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Cutting Carbs- yes or no?

Image by Michele Krozser

Cutting Carbs is notorious for its ability to speed up weight loss. This is because carbohydrates are our primary source of energy. This means that if we find ourselves suddenly running, we’re going to grab energy from the carbohydrates if they are available, rather than from our fat storage. When we do not burn the fats from our bodies, we are essentially not losing any weight. It is why keto diets are a popular choice these days. They are high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates. So let’s dive in to see if there is any sort of correlation that might be of use to those who are trying to conceive.

A certain study showed that fewer carbohydrates can 

  • Lower circulating insulin levels
  • Restore hormonal imbalance 
  • Resume ovulation 

All of those increase pregnancy rates in comparison to a western diet (McGrice et al. 2017). Another study involved women taking meal replacements (Tsagareli et al. 2006). The oocyte levels of the six participating women were measured at the time of IVF before and after taking the replacements. The women possessed fewer oocytes after the consumption of the meal replacements when compared to not having taken them, despite having lost weight. 

All in all, the growing popularity of this “western diet” that is saturated in carbohydrates is proving to be detrimental towards the quality of a woman’s eggs. A recent US trial on 120 women undergoing IVF split them into two groups, depending on the balance of protein and carbohydrate in their diet. In total, 58 per cent of those in the “low carb” group (meaning at least one quarter of their diet was protein) went on to have a baby.⁠ In the “high carb” group, where less than a quarter of daily energy came from protein, just 11 percent achieved success, the study by the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine (DIRM) in Newark found.⁠

Some experts are suggesting that women who are TTC should limit carbs to one portion a day and cut out all white bread, pasta and breakfast cereal, since doing so greatly increases the chance of conceiving.⁠

If you’re overweight or have a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), your body produces more androgen hormones (a.k.a., testosterone), which can lead to irregular periods or anovulation (where you don’t ovulate).⁠

Women with PCOS produce more insulin. When you eat lots of carbs, the body has to produce even more insulin, which increases androgen production. And that decreases ovulation.⁠ However, there is not too much data available on the population suffering from PCOS related infertility. PCOS is often known for the resultant weight gain but there is still further research required to establish a relationship between carbohydrate intake and fertility. Some of the data available from “The effect of dietary carbohydrates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review.” shows that a diet lower in carbohydrates may  improve fertility, endocrine and metabolic activity in the body, “weight loss and satiety in women with PCOS” (Frary et al. 2020). 

Side effects of such a diet

Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy. With that being said, a severe lack of carbohydrates could certainly take a toll on the body or take some getting used to. Mayo Clinic suggests individuals using the ketogenic diet might experience “constipation, headaches and bad breath” among other side effects. Additionally, with certain foods not being consumed anymore, there are certain micronutrient levels that might be dangerously low.

The Mayo Clinic also posed concern for heart health when using a keto diet. The CDC states that about 655,000 people die from heart disease each year which approximates to 1 in every 4 deaths (CDC).  Ketogenic diets focus on the intake of fats which might possibly lead to an unhealthy consumption of unhealthy saturated fats which are responsible for heart disease. 

Lastly, an individual might return to their original diet after following through with their initial diet plan. This could lead to weight regain (Hession et al. 2009).

 Our final thoughts

Cutting carbs does not necessarily mean going on a highly restrictive ketogenic diet. Diet is important for fertility, and ensuring that you are providing yourself with all the nutrients you require is essential for your wellbeing, including your reproductive health. Every diet is not for everyone. If your desire to start a diet has risen from reproductive concerns, confide in your doctor and find out if your current diet needs an upgrade or if you are good to go!

References:

  1. McGrice, Melanie, and Judi Porter. “The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diets on Fertility Hormones and Outcomes in Overweight and Obese Women: A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 9,3 204. 27 Feb. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9030204 Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.
  1. Frary JM, Bjerre KP, Glintborg D, Ravn P. The effect of dietary carbohydrates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review. Minerva Endocrinol. 2016 Mar;41(1):57-69. Epub 2014 Jun 10. PMID: 24914605. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.
  2. Tsagareli V., Noakes M., Norman R.J. Effect of a very-low-calorie diet on in vitro fertilization outcomes. Fertil. Steril. 2006;86:227–229. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2005.12.041. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.
  3. Hession M., Rolland C., Kulkarni U., Wise A., Broom J. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. Low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obes. Rev. 2009;10:36–50. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.
  4.  “The truth behind the most popular diet trends of the moment ….” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/the-truth-behind-the-most-popular-diet-trends-of-the-moment/art-20390062. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.
  5. “Heart Disease Facts | cdc.gov.” 8 Sep. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.

“The truth behind the most popular diet trends of the moment ….” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/the-truth-behind-the-most-popular-diet-trends-of-the-moment/art-20390062. Accessed 30 Sep. 2020.