Between 10 and 20 percent of women suffer from endometriosis — a condition with an unknown cause, for which there is still no cure. If you're one of them, attempting to manage your symptoms can be a complex, hit-and-miss, endeavor, and if your doctor doesn't have the answers you're looking for so desperately, you may experiment on your own. Many endometriosis patients before you have done the same, and among them, some have found that changing their diet helps reduce their symptoms.
Load up on omega-3 fats
We all know what isn't good — saturated and trans fats. Instead, turn to healthy omega-3 fatty acids, consuming which helps fight inflammation, decreases a woman's risk of developing endometriosis in the first place, and have also been demonstrated to ease menstruation-related discomfort. Fatty fish, like salmon and halibut, are well-known sources of omega-3, but you could also include extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds in your diet — or simply take a supplement.
Fiber is fantastic
High-fiber foods — which include whole grains, veggies, and fruits — are essential for overall health. They can help women with endometriosis because they:
- Are nutrient dense, helping you feel full for longer and thereby making you stay away from junk foods, which increase inflammation.
- Also contain antioxidants that decrease inflammation in your body and, research suggests, eases your endometriosis symptoms.
- May decrease your estrogen levels — and estrogen, as you know, plays an important role in endometriosis.
In addition, getting plenty of fiber is also very beneficial for irritable bowel patients, and a significant number of women with endometriosis also have IBS.
Note that research into the effects diets high in green vegetables and fruit have on endometriosis symptoms has led to contradictory results. Though some studies indicate that increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables lowers your risk of developing endometriosis, others actually suggest that they do the opposite; they make it more likely that you will get endometriosis. This, researchers say, may be due to the fact that fruit contains a lot of sugar, or because some pesticides may act similarly to estrogen once induced. This leads to some confusion for women who already have endometriosis — should you eat fruit, or not? It's best to:
- Consume one or two servings a day — no more, but no less either, because you still want to get all those antioxidants to fight your inflammation.
- Aim for low-glycemic index fruits like raspberries, plums, apples, citrus fruits, and peaches.
- Buy organic, pesticide-free, fruit wherever possible.
As a general rule, you need at least 30 grams worth of dietary fiber, but that can come from a variety of sources:
- Whole grains — oats, corn, rye, millet, and buckwheat; take your pick
- a handful of nuts and seeds, too
Getting your B vitamins from veg
Getting plenty of B vitamins helps your liver break down estrogens, by converting them from estradiol to estriol, a form that can be expelled from the body through the digestive process. The same vegetables that offer B vitamins additionally boost your immune system, while the magnesium found in them helps relax your intestinal and uterine muscles, potentially reducing your endometriosis symptoms.
Make cruciferous vegetables a regular part of your diet — good examples are:
Work with fresh ingredients
You'll be doing yourself a favor by staying away from highly processed fast foods, and opting for fresh ingredients in meals prepared from scratch instead. Raw salads and fruits are easy to prepare. It's even better if you can get your hands on organic produce, which is free from the kinds of pesticides that can aggravate your symptoms.
Endometriosis frequently leads to especially heavy menstrual periods, during which your iron levels may be depleted. To make up for this, make sure your diet contains enough iron — both "heme" (from fish, red meat, and eggs) and "non-heme" iron (from leafy greens, dried apricots, beetroot, and even chocolate) are important.
This might sound counter-intuitive, since you've almost certainly heard that soy products contain phytoestrogens, some of which convert testosterone into estrogens. Endometriosis being estrogen-dependent, it may sound like a bad idea to add more to your body. Research suggests, you may be surprised, that women whose urine samples contained more soy isoflavones had a decreased risk of severe endometriosis. Soy products may help, rather than harm, you, in other words, as you seek to manage your symptoms.
Staying hydrated keeps your internal organs functioning the best they can, supports the digestive process, and prevents constipation, among other things. You've probably heard the "four to six large glasses of water a day" tip, but ideal hydration is actually individual — if it doubt, ask your doctor. While all fluids you take in, including those found in foods and, yes, even coffee, contribute to your hydration, women with endometriosis will ideally go very easy to caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and sugary drinks. All of these can contribute to inflammation.
Research shows that avoiding certain foods while eating others influences a woman's risk of developing endometriosis. Once you already have the condition, diet may again play a role in the severity of your symptoms.