For many women, the monthly cycle is a minor inconvenience to an otherwise amazing life. For others, their period – and the run up to it – can feel like a living hell. They put up with long, very heavy and incredibly painful periods. If this speaks to you, your symptoms could be linked to a number of conditions (which is why you need to talk to your GP about any concerns about your cycle), and one of them is endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a long-term chronic condition that occurs when cells that are normally only found inside the uterus embed and grow outside the uterus, often on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, covering the top of the vagina or else on intestines, bladder and bowel. Doctors have even discovered endometrial cells in the eyes and brain!
Here’s where the problem is: those cells are hormonally active, just like those that line your uterus, and when womb cells shed every month (your period), the other cells do the same thing. Each month these cells outside the uterus thicken, break down and bleed. The blood can’t flow out of the body, and this leads to the build-up of scar tissue and cysts. Because these endometrial cells can grow almost anywhere, women experience different symptoms, ranging (in addition to heavy painful periods) to painful bowel movements, pain during sex, back pain, debilitating cramps, inflamation, fatigue and depression.
Endometriosis affects 2 million women in the UK alone. Most are diagnosed between 25 and 40, and it’s more common in women over 30 who haven’t had children.
Some women don’t suffer any symptoms at all and may not even know they have endometriosis until they struggle to have a baby (infertility is a common symptom).
Doctors don’t yet know what causes it. It may be one of a number of causes or a combination of several. We do know that it can be hereditary, and that retrograde menstruation might play a role (this is when the womb lining stays inside the body rather than leaving it as your period). Or it might be an immune system problem. Doctors do know that oestrogen dominance (where there is an excess of oestrogen compared with progesterone) plays a part.
The only way to officially diagnose endometriosis is by laparoscopy, an operation during which a tiny camera is inserted into the pelvis. On average, it can take 7.5 years for a woman to be diagnosed with the condition, so if you have any concerns, you should see your GP right away.
There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but nutritional therapy and supplements alongside bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can be an effective way to help you manage symptoms.
Conventional treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are, your age, and whether you want to have children. Treatments range from drugs including anti-inflammatories, oral contraception or drugs that block the production of ovarian stimulating hormones, through to surgery and even hysterectomy.
Nutritional therapy will concentrate on the following factors:
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- Eliminate foods that might contain oestrogens, or phyto-estrogens.
- Avoid alcohol (affects oestrogen metabolism)
- Choose organic, pesticide free foods whenever possible
- Take a mercury free Omega-3 supplement
- See an acupuncturist
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, oily fish and whole grains
- Try a gluten-free diet
If this is something you have been diagnosed with, I warmly invite you to Book a free 20 minute health check with me. During our call, you can tell me about your experience, your diagnosis and we can work out the best next steps for you.