Endometriosis is not like other period problems. It’s not a hormonal condition like PMS and PCOS. It’s affected by hormones, yes, but fundamentally endometriosis is an inflammatory disease and probably an autoimmune disease.
Conventional treatment has not yet caught up with the new autoimmune research. Hormonal suppression remains the primary treatment, which is unfortunate because it has many side effects and does not work all that well.
There is a better way.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is best defined as an inflammatory disease in which bits of uterine lining grow throughout the pelvis on structures such as ovaries. It causes pain (sometimes severe), scarring, and infertility.
Risk factors include genetics and exposure to toxins such as pesticides and dioxins. The microbiome (good bacteria) also plays a role. For example, endometriosis sufferers have high levels of gram-negative bacteria and the bacterial toxin LPS (lipopolysaccharide) in their pelvis, which has been shown to actively promote endometriosis.
Endometriosis is common and often starts young (although it can take 10 years to diagnose). One study found that two-thirds of teens reporting chronic pelvic pain will eventually go on to be diagnosed with endometriosis. See my post When Period Pain Is Not Normal.
Surgical excision of the lesions is effective for both pain and fertility and is the gold-standard of treatment. Unfortunately, the lesions grow back within five years about 50 percent of the time. That’s why surgery is usually followed by hormonal suppression.
Hormonal suppression with birth control (or stronger drugs such as Lupron) works by shutting down ovulation and inducing estrogen deficiency. Estrogen deficiency slows the growth of the lesions, but it does not cure the disease. It has many side effects including depression and bone loss.
Mirena intrauterine device (IUD) works locally to suppress the uterine lining and endometriosis lesions. It is preferable to other methods of hormonal birth control because it does not shut down ovulation or cause estrogen deficiency.
Natural treatment of endometriosis
The following natural treatments work because they improve autoimmunity and reduce inflammation. They can be tried on their own but natural treatment is not always enough on its own. Natural treatment often works best as an adjunctive treatment after surgery.
Avoid dairy (and possibly gluten and eggs). Both A1 casein (dairy protein) and gluten disrupt immune function and stimulate the release of inflammatory cytokines. That’s why avoidance of those foods is an effective treatment for inflammatory diseases in general, and for endometriosis in particular. In one study, 75 percent of endometriosis sufferers improved after 12 months on a gluten-free diet. In my own work with patients, I have found women to do even better on a dairy-free diet, and I am convinced that the avoidance of A1 casein (normal dairy) is the single most effective treatment for endometriosis we currently have. Many endo-sufferers also tell me that they feel better off eggs.
Berberine has several anti-inflammatory actions. It repairs intestinal permeability (thereby improving autoimmunity) and neutralizes the bacterial toxin LPS. Caution: Do not take berberine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and do not take for more than three months continuously except under supervision. Be cautious when combining with other medications.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a natural anti-inflammatory that did well a recent clinical trial for endometriosis. Of the 47 women in the NAC treatment group, 24 canceled their laparoscopy due to a disappearance of endometriomas, reduction of pain, or pregnancy. The researchers concluded that NAC offers better results than hormonal treatments–without the side effects!
Turmeric reduces the size and activity of endometriosis lesions. It works by reducing the inflammatory protein NF-kappa B, and by blocking estrogen’s stimulating effect. Turmeric works best as a concentrated capsule or tablet. It’s safe for long-term use.
Zinc is a key anti-inflammatory nutrient and has been demonstrated to be deficient in endometriosis-sufferers. Zinc repairs intestinal permeability (thereby improving autoimmunity) and reduces prostaglandins and pain.
Other helpful treatments include selenium, rosemary, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), DIM (diindolylmethane), fish oil, castor oil packs, and natural progesterone.
I’d love to hear your experiences with endometriosis. What has worked for you or your patients?