10 Mar Read This if you are Ready to Take Charge of Your Endometriosis!
By: Dr. Christine Matheson, ND
As a Naturopathic Doctor, many women who experience pelvic pain or painful periods often share with me that they’ve been told that they might have endometriosis, and that endometriosis may be the reason that they are experiencing pain – but what is endometriosis and how do you know if you have it?
What is Endometriosis?
Dr. Aviva Romm, MD defines endometriosis as “when the type of tissue that normally lines the uterus – called the endometrium – is found in other locations of the body where it’s not supposed to be.” The most common places for this tissue to be found where it shouldn’t be is on the inside of the abdomen, on the ovaries, and/or on the fallopian tubes.
This misplaced endometrial tissue is triggered, like the uterus, by monthly changes in our hormones that bring on menstruation (aka. our period). When the endometrial tissue outside of the uterus sheds or bleeds while trapped in the abdomen, it can aggravate nerves that lead to pain and chronic inflammation over time which can have an impact on fertility and our overall health.
Endometriosis is a somewhat mysterious women’s health condition and is often under-diagnosed as it is difficult to diagnose! A definitive diagnosis is made via an explorative laparoscopic surgery which is a major surgery that comes with its own risks.
What is the cause of endometriosis?
Although there are theories, the cause of endometriosis is still unknown. What we do know is that it involves a dysfunctional response of the immune system and an inflammatory process. Some research has pointed to the possible link to exposure to environmental hormone-like toxins.
According to the World Endometriosis Society, 1 in 10 women are affected during their reproductive years with endometriosis which is approximately 176 million women in the world!! The conventional medical treatment options available at the present time are limited, fairly invasive, and unfortunately not always effective long term, such as taking hormone altering drugs or laparoscopic surgery. So what can you do to start feeling better and in control of your pain?
Holistic Approach to Manage Endometriosis
As is the case with other complex health conditions, the good news is that endometriosis lends itself very well to a more holistic approach of care, including the benefits of natural medicine! By treating the possible root causes of the condition, and supporting your body’s natural healing process, there is often a much better chance for relief of symptoms!
At the start of my career as a naturopathic doctor I had the honour of working closely with Dr. Kay Lie, a Toronto based gynaecologist and surgeon with expertise in endometriosis. Dr. Lie believed so much in the effectiveness of a holistic approach that he actually led programs for his patients about the macrobiotic diet and Qi Gong (an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique).
I was fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Lie when I worked with him at the former Women’s Pelvic Health Centre at Women’s College Hospital and observed how he pioneered a holistic approach to endometriosis and how this made such difference in women being able to manage their symptoms. It is truly inspiring to be able to witness how natural medicine, and simple lifestyle changes can often bring pain reduction and help women to thrive!!
As a naturopathic doctor, there are a few key guiding principles that I use as a foundation in my treatment approach. Here is my quick guide to those principles:
- To help the liver to metabolize hormones by supporting liver detoxification which leads to more balanced hormones. This is vital since endometriosis is often characterized as an “estrogen dominant” condition where the presence of excess estrogen in the body can trigger more symptoms
- To improve gut function by ensuring bowel regularity and a healthy microbiome (bacterial ecosystem of the large intestine) which not only helps the liver to do its job more effectively but can also decrease inflammation by calming down the immune system
- To reduce inflammation by taking an anti-inflammatory approach overall to relieve pain and promote tissue healing and recovery
- To manage and tackle stress levels since it impacts our immune system so strongly
- To decrease pelvic and abdominal congestion (blood circulation, lymphatic drainage) in order to reduce or avoid pelvic pain and the effects of adhesions or scarring.
An anti-inflammatory diet is strongly encouraged which includes eating whole foods (ideally organic) with an abundance of vegetables (especially leafy vegetables such as collards, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli), fruits (especially dark skinned berries), essential fatty acids (especially nuts, seeds, avocados), and drinking filtered water. Avoidance of the top inflammation-causing foods is advised and that includes sugar, processed foods, dairy, gluten, corn, and excess red meat consumption.
Natural herbal or nutritional supplements to consider
- To manage pain – ginger, curcumin (from turmeric), boswelia, crampbark, melatonin
- To support liver function – N-acetyl-l-cysteine (an antioxidant), milk thistle, dandelion root
- To decrease estrogen dominance – Indole 3 Carbinol (derived from Brassica family vegetables like broccoli or brussel sprouts)
- To improve digestion & decrease inflammation – dairy-free probiotic formula, clean fish oil
Decreasing exposure to hormone disrupting toxins
Environmental toxins in our homes, in plastic food packaging, in cleaning products, in body care products and in the air we breath can mimic hormones and especially estrogen. These “xeno-estrogens” can create a falsely high proportion of estrogen-like activity in the body which allows endometriosis and other hormone related conditions to start or progress. Embracing green eco-friendly products for the home and body and avoiding plastics as much as possible are therefore essential steps to minimizing exposure to the damaging effects of environmental toxins.
Powerful Physical Therapies to Consider
Castor Oil Rubs or Packs
Castor oil rubs or packs to the abdomen are by far one of my favourite home care practices to suggest to my patients. Castor oil is a unique oil that can penetrate deeply into the organs and tissue with its anti-inflammatory and lymph draining properties.
Arvigo Massage is an external abdominal massage technique derived from an ancient healing tradition in Belize. I am proud to be one of the only Arvigo practitioners in Canada and have seen first hand how Arvigo massage can reduce pain symptoms by potentially decreasing pelvic congestion, improving the alignment of the major pelvic and abdominal organs and breaking up adhesions.
Acupunture has been shown in extensive research to help minimize pain by opening of the channels or “meridians’ of the body and there are specific points for aiding the uterus and pelvis.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy is a very helpful approach to having a specialized pelvic assessment to understand and treat your pattern of pain. Commonly reported symptoms of women with endometriosis include, pelvic pain, painful periods, and pain with intercourse. All of these things can be helped by seeing a pelvic floor PT!
A Hopeful Message
If you have endometriosis, you may feel overwhelmed or frustrated by the lack of concise information about the best treatment approaches. Unfortunately, we haven’t discovered one quick, or 100% effective approach to managing it yet. In my experience, I have seen the most success when women find an integrative team of health practitioners who work together and incorporate a holistic plan. As a team you can decrease pain and inflammation, balance your hormones, and improve your pelvic health!! This is what brings me hope for those of you struggling with endometriosis and my wish is this message brings you hope too!!
Is there someone you know who is struggling with endometriosis? Share this blog with them and help them get started on the path to wellness!!
**As is always the case in a holistic and natural medicine approach, it is very important to individualize your treatment plan based on for example, if you are taking any other medications, your age and weight. Therefore the above suggestions are meant for general education and it is strongly advised to consult with a healthcare practitioner before making any dietary supplement or lifestyle changes, or starting any new treatment strategies**
About the Blogger
Dr. Christine Matheson, ND is a licensed naturopathic doctor and Arvigo® Practitioner in Toronto who helps women transform their digestive, pelvic, gynaecological and fertility health. Her signature “Belly Be Well” Program combines the benefits of Arvigo abdominal massage with naturopathic care. Learn more about her services for women & families at www.ChristineMathesonND.com and contact her directly at [email protected]
- 2008 Jan 1;13:1578-93. The link between environmental toxicant exposure and endometriosis.Anger DL, Foster WG https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17981650
- 2017 Oct 27 Effects of acupuncture for the treatment of endometriosis-related pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis.Xu Y, Zhao W, Li T, Zhao Y Bu H Song S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29077705
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