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Periodic Fasting’s Impact on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Recent scientific revelations on the significant health benefits derived from periods of “not eating” have taken the medical community by surprise. In reality, though, it’s always been known that humans have lived for most of their existence on Earth with alternating periods of food and famine. Our bodies naturally evolved to live most efficiently in that world of episodic food deprivation, adapting to optimize during the lean times to maximize the chances of survival and reproduction.

Unfortunately, our society has drastically changed and now most of us have constant food availability, and we’ve grown to both expect and enjoy eating around the clock, day after day. Such a lifestyle puts us into a state of constant growth and proliferation – this may sound like a good thing, but it is a major contributor to the risk of developing or accelerating many age-related conditions. It turns out that adults aged 21-65 years of age probably need regular periods of little to no food, which we now know help to trigger cellular regeneration and rejuvenation.

As a woman, or as a man who loves a woman, you may be wondering specifically how periodic fasting impacts female health issues. Although large clinical research studies have yet to be completed on this specific population, the basic science research and preclinical evidence clearly points to potential benefits in many areas of female health, when either periodic fasting for 4 consecutive days, or the 5-day fasting mimicking diet, is implemented.

The first area in which periodic fasting can potentially benefit women involves their reproductive health. Many women delay having children until their late 30’s, or even 40’s. Human data is still needed, but studies in mice have shown that caloric restriction and fasting appears to help prolong reproductive capabilities by reducing the level of inflammation in ovaries. Other studies have shown caloric restriction has similar benefits to periodic fasting, but with many more potential negatives and with fewer positives.

The most common endocrine disorder of women is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), in which levels of androgens (male hormones) are elevated, leading to a number of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, inability to get pregnant, and pelvic pain.  Based on the preclinical evidence and human studies done to date, evidence suggests that the large array of metabolic issues faced by this group of women could potentially be reduced.  The studies to prove this hypothesis should soon be underway.

Menopausal women, following the loss of their ovarian estrogen production, also develop many metabolic issues. These include hypertension, visceral (belly) fat, atherosclerosis, depression, memory loss, and higher risk of strokes and heart attacks. Periodic fasting and the fasting mimicking diet have been shown to lower associated risk markers for these conditions.  All signs point to the idea that for healthy menopausal women, regularly engaging in periodic fasting may be beneficial for their general wellness.

It truly does appear that not eating can provide tremendous health benefits specifically for women, whether they are still in their reproductive years or beyond. Fasting offers new hope for ovarian longevity as well as the great probability of an improved HealthSpan.

Cani, P.D., Neyrinck, A.M., Fava, F. et al. Diabetologia (2007) 50: 2374.
Matts on et al. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry Volume 16, Issue 3, March 2005, Pages 129-137

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