Natural Treatment Options for Endometriosis
Today I want to talk about endometriosis. A couple of weeks ago, I heard something on BBC radio about endometriosis and how long women with this condition must wait before getting the correct diagnosis. 40% of women need to see a doctor 10 times before being diagnosed and the average time to get a diagnosis is 7.5 years. This is not ok, but the reason I’m writing this is not for endometriosis awareness, I want to tell you that there are things that you can do to help that are not medical. I’m talking about your diet.
Endometriosis can affect women of any age. Some women get it in their teens whilst some develop it later in life. It occurs when cells from the uterine lining are found in other parts of the body such as the ovaries, bladder or bowel. These cells react to hormonal signals the same way as the ones in the uterus and will therefore grow throughout the month and then break down during the period. The problem being that they cannot get out of the body, which can cause extreme period pains (pain can be ongoing throughout the month) and scar formation. This in turn can lead to fertility problems. It is estimated that as many as 30-40% of women with endometriosis are infertile, some of who unknowingly have the condition.
The cause of endometriosis
Unfortunately, no one knows for certain what is causing endometriosis. There are theories about some of the menstrual tissue moving up the fallopian tubes into the abdomen during menstruation where it can then implant and grow, or that it may be a genetic condition. It is however clear that cells have somehow moved from where they originate to a location where they do not belong. What I would like to know is if this can be prevented or reversed.
Some studies have found that progesterone resistance may play a role in the development of endometriosis and many women who already have the condition have either low blood progesterone or a short luteal phase. It may be worth mentioning that stress and increased cortisol levels can cause progesterone resistance.
Since there is no cure for endometriosis the treatment options available are: surgical removal, pain relief, or hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is usually given in the form of contraceptive pills, Mirena coil (plastic intrauterine device containing progesterone-like substances), progestogens (Provera, Primolut, Duphaston, Depo-Provera), GnRH analogues (Prostap, Zoladex, Synarel, Suprecur, Decapeptyl), and testosterone derivatives (Danazol and Gestrinone).
Hormonal treatment is used to in some way or another decrease the amount of oestrogen that is produced. Since oestrogen is the hormone that stimulates the cells to grow, less oestrogen often reduces the pain associated with endometriosis. The downside to these treatments is that most of them stop ovulation and testosterone derivatives goes one step further and creates a menopause-like condition. Whilst these treatments may ease the pain, they may bring other problems down the line.
There is a bioidentical progesterone called Prometrium which has been shown to prevent build-up in the uterine lining when taken at a dose of 100-200 mg. There may be other bioidentical hormones available as well, but I would recommend that you discuss with your GP before starting such treatment. As a side note for those who are allergic to peanuts; Prometrium contains peanut oil.
How to balance oestrogen
There are some basic things that every woman can do. First, you will want to make sure that you produce the right hormones in the right balance. For some women, a “liver cleanse” can be very useful. When the liver does not metabolise the hormones at the rate that they are produced, excess may build up over time and cause problems. This may lead to excess of the less beneficial oestrogens and less production of the beneficial type (oestriol/E3). Without going into any details a good start is to increase your vegetable intake, especially cruciferous vegetables, this will help eliminate oestrogen metabolites from your body.
Do not drink alcohol
Cut the alcohol. Any amount of alcohol increases your oestrogen and makes your liver slow in detoxing other substances. No alcohol at all is preferable but perhaps not realistic for some. You may be able to get away with a couple of glasses of wine per week. If you are suffering badly though I would recommend to not drink any alcohol at all for at least 30 days to give your liver a chance to catch up.
Do not consume commercially raised meat
I am not an advocate for vegan diets, however, commercially raised meats contain a lot of substances you will want to avoid if you are trying to balance your oestrogen. I would recommend that you source free range and if possible also organic meat (beef and lamb but not pork). Failing that, you can eat primarily wild caught fish, other sea food, game, poultry (without the skin unless free roaming), and eggs.
Eat your veggies
Five a day is probably not enough. It is not hard to increase your vegetable intake if you replace grains with veggies. Replace mashed potatoes with mashed swede or cauliflower; rice with cauliflower rice; pasta with spaghetti squash and so on. Start your meal with a fresh raw salad, add a side of steamed broccoli or green beans with plenty of pastured butter to go with your protein. Vegetables help balance your oestrogen by increasing bowels which allows your body to rid itself of oestrogen metabolites (which can otherwise be re-absorbed), and support a beneficial gut flora. Just keep in mind that heavy pesticide use may promote oestrogen dominance so you want to mainly eat organic. If you need a reminder, here is the top 10 foods that are safe to eat as non-organic and the top 10 you really should consume as organic.
Avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates
There are so many reasons to not eat sugar and processed carbohydrates but I will keep it short. They both contribute to insulin resistance which in turn can affect the efficiency of your oestrogen receptors and thereby increase oestrogen production which leads to oestrogen dominance. Unfortunately, they also contribute to a less beneficial bacterial flora which may be both inflammatory and contribute to unwanted weight gain.
This can come in many forms; many women like doing yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, others like me prefer being out in nature enjoying the moment. Whatever works for you is the right way to go. Make it a game to not get upset whilst driving when that a-hole cuts you off, or when someone parks their trolley across the aisle when you are shopping. I know it is hard, but it is in your best interest. Also make sleep a priority, sleep deprivation increases insulin insensitivity, cravings for sweet things and decreases your ability to cope with stress.
Get in touch
I hope this has provided some insight into what you can do to naturally balance your hormones. If you have any further suggestions or questions, please leave a comment or ask in the Facebook group.