Statistics tell us that 10-15% of women have endometriosis. That’s about 1 in 10 women, and likely those are conservative numbers. Not only is endometriosis the cause of many symptoms such as acute pelvic pain and infertility, for many women, it often goes undiagnosed for years. In fact, most women get a diagnosis only after suffering from endometriosis for 10 years or more. In other words, many women decide to suffer from acute pain because they believe that surgery and drugs, choices they don’t want, are the only solutions. The truth is there are many ways to approach endometriosis naturally and safely.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a progressive disorder mainly of the female reproductive system resulting from abnormal growth of tissues — endometrium — that normally line the uterus. Endometriosis is the result of endometrium forming outside of the uterus. This often occurs on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, lining of the pelvis, or behind the uterus. Still, on rare occasions, these tissues may form outside of the pelvic region.
During a normal menstrual cycle, hormones stimulate the uterus lining to thicken in preparation for a potential pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, the hormone levels drop back down to normal. The excess tissue from the uterus lining is shed and causes the bleeding associated with menses which the body naturally expels from the body through the vagina.
However, when the endometrium forms outside of the uterus, the monthly hormonal cycles trigger the same response, but the blood has no pathway to leave the body. Instead, it accumulates on surrounding tissues, causing swelling and irritation. Eventually, this can lead to the formation of cysts and resulting scar tissue and adhesions (abnormal tissues that bind organs together) in the affected areas.
When outside of the uterus, endometrial tissue, or implants, most commonly reside in the pelvic region. Still, they can occasionally form in such locations as the kidneys, lungs, and arms of some women. These implants initially start as small bumps on the surface of organs and connecting ligaments. Doctors will sometimes refer to them as “powder burns” because of their appearance. In the ovarian area, cysts may form as the endometriosis progresses. These cysts — endometriomas — typically range in size from a pea to a grapefruit. The adhesions, cysts, and scar tissue can cause pain for many endometriosis patients.
How Common Is Endometriosis?
In the United States, estimates indicate that 6.5 million women and girls as young as 8 suffer from endometriosis and 89 million worldwide (R). Most sufferers are in the 25-40 age bracket. In years past, it was common to refer to endometriosis as the “career woman’s disease” because it was thought to be a function of delayed childbearing. Of course, this was an incorrect oversimplification, but it does appear that pregnancy can slow down the progress of endometriosis in many women, most likely due to related hormonal changes. Cases of endometriosis are classified from minimal to severe based on the number of implants and scarring, cysts, and adhesions present. Oddly enough, the amount of pain victims feel is often not related to the severity of their endometriosis. Some women with mild cases have a lot of pain and vice-versa.
What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a progressive disease. The severity of symptoms varies greatly from woman to woman. Some of the most common signs of endometriosis include:
- Menstrual Pain (dysmenorrhea). Some cramping during menstruation is normal for many women, but those with endometriosis often report excessive pain that worsens over time. This pain and cramping usually reside in the lower abdomen and lower back and typically begins one or two days before menses and carries through the entire period. Some patients experience increased pain during bowel movements and urination and also during intercourse.
- Heavy Bleeding (menorrhagia). Excessive amounts of bleeding during a period, irregular bleeding, or spotting between periods (menometrorrhagia) are also typical of endometriosis.
- Infertility. The build-up of excess tissue and adhesions in the area of the fallopian tubes contributes to the high rate of infertility found in women with endometriosis. The condition may also make it more difficult for the ovaries to release eggs effectively. In some studies, a higher than normal number of miscarriages links to endometriosis as well. Many times the first discovery of endometriosis is in women who seek infertility treatment.
- Bloating, nausea, or vomiting.
- Allergies, migraines, or fatigue that worsens around menses.
- Lower back pain or leg pain during menses.
