Endometriosis is a very painful condition which is very often ignored and many women find that they will have to go to their doctors for years before they get any form or investigation or diagnosis. Even then, their pain is often dismissed and they are told to either, just take painkillers to get on with it or told to have children to correct the problem. In women with complete families, hysterectomy is often advised, despite the health challenges that can still occur after the surgery and the symptoms may still not go!
It can affect fertility and make intercourse very painful too. So many women, don’t even want to try the pregnancy route. it is thought that 1 in 10 women have endometriosis.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition in which the cells that create an mucosal membrane very similar to endometrium (the womb lining), which builds up then releases throughout the month can develop anywhere in the body. This results in build up of endometrium (womb lining) in all sorts of places around the body, which can be excruciatingly painful at the best of times.
It is commonly found in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, on the outside of the womb and around the bowel. However, it has been found in all sorts of places including the brain and the eye.
You may have heard of chocolate cysts, these are cysts filled with endometrial blood and appear dark in colour, and so look like they may be filled with chocolate.
How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
The only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is with a laparoscopy, where a microscope is inserted into the pelvic cavity and they can look to see if there is any endometrium elsewhere in the body other than the womb. Whilst they are there, surgeon’s will often remove adhesions they find there too which can be curative for some people.
There are other screening methods that your medical provider might recommend such as MRI, transvaginal ultrasound, hysterosalpingography (an x ray using dye to image the shape of the womb and fallopian tubes) and hysteroscopy (looks inside the uterine cavity rather than a laparoscopy which looks outside).
Quick tip: if you are looking for a skilled excision surgeon, one useful question is to find out whether they only removed the black, brown or blue “gunpowder residue lesions”, or whether they remove all adhesions and scar tissue (you ideally want someone who does both).
However, if you suspect you have signs of endometriosis, you should get it checked out. Typical symptoms include: heavy, painful or irregular periods, pain in the abdomen and pelvis, bleeding in between periods, difficulty getting pregnant, bleeding from the back passage when passing stools (although if you see this at any time you should see your doctor immediately), persistent exhaustion or fatigue, pain in passing urine or stools, coughing blood from the lungs (very rare and if you see this, you must seek medical help immediately).
You may not want a laproscopy, but seeing a doctor and ideally a gynaecologist can help validate whether or not it is likely you have endometriosis and give you all your treatment options to consider.
Women who are going through these symptoms may also feel isolated when episodes occur and become anxious or depressed due to the symptoms and the impact on their life.
Is There A Natural Way To Manage The Symptoms of Endometriosis?
There are many natural ways to manage the symptoms of endometriosis, but depending on the severity of your symptoms, these may take a while to work.
The one thing about endometriosis that makes it difficult to manage is that it seems to be the result of a number of issues.
Auto-Immunity & The Inflammation Route As A Cause Of Endometriosis
It is thought that one of the root causes is inflammation in the body. Inflammation is often caused by certain foods. The common ones being gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugars. However, you can find almost any food can set this off. The gold standard test for food intolerances is an elimination diet. If you choose to go down this route, then ensure that you do this with a trained practitioner as there are certain protocols that have to be followed for it to show up intolerances properly. (I can do these with women 1-2-1 via Skype).
Another cause of inflammation is too many omega 6 fatty acids in the diet in comparison to omega 3. Unfortunately, any meat or dairy from animals that were fed on grain instead of their normal diet of grass, will have a much higher omega 6:3 ratio which doesn’t help. This is where, if you have heard the phrase, “grass fed beef” you should pay attention as this will have a better fatty acid ratio.
There are studies that show an increased association between endometriosis and auto-immune disease, and hormone dis-regulation such as oestrogen dominance and inflammation. So, whilst endometriosis itself is not defined as an auto-immune disease, there seems to be some component caused by this so lowering inflammation is a great start.
Endometriosis & Period Pain Caused By Oestrogen Dominance
Oestrogen dominance is a condition in which the body either doesn’t break down oestrogens and eliminate them properly or responds more to oestrogen than it does to progesterone. It is a bit of a misleading term as it really means that the amount of oestrogen in the body is too high compared to the amount of progesterone. But it can also mean that oestrogen and progesterone are both low, oestrogen maybe normal levels but progesterone is low. Progesterone maybe normal levels but oestrogen may be high.
Symptoms of oestrogen dominance include: heavy periods, excess bleeding, dark blood in the bleed, pms, bloating, depression, sluggish metabolism, loss of libido, fogginess, fatigue, cold hands and feet, hair loss, pre-menstrual headaches, sore and fibrocystic breasts, sleep issues and weight gain around abdomen and highs. There is also some evidence that heavy exposure to oestrogen in the womb can cause endometriosis.
