Endometriosis is a condition that affects up to 10% of the population. It is a disease where tissue that is similar to the endometrium tissue of the uterus is found outside the uterus. This misplaced tissue causes severe pain and various other symptoms in affected women and can greatly lessen their quality of life. Today we are going to take a look at the basic presentation of endometriosis, its common symptoms, how its diagnosed and what you can do if you find yourself diagnosed with this somewhat mysterious yet common condition.
So what is Endometriosis?
Hormone expert Lara Briden classifies endometriosis as an estrogen dependant, inflammatory and immune mediated disease state. This is important to know, because the symptoms that we commonly see with endometriosis presentation are largely estrogen dominant and inflammation mediated symptoms. This gives us clues as to the best treatment options for the condition too, but we will get to that in the last section.
The endometrial tissue that grows outside of the uterus is referred to as ‘endometrial lesions’, and they can grow anywhere in the body. They most commonly grow in the pelvis area, around the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, but they have been found in lung tissue and other locations far away from the pelvis.
There is no known reason as to why these endometrial lesions occur, but what we do know is that the immune system plays an integral role in their growth and development.
Main symptoms of Endometriosis
• Pain – severe pain is the main symptom. It is much more severe than ‘normal’ period pain, and can have a stabbing, searing, throbbing or burning quality.
• Bloating and digestive issues
• Nausea and vomiting
• Headaches or migraines
• Bleeding in between your periods, or spotting
• Issues with fertility, and recurrent miscarriages
• Diarrhea or constipation. It is common to get diarrhea with menses
• Painful urination
• Painful intercourse
As with all disease states, each individual will have different symptoms, and you may not experience every symptom on this list.
Diagnosis of Endo
Unfortunately, diagnosis of endometriosis is not simple. A thorough case history is needed, and the condition cannot be diagnosed via ultrasound or CT, although these can give rise to ‘medical suspicion’ of the disease. The only way that endometriosis is currently diagnosed is via a surgery called laproscopy. This is keyhole surgery, where small incisions are made in the abdomen and a camera is inserted to give a visual inside the abdominal cavity. Sometimes the endometriosis tissue can be removed during this procedure as well. The recovery from laparoscopy is typically good, and patients generally return home on the same day as the surgery.
So, you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, what now?
It’s important to know that there is no known cure for endometriosis. However, the symptoms can be relieved by various natural and conventional treatments, which is what we will focus on today.
If you’re endometriosis is severe, surgery may be an option for you. It isn’t a cure for the disease, but it can remove some of the lesions and greatly improve your symptoms. Pain relief, improved fertility, and far less inflammation in the pelvic cavity are outcomes of laparoscopic surgery to remove the endometriosis tissue.
Let’s look now at naturopathic treatments for endometriosis.
Diet and lifestyle interventions
Our diet is a huge part of our hormonal health, and an anti-inflammatory way of eating is highly effective at reducing inflammation and inflammatory cytokines. Inflammatory cytokines are immune system chemicals that cause a lot of the inflammation experienced in endometriosis. Lara Briden suggests that diet is in fact the most important part of a natural treatment approach to endo. Her dietary approach recommends that women struggling with this disease avoid consuming cow’s dairy, all forms of gluten, and eggs.
I am in complete agreeance with this approach, because both dairy and gluten activate the immune system and cause high levels of inflammation. We also have studies showing great improvements in sufferers when they remove gluten and dairy.
Foods to focus on in your diet are:
• plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits
• Lots of greens
• nuts and seeds
• turmeric and other spices
• salmon, sardines and other sources of omega 3
• olive oil
Herbal and Nutritional medicines
When it comes to supplements for endometriosis, we always want to include things that are known to reduce inflammation and support the immune system.
This is the number one herbal recommendation, because of its well documented anti-inflammatory effects. It also reduces the size and immune activity of lesions.
Zinc has been shown to be deficient in women with endometriosis, and it is also a vital immune supporting nutrient. It can help reduce pain and is anti-inflammatory as well. It’s best to take zinc on a full stomach, otherwise you can experience nausea with this nutrient.
N acetyl cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid derivative. It is successful in treating abnormal cell growth in endometriosis, as well as providing anti-inflammatory effects and an increase in antioxidant status within the liver.
Berberine is another herbal treatment that has been shown to inhibit growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. Like the above treatments, it is highly anti-inflammatory, and also has the added benefit of being antibacterial.
Speak to your Naturopath about the correct dosage and treatment strategy for you before commencing any natural medicines, as it will differ depending on the severity of your condition
In conclusion, endometriosis is a complex disease, and it can only be truly diagnosed via laparoscopic keyhole surgery. There is no known cure, but the condition can be managed, and symptoms greatly lessened through both conventional and natural approaches. We’ve discussed the top dietary interventions, and briefly mentioned supplements. However due to its complex nature, if you suffer from endometriosis, you really need individualised support to receive the best and most appropriate treatments for you.
If this is you, you can book an appointment with me HERE.
As always, I hope you found this article informative and helpful.