- Other Signs: Endometriosis is often misdiagnosed as some other conditions that have similar symptoms. Some common conditions that may mimic endometriosis include Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), Ovarian Cysts, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — a syndrome that exhibits diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramping. IBS may coexist with endometriosis, making the diagnosis even more difficult.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Despite many years of study, the exact cause of endometriosis remains unknown for certain. There are several theories, though. These include:
- Implantation theory: This theory relates to a reversal in the menstrual flow that backs up through the fallopian tubes and “plants” discarded endometrial cells into cavities of the body resulting in endometrial implants. As unorthodox as this may appear at first glance, the implantation theory has been around since the 1920s, and there is considerable evidence to support it. One concern with this line of thought is that while between 70-90% of women experience reversed menstrual flow, most of them never experience endometriosis. Reversed menstrual flow is thought to be more common in women with endometriosis than in the rest of the population.
- Vascular-Lymphatic Theory: This is a hypothesis whereby the bloodstream and lymphatic system are responsible for distributing endometrial cells throughout the body.
- Coelomic Metaplasia Theory states that remnants of cells involved with the development of a woman’s reproductive system while in the womb are somehow involved with spreading endometrial cells within the body. Some researchers believe that genetic or environmental factors in adult life may cause these cells to produce endometrial implants.
- Induction Theory places the blame for endometriosis on an unknown substance in the body that triggers the cells lining the uterus to morph into endometrial cells.
- Heredity: Family history definitely plays a role. A woman’s risk for developing endometriosis increases seven-fold if her mother or sisters have the condition.
- Immune System Dysfunction: Some of the most current research is focusing on immune system involvement. If a woman’s immune system is not up to par, it may not prevent the growth of endometrial tissues. This may explain why so many women who experience reversed menstrual flow do not develop endometriosis.
- Dioxin Exposure: Environmental factors have long been suspected as possible triggers of endometriosis. Some research points to a chemical found in herbicides called dioxin or (TCCD).
- Other causes for endometriosis may be infections that have previously damaged the lining of the uterus, and on rare occasions, medical conditions that impede with normal elimination of menstrual flow from the body.
What Complications Can Occur From Endometriosis?
Infertility is the most common complication of endometriosis. Estimates indicate that between one-third and one-half of all women who have difficulty getting pregnant have endometriosis. Many women with the disease can eventually bear children, but it can often take longer to get pregnant. Once a patient does become pregnant, symptoms usually disappear due to hormonal changes. Since endometriosis usually gets progressively worse over time, it’s best that women not put off childbearing. The longer one has endometriosis, the more it typically affects her ability to conceive.
Cancer does sometimes form in endometrial implants, but its risk is no greater than for other tissues of the body. Most doctors do not think that endometriosis increases your risk for ovarian or uterine cancer.
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Endometriosis?
A thorough pelvic exam from a trusted health practitioner can be beneficial in identifying endometriosis. Sometimes implants are felt, but often they cannot be discovered during an exam. A procedure called laparoscopy is often recommended if implants are suspected. This is an invasive form of minor surgery whereby a small scope equipped with a light source and a camera are inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. This can be helpful and appropriate, but as with any surgery, even “minor,” there are risks involved. A second or even third opinion is always a good idea.
Often the use of ultrasound locates and analyzes endometrial implants. Be especially careful of computed tomography scans (CT scan). I would avoid these if possible, as they expose you to an amount of radiation equal to about 3 years of background radiation.
What Treatments Are Available for Endometriosis?
Conventional medicine treatment options typically include medications for pain, surgery, and hormonal therapies. The surgical options include removing implants using lasers administered through a laparoscope and even the extreme choice of a hysterectomy to remove such organs as the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Due to the resulting loss of the ability to bear children and the inherent risks of such major surgery, this procedure needs thorough discussion between a woman and her doctor. A hysterectomy abnormally forces the body into premature menopause, and the hormonal side effects can be quite severe and unmanageable for many women.
Traditional hormone therapies can be dangerous and unpredictable. The use of oral contraceptives can sometimes trick the body into thinking you are pregnant. While this may relieve the pain for some patients, the overall effects on the body are not good. Some practitioners even prescribe synthetic male hormones such as danazol or gestrinone to prevent menstruation or shrink implants. These drugs have many dangerous side effects and even may cause some women to develop male characteristics. I highly discourage the use of any synthetic hormone replacement therapy.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy for Endometriosis
BHRT (Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy) using bioidentical progesterone (not synthetic progestin) is a highly effective treatment for endometriosis. BHRT can defeat the effects of too much estrogen, which naturally stimulates cell growth in tissues containing estrogen receptors and contributes to symptoms of endometriosis.
