By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
What is endometriosis?
With endometriosis, there is abnormal growth of uterine lining cells, in places outside of the uterus. These cells outside of the uterus are called ‘endometrial implants’ and they can attach themselves to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, intestines, bladder, outside of the uterus, and sometimes travel farther to the liver and even the lungs. During menstruation, these cells are activated, creating pelvic pain, and pain wherever the implants have attached. The amount of pain experienced is variable – some women with quite severe endometriosis do not have significant pain, and others are incapacitated by it. Due to inflammation, immune imbalance and also structural changes, endometriosis can cause difficulties with fertility.
Endometriosis is often a misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition. Here are five things you may not know about endometriosis:
1. It is the most common cause of ‘unexplained infertility’
Because endometriosis is not a condition that can be tested on bloodwork or seen on ultrasound, it is not often identified in a preliminary fertility workup. If you have painful periods (usually since puberty), painful intercourse, very heavy flow, or cramps leading up to menstruation, this could be the answer. Unfortunately, endometriosis can only be accurately diagnosed through laparoscopic surgery, but there are natural ways to reduce pelvic inflammation that can help.
2. Endometriosis is primarily an immune, not a hormonal condition
This is probably the biggest misconception about endometriosis – that it is all about estrogen. Yes estrogen is part of the picture, but the true underlying imbalance is in the immune system. The immune system is not recognizing and clearing up the endometrial lesions, and so they continue to grow and spread. Recent theories about the cause of these immune issues focus on bacterial toxins in the pelvis. In fact, women with endometriosis often feel better while on antibiotics.
What this means for treatment is that we must address the immune system, look at natural antibacterials, reduce inflammation through diet, and of course look at the gut – the likely source of bacterial contamination.
3. Women are often not diagnosed until they are trying to conceive
It’s extremely common for women with endometriosis to not have a diagnosis until they are trying to conceive. They have usually seen several doctors to discuss their severe menstrual pain, and are on pain medications, or stopping their periods with oral contraceptives or hormonal IUD’s without every knowing about the condition they are treating. And as you now know, addressing hormones alone is not the answer!
4. In many cases diet changes can reduce pain
Even with more severe cases of endometriosis, you can make a significant difference in experienced pain with food alone. What you eat can either contribute to inflammation or reduce it. We look at an overall anti-inflammatory nutrition plan – especially minimizing fried foods, sugar, processed foods and ones made with white flour and sugar. Cow’s milk dairy products are inflammatory for many women, and a gluten-free diet can also be considered: one study found that 75% of women with endometriosis experienced a significant reduction in pain after 12 months.
5. Symptoms and pain are not isolated to reproductive organs
Because endometriosis can be found around the bowels, bladder and throughout the pelvic cavity, symptoms and pain can have a big impact on other systems too. For example, getting diarrhea with your period, or feeling pain with urination the week before and during menstruation are common. Bowel symptoms are especially prevalentt and usually labelled as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). In many cases, women may have more pain and symptoms in other organs than the uterus itself.
I hope this article has given you insight into endometriosis. This is a very common condition that can impact your life in many ways. If you’re interested in exploring an integrative and Functional medicine approach to endometriosis, I’m happy to work with you with a personalized approach.
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