Endometriosis is something a considerable minority of women may experience in their lifetime. It may also have much to do with infertility, as some studies suggest 50% of infertile women have struggled with endometriosis(1). In today’s article, we are going to explore more of the causes of endometriosis, what we can do to help it alleviate, and how this will help improve your chances of conceiving naturally!
Endometriosis is essentially where some of the endometrial tissue lining the uterus gets displaced into a new area of the body and begins to grow (and bleed when a woman is cycling). This can cause marked pain, inflammation, discomfort and confusion for many women as to what is happening and why. Amazingly, this tissue has been known to migrate near and far in the body, even to other organs and tissues such as the ovaries, the nasal cavity, other parts of the abdomen and more.
This tissue, influenced heavily by the cyclical nature of a woman’s menstruation cycle, can grow and become chronically inflamed, contributing to adhesions, scarring, and as mentioned, frequent infertility.
Besides the excess or imbalanced estrogen and hormone connection as mentioned earlier, there are several other validated connections to endometriosis causes including:
Regarding genetics, a woman with blood relatives having endometriosis, according to some research has nearly a seven-fold increased risk of endometriosis(2). But like most conditions and illnesses, genetics should not be ‘blamed’ largely for this epidemic (currently 2-10 percent of reproductive age women suffer from this) but rather are just one of many important variables(3).
What is arguably more important and effective to focus on is dealing with dietary and environmental contributions, which seem to be the contributing significantly to this problem for many women. Let’s look more specifically at this…
Unfortunately, many of the environmental toxins we are encountering nowadays are cleverly disguised in various personal care products, sunscreens, and other consumer goods that unfortunately are being ‘ingested’ by way of the skin or mouth often unconsciously by unaware consumers.
Some of the worst classes of toxins implicated, according to the literature, with the development and propagation of endometriosis are(4):
While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the minutiae of all of these various toxins, it should be noted that some of these poisons (i.e. PCBs) have been banned across much of the world for decades but unfortunately due to the persistent character (they are in fact referred to as persistent organic pollutants) they are still lingering in considerable concentrations in the environment in many parts of the West.
Thus while is it to every woman’s advantage to stop their exposure to those items they can control such as phthalates, chemical sunscreens, BPA, conventional dairy/meat, heavy metals (by way of lipsticks, makeup, deodorant, aluminum foil and pans, etc.), one cannot assume they are completely avoiding such items in day to day life due their ubiquitous environmental presence.
That said, living ‘clean’ and checking with such resources as http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/#.WbmCNVWGPIU for clean cosmetics and personal care products can help one go a long way in reducing their chemical burden.
Nowadays, there are many ways in which women are getting hormonally imbalanced. One way is via the ingestion of excess estrogens through oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy not prescribed correctly. Many types of oral contraceptives work by artificially changing the balance between progesterone and estrogen in a woman’s body, not allowing her to conceive or blocking implantation in the uterine wall.
However, if a woman is on these for the long-term, that may be creating an imbalanced hormonal state inside her, all for the sake of preventing pregnancy.
Remember, the natural hormonal cycle of a woman is similar to the tide coming in and going out: there is a continuous ebb and flow of hormone changes based around an approximate 28-day cycle, like the moon. The further women tend to skew from this, the more problems tend to happen with healthy fertility and hormonal balance. We must recognize that artificially changing this balance can cause other issues and one of these potentially can be endometriosis.
A similar situation exists with hormone replacement therapy. While this in theory shouldn’t cause this issue if done properly, unfortunately in my experience, there are a plethora of physicians prescribing hormones that really shouldn’t be and proper follow-up is not often done to assess blood levels of hormones.
This leads to many women having a relative progesterone/estrogen imbalance (usually too much estrogen in my clinical experience), which can lead to, amongst other things, endometriosis too.
Furthermore, there is a third hormone condition state that is increasingly common nowadays which is linked to being overly stressed. We call this ‘the pregnenolone steal.’
In this situation, a woman is preferencing her stress hormone cortisol to be produced at the expense of other important sex hormones (typically progesterone). This can frequently lead to a relative deficiency of progesterone to estrogen, giving them too much estrogen which can then potentially instigate endometriosis also.
Besides these imbalances due to taking actual estrogen or having stress wreak havoc on the hormonal system, there are also several other sneaky ways in which women are getting exposed to and inundated with estrogens. This can be due to a few different reasons:
Add to this the growth- and estrogen-like hormones many women are getting by way of contaminated conventional food products (i.e. dairy and meat), no wonder so many women are struggling with endometriosis and fertility issues, especially as they age!
Thus in order to address endometriosis successfully, we must address some of the root causes that are causing it to propagate.
How to Naturally Balance Hormones to Get Pregnant
Thankfully there are many things we can do to naturally ‘treat’ and improve endometriosis cases. I’m going to focus in on a few key areas which include:
As is the case with many things, if we can avoid the noxious toxins and poisons first, we are that much better off. There is no difference in this case.
