March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Approximately 10 percent of women will experience this often-debilitating condition at some point during their reproductive years. You may have read about Julianne Hough’s or Padma Lakshmi’s experience with it or heard that Lena Dunham had a hysterectomy at age 31 because of it.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue normally found only inside the uterus makes its way out and onto nearby structures. It can adhere to the bladder, intestines, ovaries and fallopian tubes and cause cysts, pain, spotting and urinary and bowel problems. It’s also a common cause of infertility. About 30 to 40 percent of women who are struggling with fertility have endometriosis. It can be sneaky since the amount of pain doesn’t always correlate to the severity of disease, plus, it’s hard to diagnose definitively without a laparoscopy or more invasive procedure, although new research is making diagnosis easier.
The first thing I recommend for my endometriosis patients is to start an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s not going to cure the problem but it can make at least a small difference in the pain you’re feeling. Endometriosis causes inflammation; the bladder, ovaries, etc. aren’t used to having this foreign material growing on them so they become irritated and inflamed. This type of diet is not restrictive. In fact, it’s a normal healthy diet that most nutritionists recommend already. Focus on eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Cut out processed foods and sugar, dairy, trans and saturated fats and any foods that you know you’re sensitive or allergic to. (I like Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Food Pyramid.)
Unfortunately, there’s no easy treatment for endometriosis, although the most common solution in Western medicine is to put women on hormones, such as birth control pills. This is where holistic (some might say “natural” or “integrative”) treatments and therapies, including Chinese herbs, acupuncture, abdominal massage and a focus on overall health and wellness, often results in a better outcome, especially when women are hoping to conceive sooner rather than later. Acupuncture and herbs can help regulate hormones, mobilize qi and blood in the abdomen to clear out the errant tissue, alleviate pain and calm stress. (It may take a combination of integrative and Western medicine to find the right solution.) If you have endometriosis and are having problems conceiving, reach out to Vitality Holistic Medicine in Kansas City today.