PCOS and Intermittent Fasting: How you can Fast Safely

Get to know the pros and cons of intermittent fasting for PCOS, according to health experts.

3 min read

Imagine we had a free, all-natural solution to get to the root cause of our PCOS symptoms. A remedy for facial hair, acne, weight gain, and hair growth. 

Scientific evidence suggests intermittent fasting could play a major role in exactly such a PCOS regimen.

Frequently, we’re prescribed costly medical treatments to manage our PCOS. But some medical experts say this approach doesn’t solve the problem at the core of PCOS: insulin resistance. 

And here’s where intermittent fasting comes in. 

It's intermittent fasting that has the potential to reduce our insulin levels. What this means is it addresses the underlying cause of our PCOS symptoms. Still, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, and in this post you’ll learn if intermittent fasting is the best fit for your PCOS and how to practice it safely.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is limiting the periods you eat during the day. For example, you’d only eat during specific times, say between 12 pm and 8 pm. The Annual Review of Nutrition found intermittent fasting is associated with “multiple public health benefits”, including weight loss and reduced insulin. 

Dr. Jason Fung, doctor and best-selling author of The Complete Guide to Fasting, explains why fasting promotes weight loss and lowers insulin levels. Our body has two main states when it comes to eating: the fed and fasted state.

Insulin levels rise when we eat and fall when we fast. And depending on whether we’re in the fed or fasted state, we also have different ways to obtain energy from food. In the fed state, we get energy from the food we’re eating, but in the fasted state we pull energy from stored food energy, either from the liver or body fat.  Therefore, the lower our insulin levels, the more fat we burn. Fung sums it up like this:

“It is important to realize that this is a completely natural process. Humans have evolved this mechanism of food storage, and there is nothing inherently unhealthy about fasting. It’s all part of a natural balance of being in the fed state and the fasted state."

Intermittent fasting isn't just natural, it also has a positive impact on lifespan and general health. Researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine suggest intermittent fasting is associated with increased longevity and lower incidence of cancer and obesity.

Why intermittent fasting works for PCOS

A growing number of studies show a link between intermittent fasting, PCOS, and insulin resistance.

For a study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, women only ate between 8 am to 4 pm and fasted between 4 pm to 8 am. After the study, most of them had more regular menstrual cycles, improved insulin resistance, and lowered chronic inflammation. According to Debatable Topics in PCOS Patients, intermittent fasting reduces insulin levels in rats by up to 30%. 

As we now know, when we’re not eating, our insulin levels fall. Nadia Brito Pateguana, a naturopathic doctor who also has PCOS, in The PCOS Plan, said this biological fact is at the heart of why intermittent fasting is such a powerful PCOS treatment: 

“Eating raises insulin and fasting drops insulin. Thus, to lower insulin levels to treat PCOS, simply spend more time fasting and less time eating.” 

In short, by restricting when we eat, we can begin to ease our PCOS symptoms. The best part? Intermittent fasting doesn’t cost a thing and it’s simple to get started. 

How to practice intermittent fasting for PCOS

On paper, intermittent fasting sounds exactly like the PCOS treatment you’ve been waiting for. 

But the reality is it might not be the perfect solution for you and PCOS. Everyone is different.

So, depending on your unique circumstances, you might have to adjust your approach to intermittent fasting or skip the practice altogether. 

Get medical advice 

In the PCOS Plan, Brito Pateguana writes the “cardinal rule” of fasting is to make sure you’re doing it safely.  This means consulting your doctor before any fast, particularly if you have diabetes or are taking any other medication, recommends Brito Pateguana.

“Fasting is free! You will not lose money. You will not lose out on the chance to try again. Electrolyte depletion, especially sodium and magnesium, is common. Don’t push yourself beyond the limits of common sense. It is far better to stop, and if you want, begin again in a few days when are you feeling better.”

However amazing its benefits, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. If you’re underweight, pregnant, breasting, or under 18, you shouldn't fast. You should also avoid fasting if you’re bleeding.

Use fasting aids

Once you start your fast, Brito Pateguana recommends using tea, herbal, coffee, and bone broth as fasting aids

Other fasting aids include:

  • Naturally flavoured sparkling water
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Coconut oil

Fasting aids make it easier to get started, especially if you’re new to the practice. Apart from fasting aids, drink water throughout your fasting period.

Practice “gentle intermittent fasting”

Anna Löfgren, a nutritional therapist in female hormone health, said there were also potential drawbacks to intermittent fasting, particularly for women with fertility and blood sugar challenges. 

She recommends “gentle intermittent fasting”. Gentle intermittent fasting might mean building your fasting window around your sleep time. For instance, have your last meal two hours before going to bed and then sleep for eight hours.

Run fasting experiments   

Getting started with fasting can seem overwhelming. A simple approach is to experiment with the best fasting window for you. 

On a PCOS and intermittent fasting Reddit thread, one user fasts for 75% of the month: “The one month I tried doing it straight through, my cycle got fucky again. So that ratio is what works for me :)” While users on a different PCOS Reddit thread said a combination of fasting and a low-carb eating plan improved their symptoms.

Intermittent fasting is a PCOS treatment 

Managing PCOS can be daunting. There are a number of PCOS treatments, and it can be tough to figure out which one is right for you. Intermittent fasting might help you along your journey, but it comes with a number of conditions. 

Start with a simple form of fasting, and remember to check with your doctor before starting a new diet. 

Featured image credit: Photo by Anna Nekrashevich