The endometrial tissue is supposed to be found in the lining of the uterus, however, there are times when it makes its way to other locations, including the surface of the ovaries or the fallopian tubes as well as others. The majority of cases of endometriosis (the medical term for this condition) occur in women who are between the ages of 25 and 45, with the average age being 30 (Source: Ammers, 2005). There are as many as 10 million cases of endometriosis in the United States alone and it is one of the top three causes of infertility. It is also the source of about 80% of all chronic pelvic pain and is the reason for about 300,000 hysterectomies each year (Source: Grish, 2009).
There are a number of theories about why it happens, including a theory that relates it to an immune system malfunction, however, none of the current theories have been proven yet. A secondary theory is that it is hormonal and may be related to a faulty reaction to stress in the body. There are a number of symptoms to watch for and a number of ways to deal with endometriosis once it has started. In many cases, it may be mild and only cause minor pain and discomfort, however, in other, more severe cases, endometriosis may lead to the cause of a total and complete hysterectomy.
Nutrition is one of the easiest ways to deal with the symptoms of endometriosis and involves a change in some aspects of the diet. For most women with endometriosis, one of the first changes that needs to be made will be with protein. Plant based protein should be substituted for animal based protein as much as possible.
The Top Ten Signs of Endometriosis
Before the doctor can find the right treatment plan for you, there has to be a diagnosis. Many women will have endometriosis for a long period of time without having any symptoms at all while some are in misery right away. The signs that could indicate that you have endometriosis include:
– Pelvic pain before, during or after menstruation or during ovulation
– Intestinal pain during your period
– Pain during urination
– Pain and/or bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
– Frequent diarrhea or constipation (this is often in connection with the menstrual cycle)
– Abdominal bloating that comes in connection with your period
– Heavy or irregular bleeding
(Source: Grish, 2009)
Pain is the most troubling aspect of endometriosis for most people, however, because it causes other conditions to go undiagnosed in some cases or can cause other problems to be worse, so it is important that all aspects of endometriosis be addressed. Because it may or may not be the result of an immune system gone wild, it is important that proper nutrition be one of the top priorities. Good nutrition, especially protein, plays an important role in the immune system and can help the body to be strong and capable.
Trying to deal with endometriosis before it becomes a problem is beneficial because it may develop into a serious condition that needs surgery, namely a hysterectomy, to be taken care of. The earlier that a woman has to go through a hysterectomy, the more likely she is to need hormone replacement therapy to deal with the medically induced menopause. Increased exposure to these artificial hormones has been shown to have a direct link to an increase in breast cancer risk.
Food and Supplemental Information to Keep in Mind
The experts recommend that the diet be healthy and well-balanced, full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with very little fatty foods and sugars.
Dairy Products — For women who have endometriosis, dairy consumption should be limited as much as possible. If you must have dairy, use only low-fat or skim products whenever possible. There are substitutes for dairy, however, including soy milk, which is a complete protein source and is lower in fat than milks or cheeses. Dairy products often have saturated fats, which are stressful for the liver and may increase the amount of estrogen in the body. Saturated fats also have protalgandin F20-alpha, which causes muscle contractions and can make cramps and other painful symptoms of endometriosis even worse (Source: Lark, M.D.)
Protein — Protein should come from non-meat sources as much as possible because of the saturated fats and the problems they create. Protein from vegetable sources tends to be lower in fat and calories but must often be eaten in combinations because most plant proteins are incomplete (they lack one or more of the eight essential amino acids that they body needs.) Soy is the only plant-based protein that is complete, however, and should be included as a good substitute for meat proteins. Eggs, while animal-based, are low in saturated fats as well as in total fats and are a perfect protein, meaning that all of the protein they contain is absorbed and used by the body.
Protein supplements are an alternative way to get the right nutrition. Profect, from Protica, is a small, liquid protein shot that is less than three ounces and quick to consume but packs in a full 25 grams of protein per serving in only 100 calories. In addition, there are no added fats or sugars at all.
Organic foods — Buying organic foods is a suggestion that is made by Dr. Susan M. Lark, M.D., an author and director of the PMS and Menopause Self Help Center in Los Altos, California. She also specializes in the care of women’s health and women’s health issues. Non-organic vegetables and fruits may have high concentrations of pesticides that can have a direct correlation with endometriosis. If you cannot buy organic foods, then scrub and/or peel them before they are used. There are commercial rinses that can be beneficial as well. Organic foods are becoming more accepted and may be coming down in price, at least in some grocery stores.
Caffeine and Alcohol — Caffeine is bad for the liver, which in turn can be bad for endometriosis sufferers. As the caffeine depletes the body’s vitamin B, it makes the liver work harder and causes more estrogen to be released. The increased estrogen can cause more problems related to endometriosis. Alcohol also stresses the liver as it works to remove the alcohol from the body, again leading to an increase in the amount of estrogen that is released.
Carbohydrates — Excess sugar in the body is not good for anyone, but for those who are suffering from endometriosis, it can be even more problematic. Sugar and refined white flour may deplete the action of the immune system, which may increase the problems felt with endometriosis. It is advisable that only complex carbohydrates be consumed, including whole grain breads and pastas.
Fatty acids — Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s help to create series-1 prostaglandins, which help to relax the muscles and the blood vessels. These hormone-like chemicals are created by the fatty acids found in raw seeds, oils and fatty fish. One of the best of these is flaxseed oil or pumpkin seed oil. Fresh oils should be kept in the refrigerator, and their beneficial fatty acids are destroyed by heat, so do not cook with them. These may be difficult to find and may be expensive. If you would prefer, you can get the fatty acids from other sources.
Additional Vitamins and Minerals — Because endometriosis may be related to the immune system, it is important that it be as strong as possible. In addition to proper nutrition, the woman may be advised to increase her intake of vitamin C, E and the B complex vitamins. It is important to stay within the right amount of each vitamin because some can be toxic at high doses as well as the having the possibility of reactions with other kinds of medications.
Probiotics — Another suggestion that is made by experts for the treatment of endometriosis is the use of probiotic supplements, such as the yogurt that supplies L.acidophilus and B.bifidum. There are also capsules that contain live cultures of both that you can take. You can find them at the health food stores.