Endometriosis is a condition that affects women. It is characterized by the growth of endometrial tissue (uterine lining) on various parts of the body, such as the ovaries, bladder, intestines, and more. This condition is extremely painful and can cause recurring excruciating pain at every menstrual cycle for women who are affected. It can also cause symptoms of fatigue, pain with sex, and more. Any woman with endometriosis knows how debilitating the symptoms can be.
Because endometriosis is a condition of the uterine lining, many people assume it is related to hormone imbalances. While it is true that estrogen stimulates the growth of endometrial tissues, endometriosis is more like an autoimmune condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis, than simply a hormone imbalance condition. This means that the immune system and inflammation are the main factors in endometriosis rather than simply a hormone imbalance.
In conventional medicine, the go-to treatment is birth control or hormone-blocking medication, which stops women from producing their own sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. While this stops estrogen from stimulating endometrial growth, it does absolutely nothing to correct the underlying imbalances such as chronic inflammation. Plus, birth control pills have a slew of side effects. They can negatively affect a woman’s mental health and cause nutrient deficiencies. Read more about the truth about the pill here.
On the same note, natural hormone balancers such as vitex or DIM will not typically resolve endometriosis (although they can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for some women).
To truly resolve endometriosis, a comprehensive, integrative approach is needed.
To effectively treat endometriosis, the underlying imbalances must be identified and addressed. Each woman is a bit different, but there are common culprits that should be investigated.
Factors Contributing to Endometriosis
When it comes to inflammatory conditions, such as endometriosis, there are several pathways at play. Factors to investigate include:
1. Gut health and the microbiome
2. Food allergies/sensitivities
3. Low antioxidant status
4. Toxic exposures
5. Estrogen-progesterone imbalance
6. Stress and cortisol imbalances
7. Past traumas and/or sexual abuse
Gut Health and the Microbiome
Our gut health is a central part of our immune system and can significantly influence our body’s inflammatory response. The bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that make up our microbiome can be a source of beneficial byproducts such as short-chain fatty acids. These benefit our gut lining, mood, and more. When out of balance, our microbiome can also be a source of inflammatory chemicals, such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS). Emerging research has shown that LPS is correlated with endometriosis and should be a treatment target. In addition to our guts, our uterus actually has its own microbiome as well! Imbalances in the uterus’ microbiome can be a source of inflammation leading to endometriosis.
The body’s microbiome can become out of balance for a number of reasons, including medications like antibiotics, pesticides in our food, aspartame, chronic stress, and more. In fact, the microbe is heavily involved in chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. It works both ways. An imbalance in the microbiome can lead to changes in mood and emotions, and stress and lead to an imbalance in the microbiome. Luckily, there are specific therapies to correct imbalances and restore a healthy microbiome.
2. Food Allergies and Sensitivities
Both food allergies, like the kind that give you hives, as well as food sensitivities, such as foods that lead to a slew of symptoms like fatigue, digestive issues, and eczema, all results in the activation of the immune system and – you guessed it – inflammation. For women with endometriosis, healing the gut and rebalancing the microbiome is key. Identifying and eliminating of food allergies is an important step to aid in this process. Two of the most common food sensitivities in endometriosis are gluten and dairy.
Identifying food allergies and intolerances can be done with specialty lab testing, which we offer at our clinic, or through a food elimination diet, which our naturopathic doctors can help you with.
You can read more about signs of fall allergies and intolerances here!
3. Low Antioxidant Status
Inflammation can be quenched through anti-inflammatory foods, herbs, vitamins, and minerals. It should be one of the main pillars of treatment for women with endometriosis as inflammation is a key player in this condition.
For many, nutrients deficiencies in vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin E make a person unable to optimally support their inflammation pathways. Research has shown that supplementation with specific antioxidant nutrients has a positive impact on endometriosis and reduces the associated symptoms, such as pain with periods, pain with sex, and more.
Glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant, is of particular importance. Research has shown that women with endometriosis have lower levels of glutathione in their bodies. Glutathione IVs are an optimal way to increase glutathione and quickly! Glutathione is needed to process and eliminate many inflammation/oxidative stress sources, which brings us to our next point – toxic exposures.
4. Toxic Exposures
We are exposed to toxins on a daily basis through our air, food, homes, and products we use on our bodies. Our bodies are equipped with detox systems to process and eliminate these toxins, however, our bodies can become overwhelmed when exposure is too high and/, or our systems are not fully supported. Vitamins and minerals are cofactors in these detox processes, and deficiencies caused by poor diet, medications (such as birth control pills), poor digestion and gut health, or overburdened detox systems can lead to insufficient detoxication ability.
Phthalates are of particular interest in endometriosis. Research has shown an association between phthalates and endometriosis, which suggests that phthalates may have a role in the development of endometriosis. So what are phthalates? They are compounds used in plastics to make them soft and flexible, such as saran-wrap, toys, medical devices, and more. They are also used in many different cosmetics, building products, and cleaning products. So, they are all around us! We can do our best to use phthalate-free products, as well as support our detox systems to deal with overload!
5. Estrogen-Progesterone Imbalance
As we noted previously, estrogen causes the uterine lining to grow – including endometrial tissue outside the uterus. Conventional medicine seeks to shut down estrogen production entirely with medication such as birth control. The truth is, endometriosis is not simply a condition of too much estrogen. However, estrogen-progesterone balance does have a role. Research has found that many women with endometriosis have progesterone resistance, which can disrupt estrogen and progesterone functions in the body and the uterus. Balancing estrogen and progesterone and their functions is typically an important piece of the endometriosis puzzle.
6. Stress and Cortisol Imbalance
Stress is notorious for making us feel anxious, experience sleep issues, and suffer from digestive issues. Plus, stress can impact our hormone balance and increase our body’s inflammation levels.
Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone that gets released in response to stressful events, such as work or relationships, or body stress such as chronic pain or food allergies. Although cortisol is needed to manage stress, when it is released for a prolonged period of time, things can get out of balance. At high levels, cortisol wreaks havoc on our digestive tract, breaking the tissues down and leading to heartburn or leaky gut. Plus, high cortisol interrupts our circadian rhythm, which is our sleep-wake cycle. Over time, cortisol levels can drop after they are high for prolonged periods of time. When this happens, it is called adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue can cause fatigue, low blood sugar, difficulty managing stress, and poor digestion. Plus, inflammation is left unchecked, which furthers the problems in endometriosis.
Assessing cortisol levels and balancing the stress response is a key component in endometriosis. A balanced cortisol response is needed to restore optimal nutrient absorption, hormone balance, and sled-wake cycles.
7. Trauma and Sexual Abuse
Past traumas, including sexual abuse, can lead to a number of disruptions in both the mind and body. When a person’s trust, body, or mind is abused or neglected, boundaries are crossed in a big way. From a chakra perspective, our sacral chakra is damaged – especially in sexual abuse or trauma. The sacral chakra is located in our pelvic region and influences our boundaries with others and our bodies, our sexuality, creativity, emotions, and our reproductive organs. You can read more about the sacral chakra here.
Sexual trauma not only affects the mind and emotions; it can be held in our bodies and manifest as conditions of the reproductive organs, including endometriosis. Addressing and healing the emotional pieces of endometriosis is an imperative part of some women’s healing journey. While it is not a part of all women’s pictures, for some, it is the missing link that no other health provider has included, and it can make all the difference.
As you can see, endometriosis is a complex condition that seems to be misunderstood in the medical community. Successful treatment is multifaceted and includes mental, emotional, and physical therapies that address inflammation, stress, nutrition, detoxication, and hormone modulations.
Luckily, the doctors at Onyx Integrative Medicine understand this complex puzzle and can help you begin your healing journey. We work with women with endometriosis in-person at our Gilbert AZ clinic or via telemedicine.
Call us today at 480-531-2557 to schedule an appointment or schedule online!
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