Can the Keto Diet Help With Fertility?
The ketogenic diet has become a popular dietary approach known for its potential health benefits. In fact, some studies suggest that the Keto diet could grow to reach a market size of over 15 billion U.S. dollars by 2027. In a nutshell, the Keto diet involves consuming a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet to induce a metabolic state called ketosis.
Once a state of ketosis has been achieved, the body primarily burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, which can lead to weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and increased energy levels. Because almost one-half (49.1%) of adults in the United States tried to lose weight within the last 12 months (CDC figures), the popularity of the Keto diet should not come as surprising.
The ketogenic diet´s popularity has widely been due to its proven ability to help people achieve their weight loss goals. It has also been recognized for numerous other health advantages, including visceral adiposity and appetite control, a reduction in hyperinsulinemia, and an improvement in insulin sensitivity. In recent years, however, there is a growing interest in understanding the potential effects of the keto diet on issues revolving around fertility.
The CDC states that “among married women aged 15 to 49 years with no prior births, about 1 in 5 (19%) are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility).” Many of those individuals who have struggled with infertility have begun to raise the question of whether the adoption of a keto lifestyle can enhance their chances of conceiving.
In this short article, we will delve into the relationship between the keto diet and fertility, exploring the scientific evidence, potential benefits, and other important considerations to help you make informed decisions about your fertility journey and the role that a keto lifestyle might play.
Understanding the Keto Diet
Before looking at the connections between fertility and the keto diet, it is important to take a look at the basics behind the keto diet. The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that focuses on reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with healthy fats.
Empty carbohydrate intake which stems mostly from nutrient-empty and highly processed foods, is one of the main causes of the major metabolic diseases affecting millions of people around the world.
With the keto diet, however, the body is able to enter a metabolic state known as ketosis. In ketosis, the body’s primary source of energy shifts from glucose derived from carbohydrates to ketones produced from fats. A typical ketogenic diet consists of approximately 70-75% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.
How the Keto Diet Induces Ketosis and Affects Metabolism
When a person drastically limits their total amount of carbohydrate consumption, the body depletes its glycogen stores and starts breaking down fats into fatty acids. These fatty acids are then converted into ketones in the liver, which serve as an alternative fuel source for the body and the brain.
The Keto diet was originally designed to help people suffering from epilepsy as the diet reduces the amount of glutamate in the brain and enhances the synthesis of GABA, making it less likely for a seizure to occur.
However, the ketosis shift in metabolism from relying on glucose to utilizing ketones can also have various effects on the body, including improved insulin sensitivity and enhanced fat-burning capabilities.
Potential Benefits of the Keto Diet for Weight Loss and Reducing Inflammation
Because the US obesity prevalence was 41.9% as of March 2020, one of the primary reasons people adopt the ketogenic diet is to help them navigate their weight loss journey. By reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat consumption, the body becomes more efficient at burning stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss over time.
Additionally, the keto diet may help reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to various health conditions, including infertility. Harvard Health states that “the risk of infertility is higher in conditions marked by inflammation, including infection, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Bodywide (systemic) inflammation may affect the uterus, cervix, and placenta, thus impairing fertility.” By minimizing the intake of inflammatory foods such as processed carbohydrates and sugar, the keto diet may help mitigate inflammation and promote overall health.
It’s important to note that individual responses to the keto diet may vary. Given this specificity, it is always important to first consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making any significant dietary changes. Consulting with a fertility specialist should be a priority for anyone planning to conceive.
You may, however, make it a priority to ask your fertility specialist about the possibility of introducing the keto diet as a pathway to increase the odds of conceiving.
In the next sections, we will explore the connection between the keto diet and fertility, examining the scientific evidence and potential considerations.
The Relationship Between Diet and Fertility
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is famed for having advised: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, scientific evidence continues to prove Hippocrates correct by showing how diet plays a crucial role in overall health, including reproductive health.
Body weight and hormonal balance are interconnected factors that can impact fertility. Women who are overweight or obese tend to have higher levels of a hormone called leptin, which is produced in fatty tissue throughout the body. Leptin has been shown to disrupt the hormone balance in the human body and may be one of the main causes of reduced fertility. Furthermore, the quantity and distribution of body fat also affect the menstrual cycle through a range of hormonal mechanisms.
