It’s estimated that endometriosis affects around 15% of all women and that its prevalence is increasing.
There is no single known cause of endometriosis, it is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some researchers have hypothesised that there may be a problem with the immune system which makes the body less able to identify and destroy endometrial-like tissue that grows outside the womb.
Endometriosis is sensitive to oestrogen and the balance of oestrogen in the body has a significant role to play in the development and progression of the condition. Many people who suffer from endometriosis have too much oestrogen, often referred to as ‘oestrogen dominance’.
Endogenous and Exogenous
Endogenous oestrogen is the oestrogen we make in our body. It becomes more complex when we realise that oestrogen is not a single hormone, but in fact a collection of hormones all grouped under the umbrella term ‘oestrogen’. They include Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2) and Estriol (E3). Within the group are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ oestrogens and those with endometriosis often have a high ratio of bad to good oestrogen.
Further problems can arise from how our body metabolises and excretes these oestrogen, with diet playing a major role in production and type of oestrogen present.
A high-fat, high-dairy, high sugar and low fibre diet may also increase the amount of oestrogen in the body, as does alcohol, being over-wight, the contraceptive pill and HRT.
Not only do our bodies make oestrogen's, but unfortunately we live in an age where oestrogen and oestrogen type compounds, are everywhere. We are exposed to high levels in our environment, which can significantly contribute to oestrogen overload.
Oestrogen-like compounds are found in food, air and water, plastic residues, pesticides, industrial waste products, exhaust fumes, soap products, carpeting, furniture and much more. You’d have to live in a bubble to escape the onslaught of everyday oestrogens.
The good news is that diet and lifestyle changes can be of significant help to women affected by endometriosis. A natural approach to supporting endometriosis and bringing oestrogen back to an optimal balance, centres heavily on lifestyle, focusing on nutritional support of key areas and body systems and addressing overall oestrogen exposure.
Improving Endometriosis Naturally
Strategies to improve endometriosis need to work not just on balancing the oestrogen that is produced in the body, but also reducing exposure from our environment and finally supporting the way the body metabolises and eliminates it.
Bringing excess oestrogen back into balance and supporting the body’s ability to safely process and eliminate it, are crucial aspects of a natural support protocol. Safe oestrogen processing relies on many factors including diet, a healthy gut microbiome and optimal liver function, therefore these are crucial areas to support (see below).
Reducing environmental exposure to oestrogen
It’s almost impossible to avoid environmental oestrogen altogether, but we can do a lot to reduce the overall exposure.
Choose glass storage or drinking containers as most plastic ones contain oestogen-like compounds (even BPA-free can be questionable). If you do use plastic, never heat in a microwave, wash in a dishwasher or leave out in the sun as heat can increase the rate at which oestrogen compounds are leached.
Investing in a quality water filter for your home, buy organic food where possible (to avoid pesticides) and choosing natural toiletries and cosmetics are all help to reduce our exposure.
Balancing our own endogenous oestrogen
Many plants contain phytoestrogens, plant compounds similar to our own oestrogen, but that exert a weaker. These compounds may help to improve the balance of oestrogen in the body as they can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body, resulting in a much lower oestrogen load overall.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, contain a beneficial substance called di-indolylmethane, that can help to improve not only the balance of oestrogen, but the type of oestrogen that are present, raising the ratio of good to bad.
Improving body composition and maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial. Enzymes produced by excess fat in the body play a role in the production of ‘bad’ oestrogen, maintaining a healthy balance of 'good oestrogen to 'bad' oestrogen has many benefits to overall health, including lowering our risk of developing oestrogen related cancers.
Fat and Fibre
High saturated fat diets combined with low fibre intake will increase the production of ‘bad’ oestrogen. Avoiding processed and convenience foods in favour of home-cooked whole foods with plenty of oats, beans and vegetables will push the balance in favour of ‘good’ oestrogen.
The Liver and the Gut Microbiome
The liver ‘packages’ up oestrogen for safe excretion from the body, therefore providing the body with the nutrients required by the liver for optimal function is crucial.
A balanced microbiome is also of high importance. When our microbiome is out of balance and we have too much ‘bad’ bacteria, this bad bacteria produces an enzyme that breakdown the package allowing the oestrogen to recirculate the body instead of being excreted, therefore increasing our load.
Diets high in sugar and refines carbohydrate raise blood sugar and insulin, resulting in adverse influences on sex hormone balance including oestrogen balance.
Alcohol, caffeine and sugar are known to contribute to unhealthy oestrogen balance so it’s important to cut down on these as much as possible.
Other factors to consider
Endometriosis is after all, an inflammatory condition, supporting and regulating the body’s inflammatory response can have a marked improvement on the condition.
Regular exercise benefits pretty much all aspects of our health and the same is true for oestrogen balance.
Relaxation can deliver immense benefits to our health, lowering stress and increasing resilience.
For further information on how Nutritional Therapy and specific dietary protocols and nutritional supplements can support endometriosis please get in touch.