Endometriosis is often called a silent disorder because for many women it goes undiagnosed and the affects can be hidden and difficult for others to see. It’s a condition that causes chronic inflammatory tissue growth around the uterus. Symptoms of endometriosis include severe menstrual pain, excessive menstrual bleeding and chronic and severe pelvic pain as well as issues with conception. The gold standard for diagnosing endometriosis is by having a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery).
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown however research suggests that hormonal, genetic, immune, environmental and lifestyle factors all play a role. Sadly there is no known cure, however new research indicates that dietary changes could help to regulate cycles, reduce the symptoms of inflammation and improve oestrogen balance within the body.
Here are five key strategies you can try at home to help manage your endometriosis:
1. Increase your vegetable intake
We all know we should eat more greens but did you know that a high intake of green vegetables has been associated with a decreased risk of developing endometriosis. Eating vegetables is beneficial because they are both high in antioxidants and fibre – two factors thought to aid in alleviation of endometriosis symptoms.
Antioxidants are beneficial because they neutralise free radicals (reactive molecules) within the body which can have harmful effects including causing inflammation. A diet high in antioxidants assists the body to detoxify free radicals and ultimately reduce ‘oxidative stress’. Research shows that women with endometriosis have higher levels of oxidative stress so increasing intakes of vegetables is thought to assist with reducing the severity of symptoms.
Vegetables also help to regulate hormonal imbalances. For example, excess oestrogen can promote inflammation and contribute to symptoms of endometriosis. High fibre foods can help with the excretion of oestrogen thus improving symptoms such as the severe cramping often associated with endometriosis.
2. Wash your fruit and vegetables well
Exposure to pesticides and dioxins has been associated with hormonal disruptions. Women with endometriosis generally have higher levels of estrogen compared with women without endometriosis so it’s important to limit the amount of hormone disruptors within the body. Hence, washing fruit and vegetables to minimise pesticide disrupting hormones is a good strategy for women with endometriosis.
3. Ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D is helpful for our bodies due to its anti-inflammatory effects. The best source of vitamin D is sun exposure. In Australia recommendations are that individuals get approximately 10 minutes of full sunshine daily. Vitamin D supplementation could also be beneficial for some women with emerging evidence suggesting that it can help to alleviate pain caused by endometriosis. However, the research is inconsistent so this may be worth trying after using some of the other strategies mentioned here.
4. Trial a gluten free or low-FODMAP diet
Endometriosis is commonly associated with gastrointestinal upset presenting similarly to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for some women. Research suggests that a gluten free diet could be beneficial, even in women that do not have coeliac disease.
A low-Fodmap diet (which involves eliminating certain carbohydrates that can cause gas and bloating) has also been shown to improve symptoms of IBS. This is something to discuss with Women’s Nutrition dietitian Rachel as it can be somewhat restrictive and should not be commenced without professional guidance.
5. Modify your fat intake
Research shows that the inflammation caused by excessive intakes of trans-fatty acids can aggravate symptoms of endometriosis. Sources of trans fats include margarine, cakes, biscuits, fried foods and some vegetable oils (not olive oil). Palmitic acid, a fatty acid mostly found in animal products, has also been associated with increased risk of endometriosis. This is just one reason to decrease your intake of meat and increase intakes of plant-based protein sources such as legumes and tofu.
Conversely, omega-3 fats have been associated with a decrease in the risk of endometriosis and they may even decrease endometrial cell survival. Sources of omega-3 fats include salmon and tuna. Supplementing with fish oil is another potential option if you’re not a seafood fan!
The affects of endometriosis can be debilitating for some women. At Women’s Nutrition I understand how much endo can affect your life. I would love the opportunity to assist you to make some dietary changes that will help you manage your endometriosis symptoms into the future. Please contact me online today or call 0414 084 478 for more information.