What is it?
Endometriosis occurs when the cells that line the endometrium (uterine lining) migrate and implant where they are not supposed to! These misbehaving cells end up on the ovaries, other pelvic organs, or the lower abdominal cavity. Even though these cells have left the uterine cavity they still act like they are stuck in the uterine cavity – meaning the displaced cells form tissues that thicken, break down, and bleed with each menstrual cycle. The built up tissue does not “leave the building” and unfortunately results in irritation and adhesions.
Women with endometriosis may end up having inflammation and extreme pain in the pelvic area. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response as the body is attempting to protect itself from harmful stimuli. Inflammation causes redness, swelling, and heat. Those misbehaving cells shouldn’t be there and your body is working overtime yelling at them to behave. Inflammation is meant to be helpful, but in excess can be irritating to the body.
Think about inflammation like a fire alarm in your body. It goes off for a reason, to protect us and let us know that there is trouble. But what happens when that fire alarm in your house doesn’t stop making noise? Pretty annoying, right?
Some women that have endometriosis constantly feel that irritation in their pelvic area, others just feel it at certain times of the month, and some don’t feel pain at all. They may reach their diagnosis after multiple missed attempts at conception.
The pain a women feels varies considerably! Some women that I’ve worked with who have pretty severe endometriosis do not experience much pain at all. Others who are in the earlier stages of endometriosis feel horrendous reoccurring pain.
Who does it happen to?
It typically happens during the reproductive years and can affect up to 10% of women in the United States. That’s quite a bit! It’s just not something women typically tend to walk around and talk about. “Hey, what’s new? Oh, nothing just some pelvic pain, cramps, and urinary urgency.”
Pain during sex
Pain with urination or bowel movements
Heavy bleeding during your period or between periods
Digestive issues (diarrhea, constipation, bloating , ect) during menstrual cycles
What causes it?
One of the most common theories is retrograde menstruation. This means that when a women typically menstruates, some of the shedding residue goes up into the fallopian tubes instead of exiting the uterus. It’s like going the wrong way down a one-way street.
While this reverse blood flow may occur in women without endometriosis, in perhaps all women to a degree, if individuals have a suboptimal functioning immune system, they may develop complications from the reversed flow. Their immune system may not be able to clear the endometrial implants.
Why is it important to diagnose and treat?
It can lead to problems getting pregnant. Unfortunately, suboptimal fertility is becoming more of a problem in our society so we want to maximize our chances as best as possible.
It can also put you at a greater risk for cancer of the endometrium, so it’s not something you want to just “bear the pain” of.
It can also be a sign of an underlying autoimmune issue as they conditions commonly exists together.
What is the traditional medical cure?
Doctors will tell you that there is no cure for endometriosis. They stress that through pain medications, surgery, or other medications (such as synthetic progesterone pills or the birth control pill) you can treat the condition, but that’s about all that is offered in mainstream medicine.
From reading studies on endometriosis, it seems that the condition is not a matter of poor fate, but a matter of getting your hormones back into balance and your immune system in check. Sure, there are some genetic factors in play, but let’s not throw in the towel and give up control.
Women with endometriosis are likely to have low blood progesterone levels, progesterone resistance, or a short luteal phase. What this means is that they may be in a state of relative estrogen dominance and/or they may not be making enough progesterone receptors. This can cause estrogen levels to rise. When estrogen levels rise, you get too much tissue building up in the endometrium. This overabundance of tissue can overwhelm the body and cause the body to misbehave.
In some cases, surgery may be the most appropriate option for long-term results. I would personally take the conservative route and try to balance hormones without the use of hormone medications with or without the surgery. The side effects of the medications generally prescribed for this condition are not appealing. While you’re getting your hormones back in check, getting your immune system in check is also encouraged! Enhancing your immune system is not just important for cold season.
Alternative Action Plan
1. Remove environmental toxins! Make sure your beauty and cleaning products are as simple and clean as can be. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to review what is in your personal care products. It will hurt to throw out your favorite fancy bottle of shampoo, but trust me, this is important!
2. A heating pad can be your best friend. I’m personally not a huge fan of pain medication, but if you’re enduring intense pain this may be necessary in the short-term.
3. Make sure to move your body! Getting exercise will help minimize some of the pain your feeling as well help establish hormone balance (just not too much or too intense exercise, okay?)
4. Look into getting a massage or acupuncture. I’ve talked to many women who swear by acupuncture as their means to reduce their symptoms.
5. Eat REAL food to help balance your hormones! Check out my Food page. Make sure to avoid phytoestrogens (such as soy and flax) as well as dairy products.
6. Consider taking supplements to help increase your body’s progesterone levels, such as Femmenessence, Vitamin C, and Chasteberry.
7. Spend time with your ladies! Social interactions can help increase salivary progesterone levels, which may be low in women with endometriosis. You might even consider joining a support group for endometriosis online. Connecting with women who understand your situation will make all the difference! You’re not alone!
8. Boost your immune system! Women with endometriosis may have a suboptimal immune system that fails to clear the lesions. Try implementing probiotics and fermented foods into your routine and avoid sugar!
Bulletti C, Coccia ME, Battistoni S, Borini A (August 2010). “Endometriosis and infertility”. J. Assist. Reprod. Genet. 27 (8): 441–7.
Brown SL, Fredrickson BL, Wirth MM, et al. “Social Closeness Increases Salivary Progesterone in Humans.” Hormones and Behavior 56(1)(2009): 108-11.