Using diet to ease the pain
Many women are altering their eating habits in an attempt to reduce the feelings of bloating caused by endometriosis
ENDOMETRIOSIS IS a condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the womb and attaches itself to other internal organs. It can take years to be diagnosed and many more to be successfully treated.
While many women are relieved once endometriosis is found to be the cause of their debilitating pain, the complex mix of surgery and hormonal treatments isn’t always the perfect solution. For these reasons, many are now also altering their diet in an attempt to reduce pain, feelings of bloating and general discomfort.
“We view endometriosis as an hormonal imbalance which results in too much inflammation, and the dietary approach treats the dysfunction in the body rather than the disease itself,” explains Anneliese Dressel, nutritional therapist and director of the Institute of Health Sciences, which offers courses in nutritional therapy.
“The main issue for women with endometriosis is pain throughout their menstrual cycle. Endometrial tissue responds to fluctuations in the female hormones and bleeds. This causes a huge amount of inflammation, which can be dampened down by certain foods,” she continues.
Nutritional therapists will offer women with endometriosis much of the same advice given for other inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. This anti-inflammatory diet involves cutting out sugary foods, minimising saturated fat (meat and dairy products) and ensuring there is good quality protein in every meal. Suggested sources of such protein are fish, nuts and seeds, lentils, peas and beans.
Vegetables (particularly yellow vegetables such as peppers and sweet potato) and fruit (particularly red and purple berries) are good anti-inflammatory foods, according to Dressel. “Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes should be avoided, and herbs such as turmeric, ginger, basil, parsley and coriander added to the diet,” she says.
Tracey Dixon was diagnosed with endometriosis 10 years ago, almost 12 years after she first had symptoms of it. “Endometriosis is a silent disease and because it’s gynaecological, so many women keep quiet about it and so many others misunderstand it,” she says.
“The treatment options offered are so limited that I think it helps people to know how different women try different approaches. I use the contraceptive pill for the long-term management of endometriosis, but I wanted to do as much as I could to help myself, so I started to alter my diet. I got such great relief from making dietary changes that I decided to study nutritional therapy,” she explains.
Dixon discovered that if she kept her liver in good order and used diet to keep her hormones balanced, she experienced less pain from endometriosis. “I cut out wheat from my diet, so I don’t eat pasta, bread, biscuits. I include onions and garlic to support the detoxification role of the liver and I use lots of vegetables, oils and seeds to help balance the hormones,” she explains.
Dixon believes earlier diagnosis and a less invasive diagnostic test (currently, diagnosis is via laparoscopy) would be a huge advance. “If we had a simple blood test, early intervention would mean that the disease doesn’t develop into the chronic, life-altering condition that it is for so many women,” she says.
Niamh Keating was diagnosed with endometriosis last year, after feeling unwell for a very long time. “I eliminated wheat, coke, coffee and tea bags – I will drink tea made from tea leaves – from my diet. I still get some pain but it’s more manageable with these changes,” she says.
Clodagh Lynam from the Endometriosis Association of Ireland says: “Dietary approaches to endometriosis is one of the things that we get asked about most.
“The feedback we get from those who have changed their diet seems to indicate that it is remarkably successful. Some say their need for medication has reduced, but most continue with orthodox medical treatments too.”
The Endometriosis Association of Ireland is based in Carmichael House, North Brunswick St, Dublin 7. Tel: 01-8735702, email@example.com, endo.ie