Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue grows outside the uterus causing menstrual irregularities and more often than not, excruciating pain. Sound obscure? Unfortunately, the condition affects millions of women who suffer from it – many of whom don’t even know that it’s a thing.
Endometriosis has started to receive more attention as brave celebs like Lena Dunham have begun speaking up about their struggle, but more awareness is still needed. We’re shedding light on the condition and the options available to help manage it with holistic nutritionist and women’s wellness expert, Kristin Dahl. Dive in below and consider forwarding to a friend who needs the support — then check out part two of Kristin’s guide here!
What is Endometriosis?Amongst women of childbearing age, estrogen-dominant hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis, are one of the most common health challenges. The growing prevalence of these imbalances could be related to the fact that stress levels are at an all-time high, which puts the body in a constant state of fight or flight, and that many women are exposed to environmental estrogens on a daily basis.
In endometriosis, uterine tissue develops outside of the uterus – on ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or the tissue lining the pelvis. Although some people do not experience any symptoms, generally the result is painful cramps or extreme discomfort before or during a period, heavy periods and excessive bleeding, digestive upset during the menses, a low sex drive, painful intercourse, bloating and abdominal weight gain, swollen and painful breasts around menstruation, the growth of male patterned facial hair, stronger-than-normal body odor, moodiness and mood swings, and acne around the jawline. Depending on the severity of the estrogen imbalance, women may experience irregular periods or a lack of periods altogether.
These symptoms can be incredibly debilitating and disruptive to a woman’s life and sense of self. A woman’s cycle is a beautiful process that connects her to the earth, other women, and herself. The health of our cycles shows us so much about our overall health. While the exact cause of endometriosis and other estrogen-dominant imbalances is disputed and likely multifaceted, it’s clear that hormonal imbalances are at the root. The health of our hormones is heavily dictated by our diet and lifestyle and can be affected by everything from the hormones found in conventionally-raised meat to hormone disruptors found in plastics (water bottles!) to how often we eliminate.
The Healing Game-Plan
It’s very common to feel worried and frightened about endometriosis, but remember that the belief in your body’s capacity to heal itself is a powerful ally on the journey. Just as the causes of endometriosis are varied, so too must be our approach to healing. Choose the practices and recommendations that feel realistic and right for you. Integrate lots of whole foods, plenty of water, some herbs and supplements, and lifestyle rituals that support the healing of endometriosis, and you’ll likely begin to notice a rapid reduction in symptoms. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself, honor your body and make space for healing. It’s also helpful to work directly with a holistic practitioner for individualized support through the healing process.
The holistic approach to managing endometriosis is designed to reduce overall inflammation, promote detoxification, and alleviate bothersome symptoms. Below are suggestions on how to prevent or support healing from endometriosis using nutrition, herbal remedies, and lifestyle modifications.
Nourish Your Body
Consume a 50% vegetarian, fiber-rich diet | Consuming a diet of roughly 50% fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to help manage endometriosis. The high fiber content of fruits and vegetables will lead to the healthy elimination of excess hormones and therefore lower estrogen levels in the body, as fiber adds bulk to stool and aids in digestion and excretion. Increased fiber intake results in decreased circulating estrogens, androgen concentrations, and sex hormone binding globulin concentrations in the body. Some vegetarian, high-fiber foods to enjoy and incorporate daily include broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, turnips, oatmeal, raw nuts and seeds, sprouted beans and lentils, peas, brussels sprouts, apples, pears, plums, avocados, berries, coconut, figs, artichokes, okra, citrus fruits, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Focus on a balanced diet of whole foods | Cooking and eating primarily home-cooked, balanced meals is an essential step to correcting hormonal imbalances. Refined and processed foods are often void of nutrients and contain harmful additives and toxic ingredients. Focus on fresh, organic, local, and seasonal foods that will provide the body with adequate amounts of amino acids, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, fluids, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
keep blood sugar balanced | When it comes to any hormonal issue, the importance of balancing blood sugar levels cannot be overstated. Eat at regular meal times (three times per day), consuming snacks in between if necessary, to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stabilized throughout the day. Avoid the spikes and crashes associated with blood sugar levels fluctuating rapidly by ensuring that every meal and snack contains a healthy amount of protein, fat, and fiber. Eliminate empty, high-glycemic foods from your diet – such as bread, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates and sugars – or include them only in small amounts. If you’re having issues keeping your energy levels stable, try eating every 3 hours to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel.
