Endometriosis Advice

Endometriosis Diet

What is exactly is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a common disease amongst women and is characterized by the abnormal growth of the edometrium -- lining of the uterine wall -- in tissue outside of the uterus. Despite growing in the wrong location, endometrial tissue will continue to behave normally during a menstrual cycle. It thickens into a glandular tissue layer in order to accommodate a blastocyst -- the basis of an embryo -- at the beginning of the cycle then in the absence of a blastocyst breaks down at the end to be expelled from the body through the vagina.

Of course, as the tissue is misplaced, there is nowhere for the waste to be discharged from which leads to irritation of the surrounding tissue as well as the formation of cysts, scar tissue, and adhesions -- abnormal tissue that binds organs together. The cause of endometriosis is unknown.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of endometriosis vary in severity from woman to woman, and even in some women may not be present at all. The symptoms, should they be present, are as follows.

Dysmenorrhea, which is an extreme uterine pain during periods, so much so, that it limits activity and even requires medication to aid in relief.

A sharp pelvic pain experienced during ovulation, intercoures, bowel movements or urination.

Excessive bleeding characterized by either menorrhagia, which is heavy bleeding during menstruation, and/or menometrorrhagia, defined as bleeding between menstrual cycles.

Infertility may also be considered a symptom.

How can a change of diet help manage these symptoms?
The symptoms of endometriosis can be alleviated by a change in diet; as, after all, everything a person puts into her body will affect her physiological make-up. But how exactly does that work? Well, it might help to understand what causes the symptoms in the first place. Obviously, as endometriosis is tied to a woman's menstrual cycle, the hormone estrogen plays a role but, to be considered as well, are prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins are any lipid compound derived from fatty acids. They are autocrine and paracrine chemical mediators that react on, amongst others, uterine cells. What that basically means is prostaglandins are like little messengers running between cells with specific instructions like, for instance, to contract or relax muscles.

During a menstrual cycle, prostaglandins synthesized within endometrial cells are released during breakdown and are believed to cause contraction of the uterus which cuts off blood flow and causes the endometrium to break down and die. This in turn leads to larger amounts of waste being discharged through the vagina, heavier bleeding, as well as contributing to "cramps."

There are three different types of prostaglandins that a woman diagnosed with endometriosis should concern herself with, those being Prostaglandin E1 or PGE1, Prostaglandin E2 and E2a or respectively PGE2 and PGE2a. PGE1 would be the "good" prostaglandin, helping to soothe symptoms, while PGE2 and PGE2a are the "bad," serving to aggravate symptoms. Different types of foods can affect prostaglandin production so the key to using diet in managing symptoms lies in choosing those foods that will increase the production of PGE1, avoiding those that increase PGE2 and PGE2a, and ultimately, balancing out hormone levels.

So what is there to eat?
Any diet should be rich in fiber as it helps to regulate digestion but it may also lower estrogen levels, making it dually important to endometriosis patients.

Foods high in fiber include fruits like raspberries, apples, pears, bananas, and strawberries. Grains like barley, bran, brown rice, popcorn, and oatmeal, though it should be noted that any foods based on wheat should be avoided as they can aggravate symptoms like nausea due to the phytic acid within trapping minerals or the gluten.

Vegetables like artichokes, broccoli, peas, and Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of fiber as well. And then there are also legumes such as lentils, black beans, lima beans, and vegetarian baked beans as well as nuts like pistachios, almonds, and walnuts which are also high in omega-3 fat.

Omega-3 fats are important to good mental health, skin condition, strong nails and hair, as well as, aiding in the increase of PGE1 production, making them extremely important for a woman living with endometriosis in her efforts to manage symptoms. Apart from nuts, omega-3 fats are also best found in fish; mackeral, herring, anchovies, trout, and salmon, as well as in other types of seafood, like shrimp and scallops. They can also be found most notably in flax seed.

Soybeans as well are a decent source of omega-3 but the intake of unfermented soy based food should be kept to a minimum due to two isoflavones found in soy, genistein and daidzen, which can be toxic in estrogen sensitive tissues and the thyroid. Fermentation of soybeans, however, gets rid of nearly all the natural toxicity and allows the beneficial phytochemicals to be more easily absorbed into the body.

All Asian foods, such as tofu, natto, miso, tempeh and soysauce, are made from fermented soybeans and are excellent sources of omega-3's and protein for the endometriosis diet. Foods such as soy milk and soy cheese, however, are made from unfermented soybeans and should be avoided.

Other foods to avoid are milk, eggs and red meat, both of which increase the production of PGE2 and PGE2a. However, when lowering the intake of such foods, one must be mindful to find adequate nutritional supplements for the calcium found in milk and protein from the meat and eggs.

Excellent calcium substitutes would be dark green vegetables like broccoli, mustard greens, kale, and spinach, as well as, sesame seeds, seaweed, figs, and food items fortified with calcium like tofu or orange juice. For cereal, almond or rice milk make excellent milk replacements and are typically fortified with calcium. Avocados, humus, and tahini are also great replacements for dairy product spreads like butter or cheese.

For protein substitution, once more tofu, fish, nuts and beans are great replacements. Tempeh, as well, makes for a great meat substitute. Peanuts and almost any seed -- pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower -- will also do.

Other foods that should be avoided are caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and honey, chocolate, anything high in saturated fat, sugary beverages like soda pop, refined carbohydrates like those found in breads, as well as fried foods.