The exact cause of PCOS has been up for debate for ages. However, scientists believe they may be triggered by fetal exposure to elevated androgens, oxidative stress, gut dysbiosis, and inflammation.
You may wonder how all of this leads to an imbalance in your hormones, especially inflammation. Read on to find out how inflammation can contribute to your PCOS symptoms, how you can fight off this inflammation to decrease the severity of your symptoms and the diet plan that can help you boost fertility with PCOS.
What is inflammation
Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s defense mechanism. It is simply a process where your immune system recognizes foreign or harmful substances as invaders and then removes them and repairs and overcomes any damage by these substances.
Inflammation can be acute or chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation follows an immediate response to tissue, and its symptoms may last a few days. It is often caused by injuries, like when you sprain your ankles or when you feel ill due to bacteria and viruses infections.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is more slow-paced and lasts longing. You may think of chronic inflammation as the “bad” kind of inflammation. Unlike acute inflammation that heals the body, chronic inflammation seems to be associated with the opposite. Scientists have found that chronic, low-grade inflammation can also contribute to PCOS in addition to cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Chronic inflammation and PCOS
Research suggests that there is a close association between PCOS and inflammation. One study found that people with PCOS had higher levels of certain inflammatory markers like C-reactive peptide (CRP) and interleukin.
In addition, several ongoing research suggests a close association between increased androgen and inflammation (elevated androgens is an important hallmark of PCOS). One study found that inflammation directly stimulates the ovaries to produce excess androgens. This relationship between androgen and inflammation has prompted scientists to investigate the relationship between diet-induced inflammation and elevated androgens, and data is pointing to the affirmative: what you eat may directly invoke increased androgens.
What causes chronic inflammation in PCOS
Scientists do not really know the exact cause of chronic inflammation in PCOS. The relationship between several risk factors and inflammation can be likened to the “chicken and the egg” metaphor. Scientists are still trying to know if these risk factors trigger inflammation, or perhaps inflammation triggers some of these risk factors. We would not dwell on what is unknown but rather focus on what we do know. From research, we know there is a close relationship between chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, diet, and lifestyle.
Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals, which are a result of the metabolism of many natural biological processes in our body, and the ability of our body to fight off these free radicals using our bodies’ natural antioxidants. As oxidative stress increases, so does chronic inflammation, which can potentially induce PCOS. This is why powerful antioxidants like N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are one of the best fertility supplements for PCOS. In addition to its ability to induce induction, NAC helps the body fight off these radicals, reducing oxidative stress and, in turn, inflammation.
Medical researchers believe certain foods, especially those containing sugar, can incite oxidative stress and inflammatory reactions in PCOS.. They also found that sugar consumption triggers oxidative stress in both normal-weight and obese women with PCOS. In addition, eating unhealthy food can also lead to weight gain, which is another risk factor for inflammation.
Poor sleep quality :
Not having enough sleep has been closely associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers. One study found that women who had poor sleep quality had higher levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and fibrinogen.
Smoking is known to trigger the body to produce an immune response, as it releases harmful free radicals like carbon monoxide and other reactive oxygen species.. The body’s response against this toxin leads to increased levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein and white blood cell count.
It is still uncertain how obesity results in inflammation, but immune responses seem to play a role. According to one study, when the macronutrients in your fat tissues are in excess, it triggers your body to release inflammatory markers like tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin 6 and decrease the production of adiponectin (a hormone your fat tissue releases that help with insulin sensitivity and inflammation).
Ways to reduce inflammation in PCOS
Exercise: Exercise is very helpful in improving clinical symptoms in women with PCOS. However, the effect of exercise on inflammation depends on the duration and intensity of the exercise.
Quit smoking: in one smoking cessation program which involved 46 women, researchers found that just weeks after quitting smoking, there was a major decrease in several markers of inflammation. This goes to show that quitting smoking may help reduce PCOS complications. In addition, research shows smoking also worsens your androgen levels, which can worsen your PCOS symptoms.. You can join several resources and support groups to help you quit smoking.
Reduce stress: Increased stress can trigger inflammation. You can decrease stress levels by relaxing, practicing yoga, meditation, or even being physically active.
Avoid inflammatory food: certain foods like refined carbohydrates (white bread and pastries), fries, processed meat, soda, and other sugar-sweetened beverages may trigger inflammation which may worsen your PCOS.
Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to fight inflammation is eating right—yes, eating right. Certain foods like tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, and strawberries, amongst others, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help you fight inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory diet and PCOS
In a 2015 study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 75 overweight women with PCOS followed a Mediterranean-style anti-inflammatory diet for 3 months. The women were placed on a diet of 25% proteins, 25% fat, and 50% carbohydrates. The diet emphasized certain anti-inflammatory foods like legumes, fish, nuts, olive oil, herbs, and green tea. At the end of three months, here is what happened:
There was a mean weight loss of 7.9% in the women enrolled in the study within the three months period.
27 women who had less than 8 menses every year saw their period two times during this period
7 women out of 58 who were eligible for spontaneous pregnancy conceived during the study period.
And there was a remarkable drop of 34% in the level of CRP ( an inflammatory marker)
The benefits of anti-inflammatory foods in PCOS make this diet plan worth trying. If you are looking to get pregnant, this diet may help you increase your chances of fertility with PCOS. You can talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist to create a personalized anti-inflammatory diet plan to help reduce your levels of inflammation and, in turn, promote healthier outcomes for your PCOS treatment.
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1 Chronic Low Grade Inflammation in Pathogenesis of PCOS| https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8038770/
2 The Role of Chronic Inflammation in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
3 Inflammation in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Underpinning of insulin resistance and ovarian dysfunction
4 The mechanism of action of N-acetylcysteine (NAC): The emerging role of H2S and sulfane sulfur species|
5 Sleep Inconsistency and Markers of Inflammation| https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2020.01042/full
6 Smoking and Inflammation| https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160597/
7 Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications |https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/
8 A Pilot Study To Examine the Effects of Smoking Cessation on Serum Markers of Inflammation in Women at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease |https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2707500/
9 Cigarette smoking, nicotine levels, and increased risk for metabolic syndrome in women with polycystic ovary syndrome| https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4077900/
10 Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases |https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/
11 Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome