When it comes to fertility, we’ve heard about a lot of lifestyle interventions that could potentially help someone get pregnant. For people with PCOS — a disorder that can’t be cured, but can be managed — there’s even more information to consider. Some say the Mediterranean diet can boost fertility, while others swear by acupuncture, and others still believe that anti-inflammatory is the way to go.

It’s all enough to make your head spin. If you’re trying to conceive, you already have enough to think about. If you’re trying to conceive while also navigating PCOS, you have even more on your plate. But, the fact of the matter is, that lifestyle changes can potentially help, and in many cases, they tend to be relatively low-risk. 

Our take? The best lifestyle modifications are realistic (so things you can incorporate without adding tons of stress to your life) and backed by science…and to those points, this new finding about the role the keto diet can play in fertility among PCOS patients just might fit the bill.

woman eating ribs

Can the keto diet improve fertility in women with PCOS?

A new study from the Journal of the Endocrine Society looks at the effects of the diet on fertility in people with PCOS. While the study’s authors acknowledge that evidence has been “patchy” regarding the diet’s effect on PCOS, there’s been a recent comeback in the diet being used to help patients with the condition balance out their hormones. As we know, hormonal imbalances are at the root of PCOS — so could the keto diet help people manage the condition…and minimize PCOS’s effect on fertility?

Here’s what we know about PCOS: It can make getting or staying pregnant significantly more difficult. In fact, a lot of people discover they have PCOS when they seek testing and treatment for infertility. We also know that PCOS is increasingly common, which, in all likelihood, means more people will experience the fertility challenges associated with the condition. Obviously, that’s not a prospect anyone wants to see come true…and also a reason why this research is so compelling. 

For this paper, researchers pooled findings from clinical trials. What they observed was that after 45 or more days on the keto diet, women sampled showed improvement in reproductive hormone levels. They also noticed that the keto diet was associated with weight loss, and obesity is a known factor contributing to infertility. 

"We found an association between the ketogenic diet and an improvement in reproductive hormone levels, which influence fertility, in women with PCOS," Karniza Khalid, M.B.B.S., one of the researchers behind this study, said in a statement. "These findings have important clinical implications, especially for endocrinologists, gynecologists, and dieticians who, in addition to medical treatment, should carefully plan and customize individual diet recommendations for women with PCOS."

woman cooking according to a keto diet

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Does this research prove that going full keto will definitely get someone with PCOS to regulate their hormones and pregnant quickly? Not necessarily, but this is also not the first time we’ve heard of someone with PCOS successfully managing their condition with this particular lifestyle modification — actress Sasha Pieterse actually calls it out as a management tool she’d used to keep her PCOS dormant. 

According to Healthline, the keto diet is a very high-fat, low-carb diet — by replacing carbohydrate consumption with more fats, you can put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which happens when your body gets more energy from fat.

As for whether each person should take this advice to heart and try the keto diet? Well, that’s a personal thing, and it’s an option that might be worth discussing with your doctor if you’re considering it. Adopting this diet can be a big change (especially for people who love their carbs), but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty low-risk, low-stakes choice that could potentially help people with PCOS manage the condition — and maybe even boost their fertility while doing so. As always, chat with your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.