There are a number of interventions that can be used to help with oestrogen dominance. One being ensuring that you are a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Another being what you eat. It is really important to eat plenty of vegetables which support the elimination pathways. Most people I meet, even if they are vegetarians do not eat enough vegetables. As vegetables are often grown in depleted soils, they are now not so full of nutrients as before, so we have to eat more.
Breaking Down Adhesions, Scar Tissue & Improving Pelvic Circulation To Help Endometriosis
These are essential to helping remove the adhesions and excess scar tissue. Getting plenty of movement into your day especially around your abdomen is essential to getting the circulation going. Even walking can be such great exercise for the abdomen, and it’s free. Yoga and swimming are other great exercises for endometriosis.
You may hear yoga practitioners talking about not inverting during your period. The reason for this is one of the older and as yet not proven or disproven theories of endometriosis, is that it is caused by retrograde menstruation. This means instead of endometrium coming down and out through the vagina, it goes up through the fallopian tubes and out into the pelvic cavity (the fallopian tubes are not connected to the ovaries).
Whilst retrograde menstruation may be a cause of endometriosis, if inverting your body increased it, then it would also be an issue in those with anteflexed or retroflexed wombs and not my knowledge there has not been any link there either in literature or in my experience of massaging wombs. However, you may not want to invert during menstruation in yoga as it may not feel great for you.
Fertility and Womb Massage Therapy is especially designed to help encourage circulation and movement into the the abdomen and pelvic areas and break down and eliminate scar tissue. I have had many great results on clients with endometriosis. You can learn some self fertility massage by booking in with me for a 1-2-1 on Zoom.
Reflexology is another therapy that can improve the circulation to the abdomen and I have had surprising results with reflexology on my clients too. If you decide to go down this route, make sure you go to a reflexologist who has a more therapeutic practice than a relaxing spa time practice, ideally with specialist experience in this area as there are many different styles.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I am not in any way a specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but it has had some amazing results on me for various issues and I know it can be beneficial for getting more circulation into the abdomen as well.
Could Your Period Products Be Causing Endometriosis?
Bleached period products, typical amongst disposable products such as standard tampons and sanitary pads contain dioxin residue. It is thought that women with endometriosis have higher levels of dioxins in their bodies.
This can result in increased pain and inflammation. There are a number of alternative period products to choose from these days from more body friendly disposables made from organic, unbleached and unscented cotton, which usually are more biodegradable and earth friendly, through to menstrual cups and re-usable pads.
What You Can Do About Endometriosis: Some Tips
There doesn’t seem to be a single approach to endometriosis that helps everyone. Instead, it is more of a process of trial and error to see what works for you best. I mention a few resources above and you can click on the links below for more information.
- oestrogen dominance
- castor oil packs
- womb steams
- alternative period products
- womb massage
- charting your cycle
This can be a bit hit and miss, however, there are a few points I would recommend to help you work out which interventions are working the most.
1. Record Your Symptoms, Their Frequency & Severity
Ideally you would chart your cycle, but just diarising your symptoms will help because you will see what works and what doesn’t. Knowing how your body responds to each intervention is key to understanding what is working for you and what isn’t.
2. Try An Intervention Thoroughly Before Giving It Up
The number of people who say I tried (insert therapy here once) and it didn’t work, always surprises me. Most people know that a course of medication often requires repeat doses over a period of time to see results. This is often the case with therapies as well, so try to make at least 5 sessions and chart how your symptoms progress over that time so you can properly evaluate how you respond.
3. Try One New Thing At A Time
This is for several reasons. Firstly, you want to know which change worked. If you changed your diet, took a bunch of supplements and medications, had fertility massage and acupuncture solidly for a week you wouldn’t have a clue which worked, which didn’t make a difference for you and where to spend your money and time in the future. It can also be difficult to maintain such a complex regime compared to slowly adding more into your lifestyle.
4. Practice The Art Of Saying No & Not Feeling Guilty
This is so important for your hormonal health. It is so easy to want to help people and over commit and unfortunately, it is our bodies that suffer. If you struggle saying no, then say “can I get back to you on that” and give yourself the space to say no.
Next Steps In Your Endometriosis Journey
Find out more about how the cycle works, webinars and when I am running programmes by signing up to the cycle charting toolkit at the top of the page. I have a course on menstrual products and period practices as well as a Quick & Healthy Quick Start course to get you eating nutritious and less inflammatory foods.