Endometriosis is one of the most common gynaecological conditions, affecting approximately 1 in 10 women. It occurs when tissue similar to the womb lining (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus, leading to inflammation, pain and infertility. The tissue can grow in many different places including the pelvis, along the fallopian tubes and ovaries, around the bowel and bladder, and even the heart, lungs, armpits, eyes and knees! This swells and bleeds with a menstrual cycle, leading to further inflammation and possible scar tissue.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
• Extremely painful periods (dysmenorrhoea)
• Painful intercourse
• Painful ovulation
• Chronic pelvic, abdominal or back pain
• Heavy or irregular periods
• Gastrointestinal issues
Unfortunately, it can take an average of 8 years to diagnose and medical literature states that there is no known cure. As a functional medicine practitioner, it's very hard for me to accept that a condition is untreatable and unmanageable, so after a great deal of research, I set about to collate the most current information and bring together options to support women with this condition.
As inflammation features prominently in endometriosis, it's important to help bring down these levels as much as possible. An anti-inflammatory diet removes processed foods, gluten, dairy and sugar, and includes a great deal of fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), antioxidant- rich fruits like blueberries and raspberries, and oily fish like wild salmon, sardines and mackerel. It's also vital to keep blood sugar levels stable, and so eating regularly with good quality fats and protein will help sustain this.
In addition to diet, there are many supplements shown to exert beneficial effects, and are subsequently being studied a lot more.
• Curcumin is the active component in turmeric and is a natural anti-inflammatory, aiding pain management, and inducing apoptosis (cell death). A research paper has even referred to it as an "anti-endometriotic agent".
• N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amazing antioxidant, and one particular study has shown promising results with symptom reduction after only a 3 month trial.
• B vitamins are vital for a process called methylation, which is involved in many reactions in the body, especially in the detoxification of oestrogen. Deficiencies are also associated with menstrual issues and fertility, so it's always recommended to up your levels as a first step. Leafy greens are rich in B vitamins, yet some people have a genetic imbalance which means they need higher levels to exert the same effect. Whole food supplements are therefore a good choice.
• Probiotics can help rebalance the microbiome, which is important for removing toxins and excess oestrogen, and lactobacillus gasseri in particular has been shown to boost natural killer cells, which may be a factor for endometriosis.
• Zinc is a powerful antioxidant and is involved in pro-apoptotic processes, pro-inflammatory reactions, repairing the body, and in immune system functioning. Deficiencies have also been linked to those suffering with endometriosis so is therefore a great mineral to get into the diet. Natural sources include pumpkin seeds and oysters, but therapeutic doses from a supplement may be required.
From the research carried out, it shows that there is hope for an often- debilitating condition, though it can take between 6 months and a year to shift and notice changes. It is always recommended to work with a practitioner to guide you through the process, but making dietary changes on your own is a really great place to start.
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