1 in 10 women have endometriosis. This is a conservative estimate. Many women go undiagnosed, receiving messages that they simply have to endure period pain. Endometriosis remains a poorly understood condition. The only accurate way of diagnosing endometriosis is via laparoscopy surgery. This unfortunate situation affects numerous women, causing debilitating symptoms that put their lives on hold each month.
So what do we know about endometriosis and how can we use this knowledge for natural treatments?
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder whereby the endometrial cells of the uterus, grow outside the uterus. Common places for this abnormal endometrial cell growth include the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, cervix, bowel, ureters and the bladder. Endometriosis is not just a gynecological condition, but also an inflammatory disease that can affect the whole body.
Signs & symptoms of endometriosis
- Pain on or around your period
- Pain with bowel movements
- Heavy bleeding or irregular bleeding
- Pain with urination
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain on or around ovulation
- Pain in your pelvic region, lower back or legs
- Anxiety and/or depression
What causes endometriosis?
The absolute cause of endometriosis is still unknown, but what we do know is that there are several contributing factors to the development of the disease.
1. Immune dysregulation
Each month, after a normal menstrual bleed, the endometrium undergoes programmed cell death by the immune system. This is a very normal and helpful role of the immune system, as it reduces the risk that these endometrial cells could survive and grow outside of the uterus. In women with endometriosis however, the immune system fails to remove the endometrial tissue, leading to the displacement and growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
Occurs in women with endometriosis due to elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, immune system molecules that encourage inflammation. Understanding that inflammation contributes to the development of endometriosis has become very important to the natural treatment of endometriosis as we can use diet and supplements to reduce inflammation in the body (see natural treatments below).
3. Oestrogen dominance
Oestrogen not only contributes to the growth of the endometrial tissue but also enhances the microenvironment in which inflammatory cytokines thrive.
4. Lack of progesterone
Progesterone also enhances the microenvironment in which inflammatory cytokines thrive. A lack of progesterone will cause an excess of oestrogen, as progesterone buffers oestrogen. This combination leads to the hyper inflammatory state associated with endometriosis.
Certain parasites, bacterial, and viral infections have been discovered within the endometrium of women with endometriosis. Researchers are now exploring these infections as potential new factors in the development of endometriosis.
6. Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
This is when microscopic holes in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, caused by poor diet, environmental toxins and antibiotics, allow bacteria and food molecules to enter your blood stream triggering both an immune and inflammatory response in the body which can contribute to endometriosis.
Unfortunately diagnosing endometriosis is not easy. Some women do not show any of the signs and symptoms, so they have no idea they have endometriosis until they have trouble conceiving. A pelvic/transvaginal ultrasound is an option, though its effectiveness depends largely on the technician’s proficiency and can occasionally result in missed findings. The only way of truly diagnosing endometriosis is via laparoscopy.
Naturopath’s role in treating endometriosis
As a Naturopath, my aim is to identify and treat ALL of the possible underlying causes of endometriosis. Every patient possesses a unique set of risk factors/causes, demanding individualized attention and addressing. Some natural treatments include:
- To lower overall body inflammation, take measures like adjusting diet, using supplements, and rectifying methylation pathways (crucial for individuals with MTHFR). Inflammation control becomes difficult when methylation pathways are obstructed..
- Identify any underlying infections such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation could indicate a gut infection requiring treatment. I use comprehensive digestive stool analysis testing to identify any infections and inflammation in the gut and treat with safe and effective herbal medicines including berberine, garlic and oregano.
- Restore a leaky gut – one of the symptoms of leaky gut is brain fog as toxins are getting through the gut lining up into the brain. If you have had a poor diet (lots of gluten, sugar, fried foods) or have taken a lot of antibiotics, you most likely have a leaky gut. Treatment for leaky gut includes restoring the lining with nutrients such as glutamine, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin D.
- Reducing excess oestrogens – this includes supporting liver detoxification pathways with supplements such as DIM and calcium-d-glucurate. Women with the MTHFR gene mutation must ensure proper support for their methylation pathways, allowing effective estrogen clearance through the liver. It’s also essential to lower histamine levels, as histamines prompt the ovaries to increase estrogen production. Women with the MTHFR gene mutation often have issues reducing histamine in the body, so again they need to ensure their methylation pathways are working optimally.
- Boosting progesterone production entails aiding ovulation and providing the body with essential nutrients like zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B6, and iodine, necessary for progesterone synthesis.