Try an anti-inflammatory diet | Endometriosis puts the body is in a constant state of inflammation, so consuming anti-inflammatory foods will help to reduce all signs, symptoms, and manifestations of the condition. Potent anti-inflammatory foods include dark leafy green vegetables, celery, bone broth, beets, bok choy, broccoli, blueberries, olive oil, chia seeds, ginger, flax seeds, pineapple, papaya, wild-caught salmon, turmeric, and walnuts. By contrast, avoid inflammatory foods, which cause inflammation due to the body’s inability to break them down. These foods include dairy products, gluten, sugar and refined carbohydrates, factory-farmed meat and eggs, and vegetable oils. The worst offender of all is damaged vegetable oils, i.e. fried foods – so avoid these at all costs. TCM Editor’s Note: Learn more about an anti-inflammatory diet here.
Up your daily intake of omega 3 rich foods | Essential fatty acids regulate hormonal and prostaglandin balance, and have anti-inflammatory benefits – both of which are beneficial for easing Endometriosis. Getting plenty of omega 3 essential fatty acids, both in the form of food and supplementation, will help to bring the inflammation down in the affected areas and to balance estrogen levels. Great sources to include in your diet are evening primrose oil, hemp seed oil and hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and wild-caught salmon.
Eat more magnesium-rich foods | Magnesium helps to soothe the uterus and reduce pain. Foods rich in this important mineral include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black beans, avocados, almonds, bananas, Swiss chard, and spinach.
Increase Vitamin E rich foods | Food sources: Tocos, Almonds, sweet potatoes, spinach, butternut squash, avocados, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, dandelion greens, Swiss chard, turnips, eggs, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, trout, and extra virgin olive oil.
Increase iron-rich foods | Because menstruation is typically heavy in women with endometriosis, iron-deficiency anemia is common. Increase your iron uptake by including natural food sources of iron into your diet on a daily basis. Great sources of iron-rich foods include nettle tea, sprouted lentils and beans, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, mulberry, spirulina, and blackstrap molasses.
Focus on drinking more water + less caffeine | Women who consume more than 225mg of caffeine per day have a 60% increased risk of developing endometriosis. Regular caffeine consumption is a huge risk factor and should be avoided as much as possible. Switching to a coffee alternative or opting for herbal tea instead will give you the same energy kick without the added side effects that caffeine comes with. Great coffee alternatives to explore include Dandy Blend, green tea, herbal teas such as dandelion root or burdock (both of which support the liver), RUNA tea, holy basil tea (also known as tulsi), and chicory root.
Avoid alcohol | Alcohol burdens the liver and leads to a decreased ability to detoxify toxins (which include excess hormones) and body waste. This means that the body’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen and chemicals mimicking hormones becomes compromised.
Support the liver | The liver is a primary organ that has many different jobs. One of its central roles is to help rid the body of estrogen when it is no longer needed. If the liver is not functioning optimally, excess estrogen will accumulate in the system and create an imbalance. To support the liver, drink plenty of water (1/2 your body weight in oz daily), limit the above (caffeine, sugar, and alcohol), consume lots of cruciferous vegetables (collards, broccoli, cabbage, etc.), and focus on nutrient-dense foods such as wild blueberries, cranberries, pecans, artichoke, and dark chocolate (bonus!). Plus herbs such as ginger, turmeric, burdock, and dandelion.
Making sure that you are having a proper bowel movement at least once a day is imperative when it comes to liver health. One of the most powerful ways our bodies clear excess hormones and toxins is through our feces. Healthy people defecate 1-3x per day. Anything else is considered constipation. To ensure that you are properly eliminating each day, incorporate plenty of fiber and make sure you keep hydrated. If you’re still backed up – try one of the following or a combination within the course of a week to support elimination: raw vegetable juice, lemon water, magnesium, triphala, digestive bitters at the start of each meal or a coffee enema.
