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Natural Treatments for Endometriosis

Updated on August 24, 2011

Endometriosis is a serious and growing health issue that affects millions of women in the United States and around the world.

Endometriosis occurs when the interior lining of the uterus (the endometrium) begins to grow outside the uterus. Endometriosis develops most commonly on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus or intestines, and the surface lining of the pelvic cavity, but may also develop on the cervix, vagina, bladder, and other pelvic organs. In very rare cases, it can even develop as far away as the lungs or brain. When the endometrium is shed every month during menstruation, endometrial tissue located outside the uterus may became trapped, eventually leading to inflammation, scarring, cysts, or adhesions.

Common symptoms of endometriosis include painful menstrual periods, irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding, chronic pelvic or lower back pain, especially during ovulation, painful sexual intercourse, abdominal bloating, fatigue, diarrhea and/or constipation, nausea, and more. If left untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility and other serious health consequences.

Unfortunately, endometriosis is difficult to diagnose without a procedure called laparoscopy and often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Complicating diagnosis is the fact that not all women who have endometriosis have any outward symptoms, and not all women who have symptoms have endometriosis.

Studies have estimated that anywhere from 3-18% of all women of childbearing age experience some degree of endometriosis. Unfortunately, as the rate of early puberty has risen in recent decades, endometriosis is also affecting younger and younger girls.

Photo by 欠我兩千塊
Photo by 欠我兩千塊

Causes of Endometriosis

Because endometriosis remains relatively poorly understood, the exact causes are still uncertain. In many cases, it is likely to be caused by a combination of multiple factors.

One of the most commonly accepted causes of endometriosis is hormone imbalance, specifically excessive levels of the hormone estrogen in relation to progesterone. Estrogen encourages cell growth and in women who are sensitive to estrogen levels, high estrogen levels may promote inappropriate growth of endometrial tissue.

Another common theory is retrograde menstruation, which suggests that endometrial tissue is deposited in inappropriate locations when menstrual blood backs up the Fallopian tubes and into the pelvic and abdominal cavities.

In rare cases, endometrial tissue is directly transferred during surgery, which explains why endometrial tissues are sometimes found growing in and near scars from Cesarean sections, episiotomies and similar procedures.

A more controversial theory is that women with lowered immune responses are more likely to experience endometriosis because their bodies do not attack cells growing in inappropriate locations to the same degree that a fully functioning immune system does.

Some doctors also believe that environmental toxins, specifically endocrine disruptors such as xenoestrogens, play a significant role in the development of endometriosis.

There also may be an emotional component to endometriosis.

Natural Treatments for Endometriosis

There are a number of natural and alternative treatments for endometriosis than can help relieve its symptoms. Consult with your doctor to determine if they should best be used by themselves or in combination with conventional therapies such as NSAIDs, hormonal treatments, or surgery.

Maintain Healthy Hormone Balance

The most important thing you can do is strive to maintain a healthy hormone balance. The best way to do this is to practice regular, healthy exercise, eat a balanced diet high in vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids, and drink plenty of plain water.

The hormone regulating qualities of regular, healthy exercise are well established and it also offers a number of side benefits for women suffering from endometriosis. Exercise releases hormones that reduce the sensation of pain, relieve emotional stress, and elevate mood. Although it seems counter-intuitive, exercise is also very effective at relieving chronic fatigue, a common complaint of women with endometriosis.

A healthy, balanced diet also plays an important role in maintaining proper hormone balance. Nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, and organic, grassfed meat, eggs, and dairy products are especially important. Avoid heavily processed foods with high levels of refined grains, refined sugars, salt, trans fats, and chemical additives, preservatives, and dyes. Magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and Omega-3 fatty acids are among the nutrients most important for women suffering from endometriosis due to their important roles in maintaining hormone balance and relieving pain.

Note: Although whole grains are recommended for most women suffering from endometriosis because their high levels of fiber and various vitamins and minerals promote healthful hormone balance, some doctors have reported unusually high levels of gluten sensitivity (aka celiac disease) in women who suffer from endometriosis. If you experience chronic gastrointestinal problems and abdominal bloating in addition to other pelvic and abdominal symptoms, it would be wise to consult with your doctor about the possibility of celiac disease.

Reduce Exposure to Certain Environmental Toxins

A class of environmental toxins called xenoestrogens, which mimic the effect of estrogen on the body, are blamed by some scientists for contributing to rising levels of endometriosis and other health problems in the world. To learn more about xenoestrogens and how to avoid them, please read Reducing Exposure to Xenoestrogens.

Some scientists are particularly concerned about dioxins, which are commonly found in bleached cotton and paper products, including menstrual pads and tampons. If you suffer from endometriosis, especially if you have noticed that menstrual pain seems to worsen when you are using tampons, consider switching to alternative menstrual products such as organic cloth pads or menstrual cups.

Take Good Care of Your Emotional Needs

Although the link between health and emotions is still poorly understood, many doctors have reported a link between chronic high stress or unresolved emotional issues and endometriosis or similar chronic health problems.

Although a cause-effect relationship is uncertain and controversial, it is well-established that emotional issues and stress increase the perception of pain and hinder the body's ability to cope with the physical symptoms of conditions such as endometriosis.

We have already discussed the power of regular exercise in improving emotional health. If you suffer from endometriosis, also consider learning relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, finding ways to reduce stress in your professional and home lives, and, if necessary, undergoing therapy to help cope with unresolved emotional issues from the past. Make a point of making regular "self-time" to practice a favorite hobby or activity, visit a loved one you don't see often, or even just enjoy some peace and quiet. For more tips on improving your emotional health, check out the excellent Happiness Project blog.

Do you suffer from menstrual cramps? Endometriosis is one of the most common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea, a type of menstrual cramps. Learn how you can relieve your cramps in 20 Ways To Relieve Menstrual Cramps.

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