Given these issues, maintaining a healthy weight is important for optimal hormone production and regulation. This in turn affects ovulation and the chances of conception. Certain dietary patterns, such as the ketogenic diet, may offer potential benefits in supporting fertility by promoting weight loss, limiting the distribution of leptin, and leading to a better overall hormone balance.
The Link Between the Keto Diet and Improved Fertility in Women With PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that can cause fertility challenges in women. The CDC states that PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% (as many as 5 million) of US women of reproductive age.
PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance and high levels of androgens (male hormones). The ketogenic diet has shown promise in managing PCOS symptoms by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing insulin levels, and decreasing androgen production. These effects may contribute to restoring ovulation and increasing the chances of conception for women with PCOS.
Research on the Keto Diet’s Positive Effects on Hormone Balance and Ovulation
While more extensive research is needed, some studies have explored the potential benefits of the ketogenic diet on hormone balance and ovulation. A 2005 pilot study aimed to investigate the six-month metabolic and endocrine effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) on overweight and obese women with PCOS. The study determine that “LCKD led to significant improvement in weight, percent free testosterone, LH/FSH ratio, and fasting insulin in women with obesity and PCOS over a 24-week period.”
Another study examining a Mediterranean-based ketogenic diet observed positive effects on hormonal and metabolic markers in women with PCOS after 12 weeks. This 2023 recent study concluded that “there is some evidence supporting the possible role of the Mediterranean diet in improving infertility (along with other well-known metabolic benefits) in women with PCOS. Of note, VLCKD (very-low-calorie ketogenic diet) might be considered a potential intervention for the short-term treatment of PCOS, but it must be prescribed and carefully guided by professionals.”
Although these studies provide promising insights, it is essential to acknowledge that the research on the relationship between the ketogenic diet and fertility is still limited. More studies with larger sample sizes are necessary to establish a clearer understanding of the potential benefits and risks associated with the keto diet in fertility.
Effects of Sugar and Carbohydrates on Fertility
Let us now turn our attention to the effects of sugar and carbohydrate consumption on fertility and discuss the potential considerations and concerns surrounding the keto diet for fertility. The average American consumes more than 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Even according to the most conservative nutritional paradigm, that is at least double the amount of sugar that should be consumed daily.
Excessive sugar consumption can lead to blood sugar imbalances, which can have a detrimental impact on fertility. When we consume high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels spike, triggering the release of insulin. Over time, this repeated cycle of blood sugar fluctuations and insulin response can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition that impairs hormone regulation and can disrupt reproductive health.
In fact, one recent study out of Japan determined that the more sugar women consumed in the months leading up to an IVF cycle, the poorer their egg quality was. Similarly, men who have high blood sugar levels were found to have higher levels of sperm DNA damage. This factor is known to negatively impact the chances of conception and increase the likelihood of miscarriage.
Structural and Hormonal Imbalances Caused by Excessive Sugar Consumption
The excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates has also been shown to contribute to weight gain and obesity. Excess weight and adipose tissue can disrupt hormone balance by increasing estrogen levels and leading to hormonal imbalances, including elevated testosterone and insulin levels. These imbalances can negatively affect ovulation and fertility in both women and men.
Furthermore, sugar consumption can contribute to chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance necessary for healthy reproductive function. It can also lead to oxidative stress, which can damage cells and impair reproductive health in both men and women. A 2019 study that looked at how oxidative stress impacted male fertility determined:
Although reactive oxygen species are essential for some reproductive processes such as capacitation and acrosome reaction, increased ROS along with decreased antioxidant defense result in OS status which ultimately leads to sperm membrane lipid peroxidation, reduced motility, sperm DNA damage, poor pregnancy, and ART outcomes and increased risk of genetic diseases in offspring.
Impact of Sugar-Related Imbalances on Reproductive System Function
Lastly, it is also important to note that the imbalances caused by excessive sugar consumption can affect various aspects of reproductive system function. In women, hormonal disruptions can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation (lack of ovulation), and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In men, imbalances can affect sperm quality, motility, and overall fertility.
