Replay of Facebook/Instagram live weekly PCOS Month series.
Part 2: Inflammation & PCOS – Sept 9 2021
Welcome back again to the PCOS Awareness Month series! If you’re new to my page, I’m Sara Galipeau, whole-food plant-based nutritionist for hormones, and I do like talking about PCOS as both a practitioner and someone with personal experience.
So… let’s dive into this week’s topic.
Inflammation & Hormones: Why It Matters for PCOS
Put simply, inflammation (beyond what our bodies “need”, such as healing a cut on your finger or fighting off a bug) is an added stress on the body. And stress in and of itself is also a source of inflammation! Sometimes it’s a bit of a chicken v egg, feedback loop situation.
Common signs and symptoms of excess inflammation include:
- acne breakouts, rash or redness
- sensitive and/or painful skin
- joint stiffness and aches, arthralgia
- long recovery time from infections, exercise/exertion soreness, myalgia
- painful menstrual cramps
- bloating and gas, digestive/GI troubles
- changes in or difficulty shifting body composition
- cravings for sugar, low energy or fatigue
- mood disorders, depression, anxiety, PMS/PMDD
- environmental allergies and/or food sensitivities
Some of these sound familiar? That’s because conditions involving hormone imbalances – like PCOS – are likely to also have an inflammatory component as well (be it cause or reaction), so a lot of the symptoms of one overlap with those of the other.
To go a little deeper in the PCOS realm, remember that as many as 70-95% of people with PCOS also have some degree of insulin resistance. So the cells aren’t responding nearly as readily to the insulin “key” in their receptor “lock” so that insulin can’t escort sugar inside the cell to the degree that the body actually needs it to. This leads to excess sugars continuing to circulate in the bloodstream, which in turn increases oxidative stress on the blood vessels from free radical damage, and that damage increases inflammation wherever it occurs. This is one way that inflammation is intertwined with PCOS.
Another is the imbalance of the hormones themselves – there can be excess testosterone, a large estrogen-progesterone ratio (which is also known as estrogen dominance, whether there’s actually excess estrogen or not – as long as the ratio between these 2 hormones is distant, it’s considered estrogen dominance), thyroid hormones are messed up in roughly ¼ of PCOS sufferers… these hormones in clinically normal levels help regulate inflammatory response, and these chronic imbalances throw inflammation off-kilter and contribute further to the stress on the endocrine system which contributes to inflammation… so it’s this mess of processes feeding into each other to each other’s detriment.
People with PCOS , on top of menstrual issues like anovulation, irregular cycle length, infertility, PMS or PMDD, also tend to deal with mood disorders like anxiety and depression, low energy or fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and digestive problems. And as noted a moment ago, there’s again some overlap there with symptoms of chronic inflammation.
Adding to this that having PCOS puts us at further risk of developing other disorders and diseases that are also inflammatory – like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Notably, some markers for inflammation are also typically correlated with these diseases, like homocysteine levels.
The good news is that incorporating more antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense whole plant foods can be a good place to start in working toward putting this particular fire out, so that a solid foundation can be laid for working on those hormones. Some of the top anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients to start working in:
Pineapple! – antioxidant vitamin C, enzyme bromelain; often found in digestive enzyme supplements because it breaks down proteins, and even in some arthritis support supplements. I’ll be talking a little more about enzymes next week too.
Dark berries, like blackberries, blueberries, and sweet cherries – rich in polyphenols; anthocyanin
Omega-3 fatty acids – so flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts… algae-based omega oil supplements… too many people are getting too much omega-6, which tends to be in abundance in processed foods, and while some omega-6 is good, this kind is in a nutshell not the right kind – usually it’s oxidized or rancid before you even eat it and so it again contributes to that oxidative stress. So getting more omega-3, which a lot of people are also low in, could help to swing that balance back in the right direction and head down the anti-inflammatory pathway more readily.
Magnesium – among its many functions, magnesium may also help quell inflammation. It has its roles in blood vessel dilation, and might also help lower inflammatory cytokines, c-reactive protein… some of the things associated with insulin resistance and heart disease… so really getting enough magnesium is a pretty good bet here. So more legumes – black beans, chickpeas; spinach, quinoa, almonds, raw cacao, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds…
Another way to look at reducing inflammation so that we have that foundation to build healthier hormones from is to take care of our digestive health – good digestive health supports healthy inflammation levels, and vice versa. And that’s what we’re going to talk about more next week in part 3!
Are you dealing with some of these symptoms and looking for ways to add more anti-inflammatory, hormone-friendly foods to your day? Grab the free PCOS Breakfast Bundle, which features these and other PCOS power foods in a dozen easy recipes!