1 in 10 women have endometriosis. This is a conservative estimate. So many women remain undiagnosed, being told that period pain is something that woman just have to put up with. Endometriosis is still a very poorly understood condition. The only accurate way of diagnosing endometriosis is via laparoscopy surgery. This is a very unfortunate situation for so many women whose lives are put on hold with debilitating symptoms each month.
So what do we know about endometriosis and how can we use this knowledge for natural treatments?
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder whereby the endometrial cells of the uterus, grow outside the uterus. Common places for this abnormal endometrial cell growth include the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, cervix, bowel, ureters and the bladder. Endometriosis is not just a gynecological condition, but also an inflammatory disease that can affect the whole body.
Signs & symptoms of endometriosis
- Pain on or around your period
- Pain with bowel movements
- Heavy bleeding or irregular bleeding
- Pain with urination
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain on or around ovulation
- Pain in your pelvic region, lower back or legs
- Anxiety and/or depression
What causes endometriosis?
The absolute cause of endometriosis is still unknown, but what we do know is that there are several contributing factors to the development of the disease.
- Immune dysregulation – each month, after a normal menstrual bleed, the endometrium undergoes programmed cell death by the immune system. This is a very normal and helpful role of the immune system, as it reduces the risk that these endometrial cells could survive and grow outside of the uterus. In women with endometriosis however, the immune system fails to remove the endometrial tissue, leading to the displacement and growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
- Inflammation – women with endometriosis have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules released by the immune system, that promote inflammation. Understanding that inflammation contributes to the development of endometriosis has become very important to the natural treatment of endometriosis as we can use diet and supplements to reduce inflammation in the body (see natural treatments below).
- Oestrogen dominance – oestrogen not only contributes to the growth of the endometrial tissue but also enhances the microenvironment in which inflammatory cytokines thrive.
- Lack of progesterone – progesterone also enhances the microenvironment in which inflammatory cytokines thrive. A lack of progesterone will cause an excess of oestrogen, as progesterone buffers oestrogen. This combination leads to the hyper inflammatory state associated with endometriosis.
- Infections – certain parasites, bacterial and viral infections have been found in the endometrium of women with endometriosis, leading researchers to consider these infections as a new factor in the establishment of endometriosis.
- Intestinal permeability (leaky gut) – this is when microscopic holes in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, caused by poor diet, environmental toxins and antibiotics, allow bacteria and food molecules to enter your blood stream triggering both an immune and inflammatory response in the body which can contribute to endometriosis.
Unfortunately diagnosing endometriosis is not easy. Some women do not show any of the signs and symptoms, so they have no idea they have endometriosis until they have trouble conceiving. You can have a pelvic/transvaginal ultrasound, however this method does rely heavily on the skills of the technician and can sometimes be missed. The only way of truly diagnosing endometriosis is via laparoscopy.
Naturopath’s role in treating endometriosis
As a Naturopath, my aim is to identify and treat ALL of the possible underlying causes of endometriosis. Each patient will have their own set of risk factors/causes, which need to be addressed on an individual basis. Some natural treatments include:
- Reduce overall inflammation in the body with diet and supplements as well as correcting methylation pathways (important for patient’s with MTHFR) as you cannot control inflammation in the body if your methylation pathways are blocked.
- Identify any underlying infections such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. If you have abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, nausea, diarrhea or constipation you may have a gut infection that needs to be treated. I use comprehensive digestive stool analysis testing to identify any infections and inflammation in the gut and treat with safe and effective herbal medicines including berberine, garlic and oregano.
- Restore a leaky gut – one of the symptoms of leaky gut is brain fog as toxins are getting through the gut lining up into the brain. If you have had a poor diet (lots of gluten, sugar, fried foods) or have taken a lot of antibiotics, you most likely have a leaky gut. Treatment for leaky gut includes restoring the lining with nutrients such as glutamine, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin D.
- Reducing excess oestrogens – this includes supporting liver detoxification pathways with supplements such as DIM and calcium-d-glucurate. Women with the MTHFR gene mutation need to ensure the methylation pathways are supported so that they can clear oestrogen effectively via the liver. Histamines also need to be reduced as histamines stimulate the ovaries to produce more oestrogen. Women with the MTHFR gene mutation often have issues reducing histamine in the body, so again they need to ensure their methylation pathways are working optimally.
- Support progesterone production – progesterone is made from ovulation, so treatment involves supporting ovulation as well as ensuring your body has enough of right nutrients to make progesterone including zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and iodine.