Additionally, high sugar intake has been associated with an increased risk of conditions like gestational diabetes and infertility-related issues, including reduced implantation rates and higher rates of miscarriage.
By reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, individuals can potentially improve insulin sensitivity, regulate hormone levels, and support a healthier reproductive system.
Keto Diet and Fertility Success
Let’s now turn our attention to how the keto diet may have a beneficial impact on fertility. Specifically, we will discuss the potential benefits of this dietary approach in optimizing fertility outcomes and delve into the experiences and research surrounding the use of keto in fertility treatments.
Reproductive Endocrinologists, specialists in fertility and assisted reproductive technologies, and other medical professionals specializing in fertility-related issues, have begun suggesting the keto diet as a potential strategy for improving fertility outcomes, particularly for individuals undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).
These experts recognize the potential benefits of the keto diet in supporting hormonal balance, weight management, and overall reproductive health. Dr. Robert Kiltz, MD, the Founder and Director of Central New York’s first successful IVF center, is one of the most well-renowned reproductive endocrinologists who supports keto diets and low-carb lifestyles for people attempting to conceive.
Potential Benefits of the Keto Diet in Improving Fertility Outcomes
The keto diet offers several potential benefits that can positively impact fertility outcomes. Firstly, the diet’s low-carbohydrate nature helps regulate insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This is crucial because, as we have seen above, insulin resistance and high insulin levels can disrupt reproductive hormone production and ovulation.
By reducing carbohydrates and stabilizing insulin, the keto diet may enhance fertility in individuals with conditions such as PCOS or insulin resistance. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that around four in ten U.S. adults aged 18-44 (or those in prime reproductive age) have insulin resistance, and those with insulin resistance have a significantly higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, poor physical activity, and high cholesterol.
Secondly, the keto diet promotes weight loss, which can be advantageous for individuals struggling with excess weight or obesity-related fertility issues. Shedding excess pounds can improve hormonal balance, enhance ovulation, and increase the chances of successful conception.
Lastly, the anti-inflammatory effects of the keto diet may play an essential role in supporting reproductive health. Chronic inflammation can contribute to various fertility challenges, such as damaging cells and tissues in the reproductive organs, such as eggs, ovaries, or sperm.
Chronic inflammation may lead to autoimmune responses by the body, wherein the immune system attacks its own tissue via antibodies. Given these issues, the reduction of inflammatory markers through a ketogenic approach may help mitigate these issues.
Research or Anecdotal Evidence Supporting the Use of Keto in Fertility Treatments
Though further research is needed to establish the full extent of the keto diet’s impact on fertility, there is growing anecdotal evidence and some preliminary studies that suggest its potential benefits. Many individuals have reported positive experiences with the keto diet, noting improvements in menstrual regularity, ovulation, and overall fertility.
A few studies have explored the effects of the keto diet on specific reproductive conditions. For instance, research has shown that the keto diet may help improve hormonal markers, metabolic profiles, and weight management in women with PCOS.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that Keto Diet may play a role in regulating reproductive hormones like FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone), estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. With improved regulation of these important reproductive hormones, there is generally assumed to be an improved probability of conceiving.
Though these findings are encouraging, it’s important to acknowledge that more extensive research is required to validate and expand upon these initial results. As the scientific community continues to investigate the relationship between the keto diet, limited carbohydrate intake, and fertility, it is essential for individuals considering this dietary approach to consult with healthcare professionals, such as reproductive endocrinologists or registered dietitians specializing in fertility, to ensure personalized guidance and support.
Tips for a Successful Keto Diet
If you feel that the keto diet might be an option to help you improve your chances of conceiving, what are some practical tips for successfully implementing the keto diet while addressing potential concerns and considerations to ensure a balanced approach to fertility and nutrition?
While the keto diet focuses on macronutrient ratios, it is crucial to prioritize nutrient-rich foods to support overall health and fertility. Incorporating a variety of non-starchy vegetables, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and adequate hydration is key.
These nutrient-dense foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants necessary for reproductive function and overall well-being. According to a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, more than 60 percent of caloric intake in the U.S. comes from ultra-processed food. The keto diet´s firm focus on prioritizing wholesome, real foods is in itself a potential ally in improving fertility outcomes.
