Endometriosis, or ‘endo’ as it is commonly referred to, is a common condition that affects about 1 in every 10 women of reproductive age within New Zealand. Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when endometrial-like tissue grows in places other than the uterus. It can grow anywhere in the body, but most often occurs within the pelvic area, including your ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, the lining of the pelvic cavity, or the internal area between the vagina and rectum. Occasionally it can also be found in the intestines, bowel, bladder, vagina, cervix, or vulva.
Each month this endometrial-like tissue responds to hormonal changes just like normal endometrial tissue would. This means the tissue will build up and then break down, resulting in internal bleeding. However, as this blood has nowhere to go, it causes the surrounding tissue to become inflamed and swollen, leading to pain and often impacting bodily functions, such as fertility.
The exact cause is unknown, although it is known that endometriosis is estrogen-dependent and there does appear to be a genetic link, meaning some people are at a higher risk of developing it compared to others. Another factor that may come into play is the type of bacteria living within the uterus. It has been found that women with endometriosis have different bacteria within their uterus compared to those without endometriosis. It’s not quite known yet which one comes first - if endometriosis causes different bacteria to live in the uterus, or if different bacteria actually trigger endometriosis. At the moment most evidence points to the first one - endometriosis causes different bacteria to live in the uterus, but no one knows for sure. Currently research is looking into the role of the immune system in activating cells that may stimulate endometriosis, but we’re still very much in the dark about the exact cause.
About one third of people with endometriosis don’t show any signs or symptoms. However, for the other two thirds common symptoms include:
- Painful periods
- Heavy or irregular bleeding
- Pelvic or back pain
- Pain when urinating
- Pain when having a bowel motion - often with cycles of diarrhea and constipation.
- Bloating, nausea, and vomiting
- Inguinal (groin) pain
- Pain during sex
- Pain during exercise
- Difficulty conceiving (this occurs in about 30-40% of those with endometriosis)
Although the exact cause is unknown and it is not a curable disease, there are things you can do to reduce your symptoms to the point where you are symptom free.
Firstly, as endometriosis is an inflammatory condition, loading up on anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish, olive oil, turmeric leafy green vegetables, nuts, and berries can help to keep this inflammation, and therefore pain, at bay.
Cutting out processed or high sugar foods and foods that you are intolerant to is also important as these will ramp up inflammation and increase overall pain levels. Women with endometriosis often find that a dairy free diet will help reduce pain and bleeding.
Support your liver to help detoxify hormones and reduce the build up of the estrogen that is feeding your endometriosis. This includes loading up on liver-loving foods such as garlic, broccoli, fermented foods, and beetroot.
Support your gut health by including fibre-rich and fermented foods into your diet, and removing any problem foods. Problem foods may include dairy, processed foods, or those with artificial ingredients.
Use supplements specific to YOUR endometriosis. Everyone is different and this goes for endometriosis too. Everyone’s treatment will differ depending on multiple different factors. Ensure you’re well informed and if you’re unsure, work with a practitioner who will support you through this.