The Relationship Between PCOS and Inflammation

Women with PCOS tend to have more inflammation than those without the condition.

Doctor speaking with female patient. Hero Images/Getty

Inflammation occurs when your body’s natural immune system, composed of white blood cells and other factors, reacts to a foreign substance in an attempt to protect your body from a perceived threat. Unfortunately, sometimes your body's inflammation response gets triggered inappropriately and causes your immune system to react to your own tissues and cells.

Understanding Inflammation

This inflammatory response can cause different symptoms such as swelling, pain, fatigue, and headaches.

Inflammation isn’t just associated with the joints and muscles, as is commonly seen in rheumatoid arthritis or gout, it can also occur in the internal organs. Other systemic conditions caused by inflammation include colitis (inflammation of the colon) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).

In addition to imaging studies, like x-rays or CAT scans, a blood test looking for a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP) can be used to detect inflammation. When elevated, CRP can indicate that an inflammatory response is occurring in the body, though it can’t identify where the inflammation is.

PCOS and Inflammation 

Several studies have found that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to have elevated levels of CRP compared to women without the condition. This suggests that some form of inflammation is happening in the body. If you have PCOS, you may also have high levels of other markers for inflammation like oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokines, and white blood cells called lymphocytes and monocytes.

All of these factors are involved in the immune response and are also found during inflammation.

Elevated levels of CRP are also associated with diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease―conditions which are more common in those with PCOS. 

Lowering Your Risk of Inflammation

If you have PCOS, you can start easing inflammation through lifestyle changes.

One of the best ways to do this is through a healthy diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods.

Studies show that women with PCOS who followed a Mediterranean style anti-inflammatory diet for three months lost 7 percent of their body weight and showed significant improvements in their cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. A proper Mediterranean diet is designed to be low-calorie, low-fat, low-saturated fat, have a low-glycemic index, and moderate to high fiber intake. The diet also emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, legumes, nuts, olive oil, herbs, spices, and green tea.

Supplementing your diet with omega-3s, the best-absorbed form of fish oil, can also help reduce inflammation. Other ways to reduce PCOS-related inflammation include regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, and other stress-reducing activities. 

Lastly, make sleep a priority. Getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night can help your body fight inflammation as well as rest. 

Sources

Agacayak ELevels of Neopterin and other Inflammatory Markers in Obese and Non-Obese Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.Med Sci Monit. 2015 Aug 20;21:2446-55.368.

Amany A. Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. N Am J Med Sci. 2015 Jul; 7(7): 310–316.

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