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Endometriosis: Treatment with Dietary Changes

Updated on July 7, 2015

Figure 1. Smooth Muscle

Source

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 cells are found in the walls of visceral organs, or organs with cavities. This type of muscle cell allows certain organs the ability 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 layers of the uterus also showing vasculature (blood vessels).
The layers of the uterus also showing vasculature (blood vessels). | Source

The wall of the uterus is lined with the endometrium, also called the uterine mucosa. The endometrium as 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
  • Infertility

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

Causes

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.

Whole grains are an excellent souce of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Whole grains are an excellent souce of Omega-3 fatty acids. | Source

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.

Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, provide much needed fiber.
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, provide much needed fiber. | Source

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)
  • Legumes
  • Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and spelt
  • Vegetables and fruits (especially green leafy veggies like kale, spinach, mustard greens, cabbage, turnips and broccoli)

Some foods exacerbate endometriosis, and it is best to avoid them at all costs. Foods to avoid are:

  • Dairy
  • Meats, especially red meats
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • 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 vitamins or other supplements.

© Copyright 2012 - 2015 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" Flagg ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you Pamela! When I write on medical topics like this, I try to write them as I would explain them to one of my patients, but when you're writing it sometimes comes out differently. So even though I reread it several times, I never really know if I succeeded until a reader tells me. So, Thank you very much!!

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      This is such a good hub you have written. I like the way you have made this rather complex subject easier to understand. And the dietary information you have provided is very helpful. Voting up, useful and sharing.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thank you and indeed, we are what we eat!

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 5 years ago from Canada

      Great info here. diet can have a huge impact on our health.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Jeannieinabottle I'm sorry you have to suffer with this disease. Chronic pain can wreck havoc on your quality of life. Please come back and let me know if the diet makes any difference!! I hope it cures it!

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