We want to be very careful and minimize our exposures of all the noxious chemicals and poisons I’ve listed before that are linked to endometriosis including the chemical sunscreens, conventional meats and dairy, toxic makeups and lipsticks, heavy metal laden deodorants and aluminum foil/pans, soft plastics and tin cans lined with BPA or related compounds, some of which may be even more dangerous than BPA(5).
Remember to use the EWG website I listed earlier for screening your cosmetics and cleaning products for noxious chemicals (here it is again: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/#.WbmCNVWGPIU)
Increasingly, individuals are becoming more aware that certain foods such as ground flaxseed, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans (preferably soaked/sprouted), sunflower seeds, and fermented soy (only organic) are rich in compounds we term as ‘phytoestrogens’.
These estrogen like compounds actually bind to a certain subset of estrogen receptors in estrogen sensitive tissues (typically the Beta cells), which counter growth and proliferation and encourage better hormonal balance(6).
Not surprisingly, phytoestrogens have also been linked to improving many other estrogen-linked conditions, including certain forms of cancer like breast and uterine cancer(7). Given how simple and easy of a step this is, incorporating more of these types of foods for someone dealing with endometriosis is a no brainer!
Most individuals are unaware of the details of their body’s detoxification systems and the fact that our hormones, estrogen included, must be metabolized by way of phase II liver detoxification enzymes to then be later excreted out of the bowel.
One of these phases especially involved in hormone metabolism happens to be something called methylation. All seven of these phase II detox pathways (acetylation, sulfation, sulfoxidation, glucuronidation, amino acid conjugation, glutathione conjugation, and methylation) happen to be HIGHLY dependent on nutritional intake, in particular amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin C and a few other nutrients.
Thus for women who are eating a lot of nutrient poor foods such as processed sugars and carbohydrates, not getting enough complete proteins (those who are vegan or vegetarian are especially at risk here), and not eating much in the way of fruits and vegetables, there is much room for improvement that could gradually start helping your body move out some of the estrogen via our natural detox processes.
Here are a couple of pictures illustrating just how dependent these processes are on key nutritional intakes:
In the second picture, you can see a nice chart at the bottom of a dozen nutrients needed by phase 2 processes to work. So for many women, it would be wise to closely examine your protein intake and ensure you are getting sufficient amounts (many sources suggest 0.7-0.9 grams/kg of body weight), use a high quality multi-vitamin, and consider adding in perhaps some glutathione (i.e. your body’s master antioxidant and toxin neutralizer) or a liver supportive herb called milk thistle to support better hormone metabolism through these processes.
Building from the prior section, we can take detox to another level by employing time-tested and now scientifically validated forms of gentle detox. Saunas (especially Infrared if possible), Epsom salt baths, and castor oil packs are three great ways to start gentle detoxing of various noxious chemical out of the body that are simple enough for just about anyone to try.
For those unfamiliar, castor oil packs involve taking a soaked cloth with castor oil and placing it on top of the liver (or the lower abdomen for those struggling with constipation—it’s a great natural laxative), and then usually adding a hot water bottle or heating pad on top to augment and deepen its therapeutic effects. These have been used for generations for various ailments and can be easily done while lying down and relaxing on the sofa, the bed, or even the floor typically for 10-30 minutes. It is also FANTASTICALLY helpful for bloating associated with endometriosis on the lower abdomen. So, feel free to use it several ways here!
Epsom salt baths are equally simple: simply add 1-2 cups of magnesium sulfate salts to a warm tub of water and soak for approximately 15-30 minutes. The salts help naturally draw toxins out of the skin and also tend to have a relaxing influence on the nervous system, putting you into something called ‘parasympathetic mode,’ which is the mode we tend to heal and detox in.
Lastly, saunas have been used by many cultures all over the world for purification, community, and more for centuries. Specifically, infrared saunas are tremendous tools in helping stimulate toxins to be dislodged out of fat and dermal stores to then be excreted out with the sweat by way of the pores. If you have access to an infrared sauna of high-quality, starting to do several weekly would be a wise idea as sweating is the primary way that toxins such as the hormone-disrupting BPA can be released and eliminated from the body(8).
Endometriosis can be an extremely frustrating and painful experience for many women and couples who are trying to conceive. However, it is something that can be heavily influenced by one’s habits, good or bad, and with the appropriate knowledge, there is much you can do to naturally improve your health and body to gradually bring it back into hormonal balance. Quite frequently, this can lead to resolution of your endometriosis without resorting to difficult surgeries or other drastic medical interventions. Remember that knowledge is power and with this article’s tips, you can now get started on changing your health and your life, helping dreams such as having a child hopefully come true!
Dr Wood is a leading US licensed naturopathic doctor. Trained at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and Harvard University’s Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Dr Wood works with individuals locally and afar to improve their health naturally and systemically through the use of food as medicine, herbs, vitamins/minerals, energetic balancing, homeopathy and more.