Understanding Individual Differences in Carbohydrate Metabolism
Every individual has unique carbohydrate metabolism. As we expand our knowledge of how the gut microbiome works, it is becoming increasingly clear that every individual has a different microbiota. These differences need to be taken into account as one determines which dietary paradigm to follow, and the best nutritional pathway to help improve one´s fertility.
Whereas some people may thrive with a very low-carb approach, others may require slightly higher carbohydrate intake to maintain hormonal balance. It is essential to listen to your body and work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian experienced in fertility and the keto diet to determine the right carbohydrate range for your specific needs.
Quality of Food and Organic Options on a Keto Diet
When following a keto diet for fertility, it is beneficial to prioritize high-quality, organic food options. Choosing organic meats, dairy products, and produce reduces exposure to potentially harmful pesticides and hormones that can impact reproductive health. In fact, a 2018 study found that “in a cohort of 325 women undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology, intake of high–pesticide residue fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower probability of live birth.”
Opting for grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught options can also enhance the nutritional profile of the foods consumed while reducing the potential negative effects that toxic agrochemicals may have on your fertility.
Different Versions of Keto and Adapting It to Individual Needs
The keto diet encompasses various approaches, and it’s important to find the version that suits your lifestyle and health goals. As we mentioned above, everyone´s gut microbiome is different, and there needs to be flexibility in low-carb dietary approaches that appreciates and respects these differences.
A standard ketogenic diet (SKD), a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), and a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) are just a few of the “options” that offer flexibility in carbohydrate and calorie cycling. Understanding the differences between the different keto approaches and low-carb diet alternatives, and experimenting with different versions, can help personalize the keto diet to meet your individual needs.
Instead of religiously counting carbs and rigorously restricting certain food items, it is important to find an approach that is comfortable for your body and lifestyle conditions.
Explaining Metabolic Flexibility and Its Role in Keto Diet Success
Metabolic flexibility refers to the body’s ability to efficiently switch between using carbohydrates and fat as fuel. While the keto diet promotes fat adaptation and ketosis, it is also essential to maintain metabolic flexibility. Periodic cycling of carbohydrates and incorporating healthy carbohydrates from whole foods can help maintain metabolic flexibility, optimize hormone production, and support long-term fertility goals.
Certain healthy carbohydrates can give you needed dietary fiber, which might be lacking in some keto diet regimes. A healthy intake of essential dietary fiber helps balance sex hormones and creates a thriving microbiome that can be passed along from mother to child.
Dismissing Misconceptions About Fat and Its Role in Weight Gain
One common misconception about the keto diet is that consuming high amounts of dietary fat will lead to weight gain and that this could negatively impact fertility. However, on the keto diet, the body utilizes fat as its primary source of energy, leading to fat loss rather than fat gain. It’s important to understand that the type of fat consumed matters, and focusing on healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil is crucial for overall health and fertility.
By considering these tips, individuals can navigate the keto diet in a way that supports their fertility goals while prioritizing nutrient intake, individual differences, food quality, and metabolic flexibility. In the next section, we will explore potential concerns and considerations associated with the keto diet and fertility to ensure a balanced approach to reproductive health.
Potential Concerns and Considerations
Before considering conception, some individuals may choose to use the keto diet as a weight loss tool. It is important to approach weight loss with caution and consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian. Rapid weight loss or extreme caloric restriction can potentially disrupt hormonal balance and impact fertility.
Gradual and sustainable weight loss through a balanced approach is typically more beneficial for long-term reproductive health. Thus, transitioning to a keto diet while you are actively trying to conceive may not be the best approach. For overweight individuals, using the keto diet to achieve weight loss goals may be a good first step before actively attempting to get pregnant.
Balancing Nutrient Intake and Potential Risks of the Keto Diet
While the keto diet has its potential benefits, it is crucial to be mindful of nutrient intake and potential risks associated with this dietary approach. Restricting carbohydrates can lead to limited consumption of certain nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in fruits, whole grains, and legumes. All of these essential nutrients, fibers, vitamins, and minerals also play an important role in overall reproductive health.