Women opting for synthetic hormone therapy to treat endometriosis are at a greater risk for breast cancer, blood clots, and heart disease. Longitudinal research indicates that women who use synthetic hormones for endometriosis or menopause symptoms experience more incidences of stroke, vaginal bleeding, and loss of bone density (R)
Extracted from plants in a laboratory, bioidentical hormones consist of molecules chemically identical to the hormones that your body produces. Also, bioidentical hormones do not increase your risk of cancer, stroke, or heart disease. Professionals believe this is because bioidentical hormone molecules are easily acquired by receptor cells meant to accept naturally made hormones (R).
How to Approach Endometriosis Naturally
Healthy and Active Lifestyle
Since endometriosis is an inflammatory condition, anything you can do to help decrease whole-body inflammation can be very beneficial. Research indicates that as little as 20 – 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, and lightly bouncing on a rebounder, can have anti-inflammatory effects. Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi are great forms of exercise that will not make excessive demands on your nervous system.
Healthy Plant-based Diet
Eat as close to nature as possible. Focus on fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, high fiber foods (such as apples, pears, legumes, beans, whole grain oats, ground chia seeds, raw flax seeds), plant and nut-based milk and cheese (such as almond, coconut, cashew milk, and cashew cheese), gluten-free grains (for example, rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat), organic poultry, cold-water fish, and vegetarian protein sources (beans, legumes, etc.). Also, liver-friendly vegetables and herbs including broccoli, kale, cauliflower, beets, lemons, onions, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. Try to limit red meat, caffeine, and alcohol. Avoid high fat, refined sugar, and the overuse of salt.
I highly recommend increasing your intake of omega-3 fats. A 2014 animal study suggests that a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats may help reduce inflammation on endometriosis-like lesions. Fish oil, a high source of omega-3 fatty acids, can counteract the effect of dioxin on progesterone receptors.
A 2006 study says that women with advanced endometriosis had significantly higher cortisol levels, a hormone involved in stress response.
Stress Relief Bath
A very warm stress relief and detox bath can help to relax pelvic muscles and relieve pain. Make sure your bath water is very warm.
Suggested Vitamins and Minerals for Endometriosis
A 2015 study reports that curcumin may suppress tissue migration of the lining of the uterus.
Vitamin B Complex
Vitamin B6 may reduce estrogen levels in the body through a complex pathway, potentially relieving endometriosis-related symptoms. When taking a specific B vitamin, it’s best to take a B-Complex vitamin. B-Vitamins work better when taken together.
Vitamin D3 deficiency is linked to endometriosis. Research shows low D3 levels contribute to the development of the disease, its severity, and even the size of endometriomas; however, this is now being debated. It’s always a good idea to keep tabs on your Vitamin D3 levels since low levels of this vitamin can greatly affect your health. Vitamin D3 deficiency has also been linked to various chronic pain conditions. In studies, vitamin D has been found to lessen pain in women with dysmenorrhea. Low Vitamin D3 levels may be linked to menstrual disorders.
Nascent iodine helps the body to rid itself of “dirty estrogens.” “Dirty estrogens” are harmful metabolites of estrogen responsible for estrogen dominance conditions such as fibrocystic breasts, breast lumps, estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancers, thyroid nodules, endometriosis, fibroids, infertility, mood swings, and PMS. I highly recommend Detoxadine, which is a certified organic, nascent iodine supplement sourced from the deep-earth.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine is an amino acid derivative. In endometriosis and the treatment of endometriomas, a study indicates that NAC decreased inflammation, reduced inflammatory genes, and decreased abnormal cell growth. NAC also assists in the production of glutathione, a potent antioxidant, in the liver.
Chiropractic is more than cracking bones. A good chiropractor knows how to treat lower back pain related to endometriosis and provide relief from pelvic pain. Ask around your circle of friends for recommendations for a good chiropractor.
As with all health concerns, find out what works best for you and your body. No one knows you better than yourself, so it really pays to be proactive when it comes to your own health care issues. By making healthy lifestyle changes and being consistent with those changes, you should see positive results that will ease and relieve the symptoms of endometriosis.