The Naturopathic Approach to Endometriosis
Most women would agree that periods are no fun. But when “that time of month” means writhing in agony, there could be something far more serious going on. And no, it’s not just part of being a woman!
Endometriosis is one of the most common chronic disorders affecting women during their reproductive years. Around 1 in 10 women between the ages of 12 to 49 are thought to suffer from this painful condition, and it can take many years to receive an official diagnosis.
Endometriosis is characterised by chronic inflammation, which can cause debilitating pain and discomfort, usually while menstruating.
Treating endometriosis is by no means simple, and it requires a multifactorial approach. First of all, it’s important to understand exactly what endometriosis is and how it differs from adenomyosis, another kind of inflammatory condition.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis – often referred to as ‘endo’ – occurs when the tissue that normally lines your uterus begins growing outside your uterus instead. In most cases, this extra endometrial tissue (called the endometrium) will appear on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, in the recto-vaginal septum, on the membrane lining the abdominal and pelvic cavities. It can also grow on the bladder and bowel.
As the tissue grows, it becomes thicker. It eventually breaks down but cannot leave your pelvic area. This sets off a chronic inflammatory reaction in your body, which in turn causes pain and a range of other uncomfortable symptoms.
Adenomyosis, on the other hand, occurs when the endometrium grows into the muscular walls of the uterus itself. As the tissue grows thicker, it breaks through the uterine wall and causes pain and heavy bleeding.
Endometriosis usually affects younger women (those of reproductive age) while adenomyosis tends to affect older women.
Common symptoms of endometriosis
Hormonal levels tend to fluctuate during menstruation, which can cause further pain and inflammation in the misplaced tissue. Pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endo, and it can persist during and outside of menstruation.
Other symptoms include:
- Severe pain and cramping during menstruation
- Lower back pain
- Painful bowel movements
- Pain during urination
- Recurrent urinary tract infections.
- Digestive issues (bloating, diarrhea, nausea, or constipation) during menstruation
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding (heavy periods or bleeding between periods)
- Pain with ovulation
- Low mood
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Long term, endometriosis can lead to bands of fibrous scar tissue called adhesions. Adhesions can bind pelvic organs together, causing even more pain.
Endometriosis is also associated with an increased risk of difficulties falling pregnant, or infertility.
Standard medical interventions for endometriosis
After diagnosis with a laparoscopy, medical treatment generally involves prescribing pain relief with anti-inflammatory drugs. Hormone treatments such as the contraceptive pill may also be prescribed, as these can help to suppress your hormones. However, symptoms are likely to reappear once the hormonal contraceptives have discontinued.
In more severe cases, laparoscopic surgery may be necessary to remove any lesions and adhesions. This is considered ‘gold standard treatment’ and must be performed by a gynaecologist with appropriate surgical expertise.
The naturopathic approach to endometriosis
There is no ‘quick fix’ for treating endometriosis, but it can be treated.
The naturopathic approach is to create a holistic healing plan designed to nourish both the body and mind. This is important because endometriosis symptoms are not just physical: the pain can cause serious emotional stress which can affect your quality of life in many ways.
The key aim is to treat the cause of the endometriosis: the inflammation. We can then work towards long-term relief from your painful symptoms by balancing your hormones naturally.
Reducing inflammation is the first step. Studies have shown that an anti-inflammatory diet can help to alleviate the pain caused by endometriosis, as well as help to reduce the risk of developing the condition in the first place.
The best anti-inflammatory foods include those high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), nuts, and seeds. These valuable fatty acids can reduce the body’s production of inflammatory substances (such as eicosanoids and cytokines).
Antioxidants also help to reduce inflammation, so plenty of brightly-coloured fruits and leafy green vegetables are a must.
Recent research has shown that NAC (a semi-essential form of the amino acid cysteine) may be effective in reducing cysts and pain associated with endometriosis. NAC is also required to make glutathione, an important antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress in women with endometriosis.
Zinc levels are often low in women with endometriosis, and this may increase the risk and development of the disease. Zinc is an important mineral involved in inflammation and immune function, which are associated with the development of endometriosis.
Specific herbs have been found to provide relief for endometriosis symptoms, many of which have been used in traditional medicine systems for centuries.
Ladies mantle harbours progestogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. One study in rats showed that it helped to reduce the formation of cysts caused by endometriosis, and also reduce levels of cytokines (inflammatory chemicals).
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and analgesic herb that has long been used to treat the symptoms of endometriosis. It’s been found to improve blood flow in the pelvis, which can relieve pelvic pain and the development of uterine fibroids.
Every case of endometriosis is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. To learn more about how you can heal from this painful condition, contact me here. The earlier we start, the better!