Yesterday (3rd March) marked the start of Endometriosis Awareness Week and what will be a really important time for many, as awareness is raised about this debilitating and little talked about condition. Endometriosis affects 1.5 million women in the UK, almost as many as are affected by diabetes. Many wait a long time to have their heavy, painful periods and excessive bleeding diagnosed and it can be an embarrassing condition to discuss and explain.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where cells of the endometrium (womb lining) grow in different parts of the body. This could be the abdomen, bladder, spine, ovary, appendix, small intestine or vagina to name a few. These 'endometriotic implants' behave in the same manner as the endometrium and are susceptible to the same hormone messages. For example, a woman with endometriosis in her nose may experience nosebleeds at the same time as her period. Oestrogen stimulates the cells of the endometrium to proliferate and in turn, can cause the endometriosis itself to spread.
Why is it difficult to diagnose?
The two main symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility, which are also associated with a wide number of other conditions. It is normally difficult to diagnose through physical examination and so the main method is by surgery, where a doctor is able to search via laparoscopy.
Strategies to help
Drug therapy can be difficult with endometriosis as most drugs that affect the implants, also affect the endometrium itself. In addition, most medications tend to suppress symptoms and so often their effect is not maintained once they are withdrawn. Surgery varies from laparoscopy which selectively removes the implants, through to removal of the reproductive organs which is clearly extreme and an undesirable outcome. Unfortunately, endometriosis is still likely to reoccur after surgery.
Nutrition for endometriosis
Diet can have a significant effect on endometriosis. Here are some of the most important foods to include in your diet.
- Healthy fats
A good balance of omega-3, 6 and 9 fats is essential for most people. In particular for endometriosis sufferers for hormone balance and reducing inflammation. The best food sources are oily fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and cold pressed oils such as olive oil, walnut oil and flax seed oil.
Fibre is important as it helps to expel unwanted substances from the body. In the case of endometriosis, this is excess hormones, in particular excess oestrogen. Oestrogen dominance is strongly associated with endometriosis and it is more common nowadays to have excess oestrogen in the body due to its presence in the environment and the food chain. The aim is for 30g of fibre a day in the form of whole grains, beans and lentils, vegetables and fruits. Soluble fibre is particularly useful as this is the form that binds to substances and reduces their absorption. For soluble fibre, look at legumes and foods such as chia seeds.
It is important to raise iron levels, often in order to counteract iron lost through heavy periods. Iron-rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, spinach and broccoli, red meat or beetroot.
- Easing the pain
Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and can help with muscle spasms, aches and pains. Try soaking in a bath of magnesium flakes or epsom salts and also using a magnesium spray to rub into the skin. Add some lavender oil to increase the relaxation.
If you are affected by endometriosis or think you might be, get in touch to further explore nutritional strategies to help this condition.
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About Kirsty Williams
Kirsty Williams is a Nutritional Therapist based in Norwich. She trained at the renowned Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) and firmly believes in the power of diet and nutrition for your health and wellbeing.