The Relationship Between PCOS and Inflammation

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.

Hispanic woman holding forehead in pain
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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 CT 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 people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to have elevated levels of CRP compared to those 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 that are more common in those with PCOS.

Lowering Your Risk

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 people with PCOS who followed a Mediterranean-style anti-inflammatory diet for three months lost 7% of their body weight and showed significant improvements in their cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers.

A Mediterranean diet is designed to be low-calorie, low-fat, and low-saturated fat with a low-glycemic index and moderate to high fiber intake. It emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, legumes, nuts, olive oil, herbs, spices, and green tea.

Supplementing your diet with omega 3 fatty acids, 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.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Nicole Galan, RN
Nicole Galan, RN, is a registered nurse and the author of "The Everything Fertility Book."