When I developed PCOS ten years ago, I didn’t find a PCOS specialist who handed me down the rulebook to improve my symptoms and live a "normal"-ish life. Actually, I was the one suggesting my OBGYN that I had PCOS. This is how well informed the medical profession was at the time. Today PCOS affects 1/10 women and still most GPs will send their patients home telling them to “just loose weight”. The problem is, it’s not that easy. Weight loss resistance is a real thing. Just exercise and calorie deficit will not do the trick when you are diagnosed with PCOS.
It is now a well established fact that PCOS is characterised by a chronic state of inflammation and insulin resistance (1). But the precise underlying triggers is presently unknown. Over the past 20 years, mounting evidence is confirming the hypothesis that those underlying triggers are chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress. “They can cause or worsen obesity, insulin-resistance, vitamin D deficiency, and immune dyscrasia (abnormal function), suggesting an inverse interaction to what is usually considered." (2)
So what are the most important causes of chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress?
Sugar. If you read my February newsletter, you know now that it is the n°1 inflammatory food. And by extension, all high Glycaemic Index (GI) foods: grains and flour-based products, processed food - root veggies are ok in moderation.
Leaky gut. When the lining of the gut becomes porous, proteins and bacteria from the gut leak into the blood flow and trigger the immune system, which in turn drives insulin levels up. It has been proposed that leaky gut is the root cause of PCOS (1) and in my experience most women with PCOS experience some sort of chronic digestive disturbance - a sign of leaky gut.
Mould. Often overlooked yet a major contributor to chronic health conditions and immune response triggers. Especially if you live in a cold, damp country and in a not recent building (like I do).
Endocrine disruptors In food they are: pesticides, fertilisers, hormones (meat, dairy), antibiotics (meat, dairy). In non-food: non-stick cookware, home cleaning products, personal care products, beauty, make-up, detergents, air fresheners, candles and perfumes… The list is endless.
Chronic mental stress. It releases chemicals called cytokines that cause inflammation. Stress also drives the production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Chronic stress leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol which leads to decreased cortisol sensitivity (just like with insulin) and increased inflammation. (3)
Poor sleep. The body uses the time off digestion and activity to “clean the house" and regenerate. Poor sleep means less chance to perform those actions.
Lack of mouvement. The lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning and evacuating toxins. Due to its physiology, it cannot be stimulated on its own but only during muscular activity. So exercise not only generate feel-good hormones and improves sleep, it helps your body to eliminate toxins and lower inflammation.
Too much food. Digestion is a process that uses considerable energy. One reason fasting is so beneficial is that the body uses the time and energy normally directed at digestion for cleaning and elimination (however fasting is not recommended with PCOS as it generates too much stress).
Alcohol, drugs and medication. Obviously. Although red wine in moderation consistency shows health benefits; likely from the little stress is generates in the body which builds-up resilience.
Low levels of Vit. D. Vitamin D is not a vitamin but a hormone synthesised by the body after exposure to sunlight. It is one of the key controllers of systemic inflammation, oxidative stress and mitochondrial respiratory function, which regulates processes such as ageing and DNA repair. More that 50% of people living in Europe are estimated to be deficient in Vit. D. (6)
Electromagnetic frequencies or EMFs.“Several studies have reported that exposure to EMF results in oxidative stress in many tissues of the body". (7)
So now you can identify major contributors to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
Let’s discuss in the next blog how to actively minimise their impact.