Updated: May 11
1 in 10 women are thought to suffer from endometriosis. However, this may be under-reported due to many being asymptomatic, with lesions discovered only after investigations for other conditions.
For those with symptoms, it can be debilitating and have a devastating impact on quality of life.
The current medical treatment involves hormonal pharmaceuticals such as the oral contraceptive pill, surgery, and pain medications, all with potential long and short term side effects.
It can be argued that this approach does nothing to address the underlying cause of endometriosis and instead just suppresses or temporarily relieves symptoms.
So, in this post, I take a look at the functional medicine or holistic health approach to treating endometriosis and discuss:
Why I believe the oral contraceptive pill is NOT the answer.
What lifestyle changes and supplements can make a huge difference for those with endometriosis, and
why endometriosis is not really a hormone condition, but an inflammatory disorder with an abnormal immune response.
What is endometriosis, what are the symptoms, and how is it diagnosed?
If you're new to the condition that is endometriosis you may want to head on over to "The quick guide to endometriosis" before reading on. There I'll answer all those questions and more.
But essentially endometriosis is when the tissue that sheds from the uterus as part of a women's normal menstrual cycle is found outside the uterus, where it shouldn't be. This extra-uterine endometrial tissue also responds to the hormonal changes that trigger shedding or bleeding. This promotes inflammation and can over time lead to the formation of scar tissue and adhesions.
What is the cause?
No one truly knows! There are several theories, from a back flow of menstrual tissue through and out the Fallopian tubes (retrograde menstruation), to tissue metaplasia where certain epithelial tissue retains its ability to transform into menstrual tissue.
But other factors are certainly involved including a favourable hormonal environment and altered immune and inflammatory responses in genetically susceptible women.
Inflammation is excessive in endometriosis sufferers.
Elevations of inflammatory markers are commonly seen on blood tests. Does the excessive inflammation result in immune dysfunction, preventing the clearing up of endometrial lesions?
Some researchers argue that endometriosis may even be an autoimmune condition.
Studies have indicated a tendency toward autoimmune conditions in those with endometriosis. It is also well known that once you have an autoimmune disease you're a sitting duck for another later in life.
So, what inflammatory and immune factors seem to be involved?
Patients with endometriosis seem to have higher levels of toxins present in blood samples. Increased blood levels of dioxin and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) have been associated with deep endothelial nodules.
It is therefore recommended that endocrine disruptors like bisphenol A, parabens, pthalates, pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, plasticizers, solvents and formaldehyde are avoided.
"Women with endometriosis have a high level of gram-negative bacteria in the pelvic microbiome and researchers think that the toxin LPS (lipopolysaccharide) from those bacteria could play a role in the development of the disease".
Lara Briden, naturopathic doctor and author of "Period repair manual".
LPS is a known inducer of inflammation and immune dysfunction. Plus, its presence in the blood is an indicator for a "leaky" gut. This hints that the gut is the likely origin of the bacterial toxin.