What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder in which endometrial tissue (the tissue that lines the inside of the uterine cavity) is found outside of the uterine cavity, typically affecting other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
In a normal menstrual cycle, endometrial tissue thickens and collapses in response to hormonal signals. Menses occur when the body flushes out the old endometrium in order to prepare a new uterine lining for the next month’s ovulation.
Like typical endometrial tissue, endometriosis lesions also respond to hormonal signals. However, as endometriosis lesions grow and shrink during the menstrual cycle, they cause pain, scaring, and infertility.
The symptoms of endometriosis can include:
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during/after sexual intercourse
- Painful bowel or bladder movements
Because many other conditions can cause these symptoms, endometriosis is often difficult to diagnosis. The cause of endometriosis is uncertain, but it does tend to run in families, and having children likely reduces the risk of endometriosis.
Some people with endometriosis are completely asymptomatic while others experience significant pain.
The discomfort from endometriosis can even prevent some women from performing daily activities, and may even lead to feelings of depression. The severity of symptoms may vary from month to month and can vary greatly people different individuals.
How common is endometriosis?
Research shows that endometriosis may affect more than 11% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the US.1 Endometriosis is especially common among women in their 30s and 40s.
Treatment options for endometriosis:
- Treatment for endometriosis ranges from symptom management with pain medication and hormone therapy such as oral contraceptives to surgical treatment.
- Conservative surgery involves removing the misplaced endometrial tissue while preserving the uterus and ovaries.
- In severe cases and in cases where women are not hoping to reproduce in the future, a hysterectomy and oophorectomy may be performed. Endometriosis is not the same as endometrial cancer, which is cancer of the uterine lining. (Endometriosis and endometrial cancer are typically associated with different symptoms)
Endometriosis and Your Diet
Though very few studies exist on the topic, there does seem to be some scientific evidence that diet, particularly one high in prostaglandin producing foods, impact endometriosis. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause muscles to contract and can also increase inflammation. Consuming a well-balanced, vitamin-rich diet may improve your symptoms and certainly can’t hurt your overall health.
A review of the literature on a woman’s diet and the incidence of endometriosis was published in the journal Reproductive BioMedcine Online in January 2013. The researchers discussed scientific findings over the years that point to a link between diet and onset of endometriosis.
Dietary Recommendations for Women with Endometriosis
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s reduce inflammation in the body which is one of the primary complications of endometriosis. Inflammation is responsible for pain and difficulty trying to conceive. Omega-3 is contained in oily fish like salmon and herring.
- Take a Magnesium supplement. Magnesium is found in seeds, whole grains, and vegetables, but we just don’t seem to get enough of it from diet alone. Taking a supplement of 300mg will help relax your muscles and minimize cramping.
- Limit red meat and dairy. Increase fruit and vegetable consumption. This is presumed to be because animal fats contain the “bad” kind of fatty acids which increase inflammation.
- Limit refined sugars and flours. These can contribute to inflammation. Instead try raw or organic sugar and whole grains.
- Increase fiber intake. Endometriosis is a tricky disease in that scar tissue can attach to other organs outside of the uterus, including your bowels. Women with endometriosis report intense pain and elevated hormone levels can make going to the bathroom an unpleasant experience. By increasing your fiber intake, it will make things a little easier in that department.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. For any fertility patient, it is recommended that caffeine and alcohol are consumed in moderation.
- Drink more water. Water is good for your health, but has some added benefits for managing endometriosis. Increased water consumption can help flush out toxins and can help with cramps and bloating.
- Studies have shown that women who engage in frequent exercise have a 75% lower risk of endometriosis. Moderate exercise is probably sufficient and definitely better than sitting on the couch; however you should always consult your doctor first.
When to visit a doctor for endometriosis
If you are experiencing symptoms it is very important to book an appointment to see your doctor. Because endometriosis is linked to infertility, it is crucial that you visit a doctor as soon as possible. Keeping a diary of your symptoms and how they are affecting your lifestyle is recommended and may be helpful at the consult with your physician.
1. Buck, L.G.M., Hediger, M.L., Peterson, C.M., Croughan, M., Sundaram, R., Stanford, J., Chen, Z., et al. (2011). Incidence of endometriosis by study population and diagnostic method: the ENDO study. Fertility and Sterility; 96(2): 360-5.