Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med)
Endometriosis is believed to effect 1 in 10 women globally. I understood it was a fairly common condition, but it wasn’t until I began in clinical practice that it became all the more apparent. I would estimate that every third female client I see has been diagnosed with endometriosis. Many of them had booked in with me for other concerns yet had minimal understanding of endometriosis themselves, or exactly how nutritional medicine and lifestyle interventions could improve their condition and quality of life.
What exactly is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a complex and multifactorial condition. It’s an inflammatory condition that is dependent on the hormone estrogen.
The Jean Hailes institute defines it as this: “Endometriosis, pronounced end-o-me-tree-oh-sis (or just endo) is a progressive, chronic condition where cells similar to those that line the uterus (the endometrium) are found in other parts of the body. These cells are often found on organs in the pelvis, may start to grow and form patches or nodules on pelvic organs or on the peritoneum (the inside lining of the abdomen and pelvis) and can have the same cyclical/menstrual changes outside the uterus as inside the uterus, meaning they may bleed at the same time as your period (menstruation)”
Common symptoms that present are pain within the abdomen, lower back, pelvis and rectum (this pain can be debilitating and may also occur during sexual intercourse or when defecating), irregular periods, spotting, blood clots, constipation and nausea. The severity of the pain itself is not an indication of the severity of the condition with some women with severe endometriosis experiencing minimal pain, to women with minor endometriosis with severe pain.
The endometrium is the lining of the uterine cavity within the woman that thickens prior to conception but will then shed and bleed without fertilisation – this is the woman’s period. The thickening of the lining is stimulated by estrogen, making estrogen a focal point in terms of treatments, however, with endometriosis, it is mainly a condition that is inflammatory and this is key when seeking therapies to support you with your diagnosis. Targeting inflammation is an area where nutritional medicine really shines. Many women don’t often consider nutritional medicine as a treatment for endometriosis but it’s a major player in terms of managing and reducing the pain and symptoms present.
The cause of endometriosis is still unknown, with multiple theories considered. Endometriosis is now thought of more as an autoimmune condition rather than a hormonal one, with immune dysregulation at its core. As natural therapists, immune support is something that can be helped – there are many interventions, nutritionals and foods that can be incorporated in the client’s diet that can modulate immune function and reduce the inflammation.
Lara Briden, a naturopathic doctor based in Sydney explains the immune dysfunction brilliantly – “How the immune system responds: in a normal situation, the immune system stays calm, and does not react to the endometrial tissue. In the case of endometriosis, something different happens. The immune system makes inflammatory cyotkines and auto-antibodies that inflame the lesions and promote their growth. Known reasons for the aberrant immune response include exposure to environmental toxins such as dioxins and bacterial endotoxins (lipopolysaccharides) such as those from intestinal bacteria” – Derived from her blog post found here https://www.larabriden.com/endometriosis-is-autoimmune/
How Nutrition Can Support You
In terms of treatment, nutritionally there is much that can be done, giving hope to many suffering with endometriosis:
· Turmeric for one, is immune supporting, anti-inflammatory and analgesic, with studies now finding that turmeric acts specifically on endometrial tissue itself.
· Zinc is a key nutrient to consider in terms of endometriosis treatment. Zinc has multiple functions that are of benefit; zinc acts as an antioxidant, reducing oxidative stress within the body, it reduces inflammation and supports the immune system and aids in wound repair – both ideal in terms of the endometrial lesions present with an endometriosis diagnosis.
· Probiotics maintain a healthy microbiome and support digestive function as well as intestinal lining integrity. Abdominal discomfort is common with endometriosis, so probiotic supplementation may help to rectify and reduce gastrointestinal complaints. Specific strains of probiotics are involved in metabolising and clearing estrogen, thereby balancing levels of endometriosis and reducing its effect on stimulating the endometrial lining. As mentioned previously, bacterial endotoxins from pathogenic intestinal bacteria can elicit an aberrant immune response, further promoting the progression of the condition. Probiotics heal and protect the intestinal lining, reducing permeability that is a common driver of autoimmune conditions like endometriosis.
· Anti-inflammatory diet is to be followed to further support the person suffering. Diet is key to controlling inflammation within the body, common culprits like gluten, dairy, sugar and vegetable oils are to be removed and replaced with anti-inflammatory fats, antioxidant rich vegetables and healing herbs and spices.
For more specific and tailored nutritional advice, I would strongly encourage working with a qualified health practitioner to safely prescribe and support you through this. I would be delighted to work with you and can be contacted via email to arrange a consultation either face to face if based in Newcastle, or via Skype or FaceTime.
Yours in health,