What is Endometriosis?Endometriosis is a chronic, often painful condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus (called the endometrium) starts growing outside the uterus. Most commonly, the growth is on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or the pelvic lining, but in some cases it can also spread outside the pelvic area.
According to the Endometriosis Association, endometriosis affects 5.5 million women in the United States and Canada, and millions more worldwide.
Signs and Symptoms
- Painful periods. Pelvic pain and cramping during menstruation. It may begin before and continue for several days after the onset of your monthly period. The pain can also occur in the lower abdomen or low back. It has even been known to cause shooting nerve pain in the legs, called sciatica.
- Sharp, deep pain during ovulation, sexual intercourse, bowel movements, and/or urination
- Heavy menstrual periods or bleeding in between periods
- Indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Infertility. Endometriosis can cause adhesions that trap the egg.
Natural Treatments for EndometriosisIf you are experiencing painful periods or pelvic pain, it's important to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Here are eight natural treatments that are used for endometriosis.
1) Reduce Chemical IntakeAlthough earlier studies in women were conflicting, there is increasing evidence that chronic exposure to the environmental chemicals dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is associated with an increased prevalence and severity of endometriosis.
One way to reduce intake of these chemicals is to cut back on animal fat, especially high-fat dairy, red meat, and fish. Dioxin and PCBs both accumulate in animal fat, and it is our main route of exposure.
Interestingly, studies on diet and endometriosis also support this link. For example, an Italian study examined data from 504 women with endometriosis and found an increased risk with a high intake of red meat and ham. Fresh fruit and vegetables were associated with a reduction in risk.
2) Vegetables and FlaxseedsThere is evidence that a group of plant chemicals called flavones can inhibit aromatase, the enzyme that converts androgens to estrogens. Good food sources of flavones are celery and parsley.
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy, contain compounds called indoles, which appear to improve estrogen metabolism.
Flaxseeds are high in lignans and fiber, which have been found to be beneficial for estrogen-related conditions.
3) Progesterone CreamAlternative practitioners sometimes recommend progesterone cream. Progesterone is thought to slow the growth of abnormal endometrial tissue. Although it's not considered a cure, it may improve symptoms such as pain during menstrual periods and pelvic pain. There haven't been any studies on progesterone cream for endometriosis, so we don't know for certain about it's effectiveness or safety.
Progesterone cream is derived from either soy or Mexican wild yam. A molecule called diosgenin is extracted in a lab and converted to a molecule that's exactly like human progesterone and added to back to the cream. Some companies sell wild yam cream, but unless it has been converted in a lab it is useless, because the body can't convert wild yam to progesterone on its own.
Natural progesterone cream is applied to the wrists, inner arms, inner thighs, or upper chest at a dose and schedule that should be recommended by a professional. It's important to be supervised and to have progesterone levels monitored on lab tests, because too much progesterone can cause such side effects as mood changes, depression, water retention, weight gain, and absent or abnormal menstrual bleeding.
Natural progesterone cream is available from a compounding pharmacy (the website www.iacprx.org has listings) or at regular drug stores.
4) Omega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. They are also available in fish oil capsules, which may be the preferable form because good brands contain minimal amounts of PCBs and dioxins.
Several studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for people with endometriosis. For example, an animal study by the University of Western Ontario found that fish oil containing two specific compounds, EPA and DHA, can relieve pain by decreasing levels of an inflammatory chemical called prostaglandin E2. Researchers also found that fish oil could slow the growth of endometrial tissue.
5) Stress ReductionCortisol is a hormone involved in the stress response but is also needed to make other hormones such as progesterone. Prolonged stress can lead to elevations in cortisol, which alternative practitioners say may decrease the available progesterone and result in a hormonal imbalance.
One study involving 49 women found that cortisol levels were significantly higher in women with advanced endometriosis compared to women who didn't have this condition.
Herbs and nutrients that alternative practitioners commonly recommend for stress reduction include:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
6) HydrotherapyA contrast sitz bath is often recommended by alternative practitioners for endometriosis. It is a home remedy and has not been studied.
A contrast sitz bath involves sitting in a small basin or tub filled with hot water for three minutes, then getting up and sitting in another basin filled with cool water for one minute. The hot water-cold water cycle is repeated another 3 times. It is not usually done during menstruation.