“95% of patients manage their PCOS better when they quit sugar”. My BS monitor is on high alert

In September, a Doctor claimed that the vast majority of her patients felt better and managed their PCOS better when they quit sugar.

My Bulls***t meter is pinging.

This story was run on as a feature on Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar blog. So right there we have a problem. This doctor is stunningly endorsing the notion that health problems can be solved by ‘quitting’ sugar.

PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex hormonal condition where a woman’s ovaries are generally bigger than average and contain many cysts or follicles that will not mature enough to be fertilized. The condition comes with a number of side effects including excessive hair growth and acne and decreased fertility.

The idea that going sugar free to ‘cure’ all sorts of ailments has been around for a few years now. Sarah Wilson began her ‘sugar free’ campaign in 2011 and since then it has exploded onto the scene and only seems to be getting more popular as time goes on.

Wilson freely admits that the whole premise of her program is a little misleading as people aren’t actually required to quit sugar, just fructose. She cites ‘click bait’ reasons for this as “I Quit Fructose” is “not so very catchy, is it?”

Her justification is that we rarely ingest fructose by itself; we most often eat it when we eat sugar which is a mix of glucose and fructose.

The evidence is spread pretty thin

We’re going to cover this in a lot more detail in the coming weeks but in essence, there is little evidence that fructose in our diets is a problem.

Proponents of the sugar free or fructose free brigade will argue that fructose is digested in the body differently to glucose and because of this, any fructose you eat gets converted into fat.

The actual evidence for this is pretty sketchy as the only trials we have are on mice and rats. Mice were fed up to a whopping 60% of calories from fructose – but none of the studies controlled for dietary energy which means that we don’t know if the effects were from the fructose or from the excess energy. We also need to keep in mind that its hard to measure just how much fructose we are actually consuming – US data would indicated we get about 9% of our energy from fructose, so how realistic is it to measure the effects of a diet were 60% of energy comes from fructose?

A Dr. but not a MD

Lastly, I want to cover off the doc who claims to have such significant improvements in her patients’ health when sugar is removed from their diet. Lots of people can call themselves a Doctor, as the title is awarded in lots of different fields of study.

A MD knows a lot about medicine. They have studied for many years at university and spent lots of time training at different hospitals and healthcare centres.

A PhD knows lots about their field of study. They have generally completed an undergraduate degree with honors and have spent 3 years extensively researching their chosen topic. They have published multiple peer reviewed papers

A Dr of Chinese Medicine is an expert in traditional medicines. Their scope of practice is a little murky, they receive extensive training in acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

The doctor who made this sweeping claim about sugar and PCOS does not disclose where she studied, so it’s impossible to know exactly how much nutrition training she has received. Some Institutions that offer a Dr of Chinese Medicine require students to undertake one subject in Nutrition and this equates to just 45 hours. Compare this to the years of full time study that a Dietitian must undertake to earn their title.

Take home message
  • The evidence for restricting fructose is slim – more on this next week.
  • Current Australian intakes of fructose are hard to measure- US intakes are at about 9% of energy
  • PCOS is a complex condition that may require the help of many appropriately qualified healthcare professionals
  • If following the IQS program works for you then by all means go for it, but don’t feel that the only way to manage your PCOS is to quit sugar.
  • Be wary of people or companies that offer simple solutions for complex medical conditions.

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