What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis, the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in women. In Canada, it takes an average of at least 5 years for a diagnosis, and treatment options are very limited. It is associated with menstrual (and non-menstrual!) pain, infertility, and pain with penetrative intercourse. While conventional treatment options are primarily limited to symptom management, there are some Naturopathic approaches to treating and supporting endometriosis that help target the root causes.
How does Endometriosis impact the body?
Endometrial tissue responds to the growth hormone estrogen, so when there is an excess or imbalance of estrogen, endometriosis can be stimulated by the hormonal context around it. Understanding what your hormones are doing can help give the appropriate tools to change the environment that the endometriosis is in. Here are three quick considerations when looking to support endometriosis. The list beyond this is long, very individualized, and takes into consideration all aspects of your health.
Considerations when Managing Endometriosis
- Diet and Digestion: Certain foods can be inflammatory or contain hormones that can influence your own hormonal balance. Other foods, like the Brassica family of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.), can help support the healthy clearance of estrogens. Not just watching what you’re eating, but how your body is responding to food can be helpful, too. If you are experiencing digestive concerns like constipation, bloating, or loose stools, you may not be efficiently recycling or detoxing your hormones, leading to further imbalances.
- Vitamin D: Most commonly thought of as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is actually a hormone. Our bodies use it as a precursor to making other hormones. It also plays a role in modulating the immune system as well as inflammation – two other key factors in endometriosis. If there is a Vitamin D deficiency, our hormones cannot be at their healthiest. In fact, there is an association between low Vitamin D levels and a higher incidence and intensity of endometriosis in women. While most non-supplementing Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D during the winter months, it’s always best to test levels to be able to dose appropriately.
- Testing: The gold-standard diagnosis of endometriosis is via laparoscopy (surgically going into the body with a camera and possibly taking biopsies or removing any found endometriosis tissue). While this invasive means of diagnosis is effective, it is not routinely performed. You can test the blood for markers of endometriosis, as well as consider testing for other contributing factors (like Vitamin D levels). A great test to consider is urinary testing of hormonal metabolites (DUTCH test), since it can look at not just how high or low your sex hormones are, but how they are breaking down in the body. This information can be helpful to pinpoint where your body needs a bit more support to balance its hormones or can help provide insight to where further investigations may be needed.
Diagnosing & Treating Endometriosis
Diagnosing and treating endometriosis can look very different for many women. No two bodies are the same, so considering all factors including diet, digestion, sleep, stress, genetics, other known reproductive or hormonal conditions, family history, lifestyle, and vitamin status is critical. It’s always best to chat with your Naturopathic Doctor about what testing or treatment options are best for you.
Seeing a large gap in education about women’s own bodies, Dr. Laura has taken a special interest in further learning about women’s reproductive health.
During her internship, she was selected to be part of the first Reproductive Health Focus Shift at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic (Toronto), where her passion for fertility and pre/postnatal health grew.
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