Though a well-balanced keto diet can give you all the nutrients your body needs, it is essential to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure adequate nutrient intake through supplementation or strategic food choices while following the keto diet. This is essentially important while pregnant or trying to conceive as proper nutrition is important for both mother and baby.
Alternative Eating Styles for Preconception and Pregnancy Health
For individuals planning to conceive or already pregnant, it is important to consider alternative eating styles that support preconception and pregnancy health. While the keto diet may not be the most suitable choice during pregnancy, other approaches like a balanced Mediterranean-style diet or a whole-foods-based approach can provide the necessary nutrients for reproductive health.
These eating styles emphasize a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, to support overall well-being during this crucial period. Reducing the amount of empty carbohydrates associated with highly processed foods should be a high priority. Replacing those foods with wholesome real food alternatives is always going to be a healthier approach even if your body is not actively burning ketones.
Taking into account these concerns and considerations helps individuals make informed decisions about the keto diet and fertility-related issues. It is advisable to work closely with healthcare professionals to ensure personalized guidance and support throughout the fertility journey. In the next section, we will discuss the benefits of adopting a balanced approach that integrates a variety of dietary factors for optimal fertility outcomes.
Finding a Balanced Approach
While the keto diet has gained attention for its potential benefits, it is essential to emphasize the importance of a balanced diet for preconception and pregnancy. A balanced diet provides a wide range of essential nutrients necessary for reproductive health, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Incorporating a variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats supports overall well-being and optimizes fertility outcomes. For individuals who are already pregnant, a balanced diet is especially important. A 2017 study states that:
High food quality, together with adequate macro- and micronutrient intake in pregnancy, is crucial for the health status of the mother and child. Recent findings suggest that it could also be beneficial or harmful in the context of the well-being of the whole future population. According to the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis, most conditions that occur in adulthood originate in fetal life. Moreover, some epigenetic events, modified inter alia by diet, impact more than one generation.
Research on Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Reproductive Hormone Levels
As we have seen throughout this article, research has shown that low-carbohydrate diets, including the keto diet, may impact reproductive hormone levels. While some studies have suggested potential benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of low-carbohydrate diets on reproductive health. It is crucial to consider individual differences and consult with healthcare professionals to determine the most appropriate dietary approach for fertility goals.
Considering the Impact of Restrictive Diets on Stress and Relationship With Food
Restrictive diets, including the keto diet, can sometimes lead to increased stress and an unhealthy relationship with food. The strict guidelines and limitations may cause psychological stress, feelings of deprivation, and an obsession with food choices. Stress, both mental and physiological, can negatively impact fertility. For example, a 2014 study determined that “higher levels of stress as measured by salivary alpha-amylase are associated with a longer time-to-pregnancy (TTP) and an increased risk of infertility.”
It is important to prioritize mental and emotional well-being, fostering a positive relationship with food, and managing stress through practices such as mindfulness, self-care, and seeking support from professionals when needed. Furthermore, for pregnant women, restrictive diets could also negatively impact both their health and that of the fetus.
By finding a balanced approach that integrates a variety of dietary factors, individuals can optimize their fertility journey. This involves considering the benefits of a well-rounded diet, understanding the current research on low-carbohydrate diets and reproductive hormones, and being mindful of the potential impact of restrictive diets on stress and one’s relationship with food. In the next section, we will conclude with a summary of the key points discussed and provide guidance on seeking personalized advice from healthcare professionals.
It is important to remember that each individual’s journey to fertility is unique, and the keto diet may not be suitable or necessary for everyone. Therefore, we strongly encourage consulting with healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians, reproductive endocrinologists, or obstetricians, who can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs, health history, and fertility goals.
While the keto diet has shown promise in certain aspects related to fertility such as weight loss and hormone balance, the current scientific evidence is limited and inconclusive. It is essential to approach the keto diet for fertility with caution, considering potential risks, individual variations, and the importance of a balanced approach.
In conclusion, if you are considering the keto diet for fertility, it is crucial to weigh the potential benefits against the risks and consult with healthcare professionals for guidance. Maintaining a balanced diet, focusing on nutrient-rich foods, and prioritizing overall health and well-being will always play a significant role in supporting fertility.