Endometriosis is not a hormonal condition. It’s affected by estrogen but is not caused by estrogen or “estrogen dominance.”
Instead, endometriosis is a whole-body inflammatory and immune disease, and possibly a microbial disease.
What does that mean for treatment?
For one thing, it means that contraceptive pills and injections are the wrong tools for the job. Although hormonal birth control can sometimes relieve symptoms of endometriosis, it is not evidence-based medicine for the disease. Likewise, “hormone-balancing” natural treatments such as Vitex do not do much, if anything, for endometriosis.
The future of endometriosis treatment is immune treatment.
Causes of immune dysfunction in endometriosis
Researchers are still debating whether endometriosis is, in fact, an autoimmune disease. At the very least, endometriosis has a strong autoimmune component and can be safely described as a disease of immune dysfunction.
Immune dysfunction is at the heart of what is going on with endometriosis. For example, immune dysfunction is what prevents the immune system from clearing up endometrial lesions. It’s also what promotes the growth and invasion of those lesions.
So, the big question is “what is causing the immune dysfunction?” And it looks to be a combination of the following factors:
- Epigenetics (heritable changes to genes from exposure to toxins like dioxins).
- Possible nickel allergy.
- Dysfunctional macrophages (a type of immune cell).
- The presence of the bacterial toxin LPS (lipopolysaccharide) in the pelvis.
The bacterial contamination hypothesis of endometriosis
Women with endometriosis have a high level of gram-negative bacteria in the pelvic microbiome and researchers think that the toxin LPS (lipopolysaccharide) from those bacteria could play a role in the development of the disease.
The most likely source of gram-negative bacteria in the pelvis is translocation from the gut. In other words, the movement of bacteria or bacterial toxins from the gut, which is more likely when there’s small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) causing intestinal permeability.
👉 Tip: The link with IBS, SIBO, and nickel allergy could be why a low FODMAP diet relieves symptoms of endometriosis.
LPS stimulates macrophages and other immune cells to release inflammatory mediators.
There are a few more lines of evidence that bacteria could be a driver of endometriosis:
- Women with a history of a gynecological infection are twice as likely to develop endometriosis.
- Antibiotics can relieve the symptoms of endometriosis.
- Antibiotics were shown in a recent animal study to reduce the size of endometriosis lesions.
None of this means that bacteria directly cause endometriosis; only that bacterial toxins can drive or worsen the disease in combination with other factors.
One possible scenario is this:
- The presence of endometriosis lesions.
- PLUS an immune system that is vulnerable to dysfunction either because of genetics or epigenetic changes from toxins (or both).
- PLUS the natural surge in estrogen that occurs with the menstrual cycle.
- PLUS an irritant such as nickel allergy or the LPS toxin.
So, in addition to surgical removal of the endometriosis lesions (which I support), what are the best ways to treat the underlying immune dysfunction that drives endometriosis?
Treating the immune dysfunction of endometriosis
- Calm the immune system by strictly avoiding immune-disrupting proteins like gluten, A1 casein from cow’s dairy, and possibly eggs. “Strictly avoiding” means completely avoiding for a test period of eight weeks. Why? Because if you’re sensitive to gluten, as many with endometriosis are, then even a trace amount can generate a significant amount of inflammation. According to reproductive immunologist Dr Jeffrey Braverman, most women with endometriosis have the genotype associated with celiac disease.
- Consider a low-nickel diet if you have a nickel or jewellery allergy.
- Consider taking one or more of the following immune-modulating natural medicines: zinc, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), turmeric or curcumin, resveratrol, melatonin, or vitamin A.
- Consider taking iodine, which is antimicrobial and immune modulating and is the ingredient responsible for the inadvertent benefits of intrauterine iodine contrast oil on endometriosis. See my blog post about the safe use of iodine for women’s health.
- Correct SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) with treatment such as a course of the antimicrobial herbal medicine berberine, which reduces gram-negative bacteria and LPS toxin. Berberine has not yet been studied for endometriosis but it has been studied for adenomyosis, which is a similar disease. In one study, researchers were able to demonstrate that “berberine ameliorates the LPS-induced progression of adenomyosis.” Berberine is not safe during pregnancy and can interact with other medications. Check with your clinician.
- Reduce mast cell activation and histamine because mast cells are important players in the immune dysfunction of endometriosis. Mast cells are also highly sensitive to estrogen. For more information about estrogen and reducing mast cell activation and histamine, read The curious link between estrogen and histamine intolerance.
- Look at natural progesterone (also called oral micronized progesterone), which suppresses endometriosis lesions but also helps to normalize immune function. Progesterone can work as well as progestin drugs such as Visanne and the hormonal IUD, but with fewer side effects. See Hannah’s patient story in Chapter 9 of Period Repair Manual.
Have you tried immune treatment for endometriosis? Share your story.