How to Treat Endometriosis With Dietary Changes
Figure 1. Smooth Muscle
We all know changing our diet can change our health. We are what we eat after all. As with many chronic disorders, endometriosis can be treated with diet.
Usually managed with medication or surgery, endometriosis is very painful and has destroyed the quality of life for many women who suffer from it. But it doesn’t have to ruin your life.
What is Endometriosis?
In order to better answer the question "what is endometriosis," we need a quick anatomy 101 lesson.
The uterus is made up of many layers. The wall of the uterus, or myometrium, is made up of smooth muscle (Figure 1). The cells of smooth muscle are long and tapered and lack the visible striation, or bands, characteristic of cardiac and skeletal muscles. Smooth muscle can be found in the walls of visceral organs, or organs with cavities. This type of muscle allows certain organs to move things along with powerful contractions.
For example, menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting rhythmically to expel the uterine lining. Similarly, labor pains are the uterus contracting to move the fetus down the birth canal.
Figure 2. The Layers of the Uterus
The wall of the uterus is lined with the endometrium, also called the uterine mucosa. The endometrium has two layers: an epithelial, glandular layer and a stromal layer penetrated by the glands of the epithelial layer (Figure 2).
The endometrium is extremely sensitive to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which cause it to increase in thickness, size, and vascularization (amount of blood vessels) in preparation for pregnancy. This is the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
Endometriosis is a disorder in which endometrium cells grow outside of the uterus. They are usually limited to the pelvic area, but, on rare occasions, may migrate to other areas of the body. The most common places for these rogue cells are the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and sometimes the bladder.
Since the endometrium thickens and becomes highly vascularized approximately every 28 days, this disorder tends to worsen during menstruation. The rogue cells respond to hormones just like the cells inside the uterus. But, they have no way out of the body, unlike the endometrium inside the uterus, which is shed monthly (the period). The trapped cells cause the surrounding tissues and organs to become irritated and inflamed causing the characteristic discomfort of the disorder.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Common symptoms are:
- Dysmenorrhea, or pain associated with the period
- Pain experienced during sexual intercourse
- Bowel movements and urination may become painful
- Bleeding during the period becomes excessive
Other symptoms may include nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, or excessive bloating, which may worsen during a period. Pain levels may vary from woman to woman. Some women with mild cases of the disorder have excruciating pain, while those with more advanced cases may have no pain, or other symptoms, at all.
More on Endometriosis
The cause of endometriosis remains elusive. However, it is thought that retrograde menstruation may be a cause.
Retrograde menstruation can be described as menstrual blood, which contains the endometrial cells, flowing backwards into the fallopian tubes and out into the pelvic viscera (cavity). These cells attach themselves to the surrounding tissue and organs in the pelvic area, and they continue to thicken and bleed as they normally would during a menstrual cycle.
Another possible cause is mutation of the cells lining the abdominal wall. These cells are direct descendants of embryonic cells, which are able to become just about any cell type. What causes these cells to mutate into specifically endometrial cells still remains a mystery.
Endometriosis Treatment Options
Treatment typically involves the use of analgesics (pain relievers), hormone therapy including contraceptives and surgery. However, many women have found changing their diet has drastically improved their symptoms.
The goal in changing the diet is to reduce estrogen and prostaglandin levels. Prostaglandins are polyunsaturated fatty acid compounds that are part of the eicosanoid group of fatty acids, which regulate cellular functioning in response to injury.
Some prostaglandins regulate the inflammatory process, which is why NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), such as Ibuprofen, are effective in treating pain caused by endometriosis. Other prostaglandins regulate functions such as labor contractions and fertility. Still other prostaglandins regulate the relaxation of the uterine muscles.
Treatment of Endometriosis with Diet
Consuming foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids helps to stimulate production of these regulators. Good sources of omega-3’s are:
- Fish and fish oils
- Walnuts and other nuts
- Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oils
- Olive oils
While increasing the intake of Omega-3’s, consumption of bad fats such as those found in butter, animal products and dairy, will help decrease the prostaglandins that cause the uterus to contract.
Increasing fiber consumption is also very important. A high fiber diet not only benefits those with endometriosis by decreasing estrogen levels, it also helps prevent colon cancer and aids digestion and excretion. High fiber foods include:
- Whole grains (except wheat and rye because of the phytic acid and gluten, which tends to worsen the disease)
- Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and spelt
- Vegetables and fruits (especially green leafy veggies like kale, spinach, mustard greens, cabbage, turnips and broccoli)
Foods to Avoid
Some foods exacerbate endometriosis, and it is best to avoid them at all costs. Foods to avoid are:
- Meats, especially red meats
- Refined carbohydrates (such as pasta, white bread, cakes, etc.)Butter and margarine
- Fried foods
Dairy and other animal products, especially meats, are high in saturated fats. All animal products also contain the protein casein. Casein has been proven in several studies to cause cancer, along with many other chronic diseases including diabetes and high blood pressure.
This type of diet is known as the plant-strong diet. It is rich in vitamins and nutrients as well as the all-important antioxidants that prevent cell damage and death. This diet should alleviate the symptoms of endometriosis dramatically, but it may not work for all women. Everyone’s physiology and metabolism are different. Always check with your doctor before making any dietary changes or taking any vitaminsor other supplements.