Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Weight Loss
What’s the deal with inflammation? And can it cause me to gain weight?
Many women with PCOS who struggle with stubborn weight loss and most people can benefit from the incorporation of an anti-inflammatory diet. If you’re wondering what inflammation is and what it has got to do with you struggling to get into that nice dress, read on.
What is Inflammation?
Let’s get this straight. Inflammation is perfectly normal and is an important physiological process in the body. It involves many immune cells and the body’s defenses rising up to protect us against intrusions, foreign molecules, infections, viruses and so on. Inflammation helps with tissue repair and gets the body back into balance at infected or damaged sites. It is the imbalance of inflammation that can cause problems - both over inflammation and under inflammation. Whilst acute inflammation is fundamentally beneficial because the body is showing signs of needing help, chronic inflammation over time can lead to chronic disease and even shock and death.
How can inflammation cause weight gain?
There are some theories about how overeating can cause weight gain through an overactive immune response. No wonder there is a rise in autoimmune diseases i.e. the body’s immune cells start attacking its own. This is because the body is unable to differentiate between foreign cells and its own. Examples of autoimmune disease are type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease etc.
Stress, negative emotions and moods can cause a change in dietary choices which can cause inflammation via activation of the autonomic nervous system, metabolic responses and oxidative stress.
In addition, foods predominantly in the Western diet, those of inflammatory in nature can cause obesity and stubborn weight accumulation. According to JJ Virgin, these seven foods can potentially cause weight gain - gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts, sugar and artificial sweeteners (a whole other blog post!). Omega 6 fatty acids found in refined vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn and safflower oils can cause an increase in cytokines (which are immune cells) which is associated with inflammation. The omega3 fatty acids however such as walnuts, flaxseeds and fish oil reduce the proinflammatory cytokine response. Both of these fatty acids go through the same metabolic pathway in our body so it is crucial for us to have a good balance between them.
For example, the protein in dairy (A1 Casein) which can lead to stimulation and activation of immune mast cells that attack the uterine lining.
Other stresses of inflammation can be found in this downloadable cheat sheet from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
The anti-inflammatory diet consists of:
consuming foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, beans, oysters and the like plus including healthy oils such as avocado and extra virgin olive oil are general guidelines
Alliums, spices and herbs such as turmeric, cilantro, parsley, cloves, cinnamon can be consumed in big amounts because they can help to flavour your meals without the need for artificial sweeteners and preservatives from canned sauces.
Here is a great downloadable guide to the anti-inflammatory diet from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. If you are a visual learner, check out this video on how to eat the anti-inflammatory diet.
Another diet that is touted as a good sustainable way of eating according to Harvard Health is the Mediterranean diet. It involves good fats, protein , plenty of greens and moderate consumption of alcohol with limited intake of red meat. This is generally the same as the anti-inflammatory diet! RD Martha McKittrick gives a great summary about the Mediterranean diet.
In other words, the dietary components of antioxidants, polyphenols, omega3fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics mediate the inflammatory responses in the gut barrier, cell signalling and gene expression.
A word on Inflammatory PCOS
There are four types of PCOS and one of them stems from inflammation. Inflammation with PCOS worsens hormone disruption, impedes ovulation and increases levels of androgens. (We don’t want that!) According to Dr Briden, the underlying inflammatory symptoms are psoriasis, skin problems, chronic allergies, headaches, gut issues, joint pain that can be present in PCOS individuals.
Cutting out the inflammatory food groups for a bit like wheat, dairy, vegetable oils, sugar, eggs can help the body to reset itself, in particular the gut. PCOS women with inflammatory symptoms can also get a IgG test to get for food intolerances/allergies.
Supplements, minerals and vitamins that can help inflammatory PCOS include zinc, probiotics, turmeric, berberine, selenium (reduces thyroid antibodies), vitamin D and magnesium. I love this PCOS Diva podcast episode about managing PCOS Inflammation.