into place. I had healed myself, starting from the inside, but the outside of me looked like a blown-up version of what it was before. I had gained 60 lbs.
When my mom suggested that I go see a weight loss doctor, I was mortified. I remember sitting on the exam table and the tissue paper draped over it was sticking to the backs of my thighs...which already burned from chafing. As I swallowed back tears, I could feel the mucus building up in the back of my throat. My mind was playing a horrible record back to me. Over and over:
“You destroyed yourself,” it said, “You are ugly now. You ruined yourself.”
I lost it, as soon as the doctor came into the room. She reached her hand out to shake my hand, and I grabbed her and hugged her because I couldn’t find any words to say.
A blood test taken that day confirmed that PCOS was not only a cause of my missed period but also a factor in my weight gain.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder affecting many women of childbearing age. The National Institute of Health and Disease Prevention (NIH) states that approximately, 100 million women have it worldwide and 5 million in the United States .
Women who have PCOS usually have menstrual problems (absence of ovulation and irregular periods), hirsutism, and ovarian cysts. It’s often diagnosed when a woman is 18-45 years old; however, the features of PCOS are present before the first period.
Unfortunately, many women who have it are unaware of this condition, and a lot of women don’t get diagnosed for PCOS until they have trouble trying to conceive. This is because they don’t consider the other symptoms such as excess hair growth and skin problems as a significant issue to tell their doctor.
Women who are overweight, obese, or have a mother or sister with PCOS are at high risk of having this condition.
The exact cause of PCOS is still unknown; however, researchers have concluded genetic and environmental factors to be the main contributors so far. The symptoms of the polycystic ovarian syndrome are caused by abnormally high level of androgens and insulin resistance.
Women are supposed to have more estrogen (female hormone) than androgen (male hormone). Because women with PCOS have more androgen than estrogen, it can interfere with the way the brain signals regulate ovulation, leading to irregular periods and infertility . Elevated androgen level can also cause the follicles (where eggs grow and mature) inside the ovaries to enlarge and form cysts.
The second main biological symptom, excess insulin production, can also increase androgen production which then contributes to the symptoms of PCOS. High insulin production can also cause other problems related to PCOS such as increased appetite, weight gain, skin problems, metabolic syndrome, glucose intolerance, and diabetes .
One of the primary purposes of insulin is to regulate blood sugar levels by moving sugar (glucose) from blood to be used as energy. Blood sugar rises when cells become resistant to insulin. This causes more insulin to be produced by the body to handle the increased sugar level.
Many women experience menstrual problems on keto, but it is often beneficial for women with PCOS.
The ketogenic diet can improve PCOS through:
These effects were tested in several studies, and the results were almost always positive.
For example, a pilot study published in a 2005 issue ofNutrition & Metabolism tested keto on 11 women with PCOS . Five of these women managed to complete the study and two even restored their fertility and became pregnant. Every one of these 5 women had improved fasting insulin, lower androgens, and a better LG/FSH ratio after following the keto diet.
Furthermore, a systematic review of low-carb diets and their effects on PCOS concluded that low carb diets reduce insulin levels, improve hormonal imbalances, and help return ovulation in overweight women .
Most of these studies focused on overweight or obese women and in reality, not all women with PCOS have excess weight. Excess weight is also not the cause of PCOS. It's simply a risk factor or a complication of the disease.
What almost all women with PCOS do have in common is insulin resistance, which means that their cells don't respond well to insulin. Often, insulin resistance accompanies excess insulin levels. And since having too much insulin worsens PCOS, medical experts recommend that many women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance .
Because the ketogenic diet itself is a natural, insulin-lowering diet, it works well as a treatment for PCOS.
Two months into my keto journey, I got my period in the bathroom at work, for the first time in six years. I skipped (seriously) back into the office and told Kiss My Keto’s co-founders, Michael and Alex, “You guys! I just got my period!”
Now, remember, I work for these guys. I’ve barely known them for two months. Both of them looked at me, uncomfortably, as if I was absolutely insane.
“Um, thanks for sharing,” Michael responded.
Once I explained my medical situation, they understood my excitement.
Since then, I’ve gotten my period during five out of the last six months. It only lasts 2-3 days, in contrast to the week-long periods I suffered through for most of my life, but it’s still something!
As I make clear in the video above, I am not a doctor, and I have no credentials to give medical advice. However, I am a woman with PCOS who has seen nearly half a dozen doctors on the subject– none of whom suggested the ketogenic diet as a treatment.
It is my hope that increased research on this subject can provide more concrete solutions for women like me.
Feel free to email me if you or someone you know has had a similar experience. This info isn’t easy to come by!