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Endometriosis can make life hell, but can food come to the rescue? Is there such a thing as an endometriosis diet that reduces your symptoms?

Menstrual periods from hell. Pain during sex. Painful bowel movements and painful urination. Lower abdominal pain. Infertility. The main symptom of endometriosis, in which the tissue that normally stays confined to the uterus where it belongs goes "rogue" and starts growing elsewhere too, can be summed up as "pain, pain, pain" [1]. 

While your medical treatment options for endometriosis include things like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain killers, surgery to remove endometriosis lesions, and birth control pills to help manage your hormones [2], any woman with severe endometriosis symptoms will also want to do whatever else she can to make those symptoms bite just a little bit less. The main lifestyle modifications that can help are exercise to help with endometriosis and dietary changes. 

Diet plays a role in your endometriosis symptoms because several of the key factors that lead to endometriosis symptoms — inflammation, estrogen levels, and prostaglandin metabolism — can be influenced by the foods you consume [3]. Research further suggests that typical western diets, rich in, to put it simply, unhealthy, overly processed, foods, increases the oxidative stress and free radicals in the body, potentially leading to worse endometriosis symptoms [4].

What foods should you eat to help relieve your endometriosis symptoms, and what foods should you be staying away from?

Foods You Should Eat When You Have Endometriosis: Is There Such A Thing As An 'Endometriosis Diet'?

There is some evidence that polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, reduce a woman's risk of developing endometriosis. This is probably due to the fact that polyunsaturated fats play an anti-inflammatory role in the body. [5] This means that polyunsaturated fat intake has a protective effect against endometriosis in those who do not have it, but does the intake of polyunsaturated fats also reduce symptoms in people who already have endometriosis? One rat study suggests that it does. Active endometriosis sites significantly decreased in rats who were fed EPA supplements. [6]

If you have endometriosis and would like to increase your intake of polyunsaturated fats, look for:

  • EPA and DHA supplements
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel 
  • Herring 
  • Sardines

Several studies have also looked at the relationship between endometriosis risk and fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits and veggies should form the very foundation of a healthy diet, right? Indeed, one study found that women who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of endometriosis, but another study suggested that eating lots of fruit may, in fact, increase a person's risk of developing endometriosis. [7, 8] This finding could be related to the prevalent use of pesticides in fruit production, rather than to the fruits themselves. We'd go out on a limb and say that those who really want to eat lots and lots of fruit should ideally explore organic options. 

A gluten-free diet is all the rage these days, with some people suggesting that it's almost a cure-all for all manner of medical conditions, ranging from autism to anxiety. If you're a skeptic, you may be a little annoyed to encounter the suggestion that a gluten-free diet can help women with endometriosis, too. Hang on, though — there's actual science to back this idea up. Two studies found that endometriosis patients who began following a gluten-free diet enjoyed reduced endometriosis symptoms, that is, less pain. [9, 10] While the evidence isn't conclusive, and we'd suggest you talk the pros and cons of a gluten-free diet over with your healthcare provider before you take the plunge, it's certainly a very worthwhile option to investigate. 

Finally, endometriosis is closely associated with heavy and irregular periods, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis (brittle bones). As such, you will want to make sure that you get enough calcium in your diet and that this calcium is absorbed well. Please ask your doctor about the merits of taking calcium and vitamin D3 supplements in your particular case. [11] You may also be interested in taking vitamin A, C, and Beta Carotene supplements, as these are antioxidants. With oxidative stress thought to play a central role in the development of endometriosis adhesions, these supplements could offer a protective effect. [12]

A diet higher in vegetables and fruits, rich in polyunsaturated fats, and that contains plenty of calcium, will also help you if you are wondering how to get pregnant with endometriosis. Please consult your doctor before going gluten-free if you're currently trying to conceive, however. 

Endometriosis: Foods To Avoid

If you love a good steak and regularly indulge, you may want to reconsider — several studies have found a link between a high red meat consumption and endometriosis. This could be because red meats increase your body's prostaglandin production, indirectly contributing to the pre-existing dysfunction of your reproductive system. [12]

You'll also want to make sure your diet isn't too high in fat, particularly saturated and trans fats. A high fat intake has been found to be associated with higher estrogen levels [13], which promote the growth of endometriosis tissues.

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