Fast Before Your CycleEating lightly or fasting prior to your menstrual cycle can help to reduce the uncomfortable and painful symptoms associated with endometriosis. This is because fasting diverts energy away from the digestive system, thereby allowing the body to rest, and recover.
How to: Eat lightly or fast for anywhere from 24-48 hours prior to your anticipated menstrual cycle. Include plenty of water, herbal teas and infusions, freshly pressed juice + spirulina/bee pollen, and/or bone broths. Maintain adequate hydration and mineral levels while simultaneously allowing your body to rest.
*Note: Though fasting can be an excellent tool used to help reduce the symptoms of endometriosis, it’s not necessarily best for everyone. If you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, or any other chronic illness, fasting should be supervised. Pregnant and lactating women should never fast. Consult your physician or holistic practitioner before giving this step a try.
A Supportive Lifestyle
Exercise regularly | Medium- to high-intensity physical activity has been found to lower the levels of estrogen in the body, which can help to suppress the symptoms of Endometriosis. The more aerobic exercise a woman engages in and the earlier on in life it’s started, the lower her risk of developing endometriosis or worsening the condition. Exercising can also help to lower overall inflammation, reduce stress, improve blood sugar regulation, strengthen the immune system, and enhance sleep quality.
Mind/Body healing – there is a synergistic relationship between our emotional and physical body. Take time to meditate, connect with the earth, and be with yourself every day. Practice restorative rituals to regulate stress, reconnect to your senses and support the innate healing processes of the body. Take mini breath breaks throughout the day to support a sense of calm. Massage your abdomen and womb space with healing oils to increase circulation and blood flow.
Get enough good-quality sleep | To optimize your sleep, it’s crucial to get between 7-9 hours every night. High-quality sleep can aid with detoxification processes, muscle repair, hormonal balance, and can lower inflammation and reduce pain. To ensure you’re getting adequate sleep, aim to turn off all devices with screens one to two hours before going to sleep, practice breathing techniques before hitting the pillow, avoid all alcohol and caffeine at least 4 hours before sleep, and avoid eating 1-2 hours before sleeping.
Decrease your toxic load | Toxins are increasingly prevalent in our environment and day-to-day lives, and they place a burden on our bodies’ natural detoxification processes. These toxins include environmental toxins (such as lead, mercury, radon, formaldehyde, benzene, cadmium, BPA, phthalates, and pesticides), medications, and harmful chemicals found in our foods, personal care products, and cleaning products. Many of these toxins, such as xenoestrogens, either mimic estrogen or are endocrine disruptors. This means they can worsen endometriosis as a whole and all of its symptoms. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins by avoiding excessive plastic, buying natural foods, using natural or homemade personal care and cleaning products, avoiding artificial and processed foods, and choosing a form of birth control that’s not hormonal.
Try acupuncture | This is a safe and effective method to reduce pelvic pain and increase circulation. Acupuncture can also help to encourage proper detoxification by opening meridian flows within the body. Learn more about the benefits here.
Explore yoni steaming | Yoni steaming helps to improve stagnation and clear residue in the vaginal canal and womb space. If blood from previous menstrual cycles has not been adequately removed and cleansed, the body identifies it as a foreign substance. This activates muscles in the abdomen, which attempt to push it out of the body. This muscle contraction can result in painful cramps. Doing vaginal (or “yoni”) steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus, speeding up blood flow, and improving circulation, which enhances the body’s cleansing mechanisms. Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs include lavender, white sage, nettle, rose, chamomile, dandelion, mugwort, and calendula.
*Note: Do not steam during your period, after ovulation if you’re trying to get pregnant. It’s best to work directly with a holistic practitioner prior to exploring this option if you have endometriosis.
Have you tried any of these modalities or diet changes for endometriosis? What were your results?
Stay tuned next week – we’re sharing Kristin’s guidance on herbs and supplements for endometriosis as well.
The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.