What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a gynecologic condition that can cause moderate to severe abdominal and pelvic pain, excess menstrual bleeding and/or infertility. According to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), endometriosis affects 6-10% of the general female population. This same study indicates the rates of endometriosis are higher in women who experience pelvic pain and/or infertility, with the disease occurring in 35-50% of women.
Endometriosis is described as the abnormal growth of endometrial cells outside the uterine cavity, usually on the abdominal cavity. Normally, these cells remain isolated to the uterine cavity, where hormones influence their growth and behavior. Women who suffer from endometriosis, however, experience endometrial cellular growth outside the uterus, resulting in painful periods, painful intercourse, lower back pain, abdominal pain, premenstrual spotting, chronic migraine headaches, vomiting, urinary pain, fatigue, and even infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss.
For some women, pain is minimal, and they only know they have endometriosis because of an exploratory surgery to seek out the cause of their infertility. Other women experience enough pain to disrupt their lives a couple of days a month. For still other women, the pain is severe, causing some women to miss work or school, and seek emergency care for pain relief. The pain may occur only during menstruation, or include such times as ovulation, sexual activity, urination or bowel movement. Some women experience pain every day or at random, unpredictable times.
Statistically it can take women on average 8-10 years to acquire proper diagnosis and care for endometriosis. Normalization of symptoms combined with a general lack in of awareness by many health care providers results in this significant delay from when women first experience symptoms until she is eventually diagnosed and treated. As an Acupuncture Physician specializing in Women’s Health and Fertility, I see many patients each and every day looking for answers to irregular and painful periods.
There are three basic classifications of endometriosis:
- Mild endometriosis: (stage I) characterized by the formation of small patches of endometrial tissue growing outside the uterine cavity.
- Moderate endometriosis: (stage II) involves larger and more prominent growths of endometrial tissue including “chocolate cysts” of endometriosis may be smaller than a pea or larger than a grapefruit, located within the ovary.
- Severe endometriosis: (stage III & IV) involves the formation of fibrous scar tissue binding together the pelvic organs, large cysts on ovaries.
Potential triggers or causes of endometriosis
- Surgical scars: after C Section or hysterectomy, endometrial cells can attach to the incision from the surgery
- Autoimmune: Challenges in an immune system can inhibit the body from identifying and destroying endometrial tissue from growing outside the uterus
- Endometrial Cell Transport: the lymphatic system can potentially transport endometrial cells to other parts of the body
Acupuncture and Endometriosis
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), including acupuncture, has been used for thousands of years to address various conditions that Western Medicine considers incurable. Unlike most modern approaches, which focus on just eliminating the symptoms, Eastern Medicine focuses on whole systems health care.
Acupuncture is growing in popularity for the use of Women’s Health and gynecological conditions with great success. According to more recent studies, acupuncture is more effective than hormone therapy for treating endometriosis. It is often used to treat cases of mild, moderate and even severe endometriosis.
Far less invasive, risky or costly than drugs or surgery acupuncture treatments for endometriosis can provide much needed pain relief as well as balancing hormones naturally. It has been found that acupuncture treatments promote the release of endorphins, enkephalins and other natural opioid receptors in the body. These chemicals assist in healing and pain management. Acupuncture can also reduce local scar tissue and adhesions, as well as decrease fibroids.
In short, acupuncture can treat the pain associated with endometriosis as well as moderate the heavy bleeding associated with this condition. It can also help alleviate pain experienced during intercourse, urgent and painful bowel movements and urination. When endometriosis affects fertility it can also help balance hormones, decrease pelvic adhesions.
Nutritional Therapy: what diet works best for endometriosis?
At Health Pointe Jacksonville we believe a healthy diet plays a significant role in treating and managing endometriosis. Since this particular condition results from chronic inflammation, we suggest sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet that will reduce signs of pain and promote hormone balance. One that includes heavy intake of fruits, green vegetables, foods rich in fiber all help to reduce inflammation, balance gut health and reduce chronic belly bloat that is often associated with endometriosis.
In moderate to severe cases of endometriosis patients are advised to avoid smoking, recreational drugs, caffeine, refined sugar, icy cold raw foods as well as reduce dairy products.
Other suggestions include
- Boost Omega 3 fat intake helps to reduce systemic inflammation
- Reduce trans fats as these increase inflammatory markers
- Increase antioxidant foods and supplementation significantly helps to reduce pelvic pain. Berries, spinach, kale, pecans, beans and dark chocolate (80% cacao) are all great sources
- Add a high quality probiotic to supplementation to help improve gut health and decrease belly bloat
- Avoid sugars and processed carbs especially the week before your cycle
More useful tips for dealing with endometriosis:
- Boost relaxation regularly: stress is known to irritate and worsen chronic pain conditions such as endometriosis
- Perform deep-breathing exercises and/or meditation. There are plenty of free guided meditation apps or YouTube videos available if you are unsure where to start here
- Strive for a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night
- Place a heating pad on your abdomen to help relieve pain
- CBD taken orally or as suppositories can greatly reduce pain and inflammation and promote relaxation
- Ensure you are having daily bowel movements: this is the primary way the body eliminates excess hormone build up (especially estrogen)
- Yoga: These restorative yoga poses can also help ease symptoms during your cycle.