New research shows that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may be effective for the relief of endometriosis pain. This research found that acupuncture significantly reduced pain associated with endometriosis by 90 percent and Chinese herbal medicine reduced the pain by 60 percent. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine were also shown to be effective for moderate […]
Dian Shepperson Mills, MA, is a British nutritionist who developed a dietary program for endometriosis. The core of her diet for endometriosis includes three staples of health nutrition: Freshness: Try to buy the freshest food that you can find and make sure to eat it when it is fresh. Avoid highly processed foods full of […]
Endometriosis is a common gynecological disorder that occurs in up to 10 percent of reproductive-age women. Affecting 5 million women in the United States, endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the womb, which can lead to pain and/or infertility.
So what do pesticides have to do with endometriosis? In a new study comparing 248 women newly diagnosed with endometriosis to 538 women without the condition, it was found that higher exposure to two pesticides—beta-hexachlorocycloheaxane and mirex—had a 30 percent to 70 percent higher risk of endometriosis.
The study sought to look at the role of environmental chemicals with estrogenic properties. “We found it interesting that despite organochlorine pesticides being restricted in use or banned in the U.S. for the past several decades, these chemicals were detectable in the blood samples of women in our study and were associated with increased endometriosis risk,” said study lead author, Kristen Upson.
Although the study found an associated between exposure to two specific pesticides and a higher risk of developing endometriosis, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Victoria Holt, principal investigator of the study, notes, “This research is important, as endometriosis is a serious condition that can adversely affect the quality of a woman’s life, yet we still do not have a clear understanding of why endometriosis develops in some women but not in others. Our study provides another piece of the puzzle.”
Fibroids can cause severe menstrual pain, but so can endometriosis. What’s the difference between these two conditions? Uterine fibroids are benign lumps of muscle and connective tissue that grow on the uterine wall. Nearly one in four women over 35 is affected.
Most uterine fibroids are harmless and don’t cause symptoms. However, fibroids can cause a feeling of moderate pelvic pressure at any time. And the closer they are to the uterine lining, the heavier the menstrual flow. It may last longer than seven days and/or cause a need to change tampons every hour or two. Discomfort or pain during intercourse can also occur with uterine fibroids. Other symptoms include an irregularly shaped uterus which may put pressure on the bowel and/or bladder. This can result in difficulty with bowel movements, constipation, urinary frequency, incontinence and backaches. Reproductive problems include recurring miscarriage, infertility and labor complications.
Endometriosis is a condition where the type of tissue that lines the uterus also grows outside the uterus, usually on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the outer wall of the uterus, the intestines, or other organs in the abdomen. Since they are the same type of cells that usually line the uterus, they respond to estrogen and grow a little each month and sometimes slightly bleed. As this tissue is outside of the uterus, blood cannot flow out of the body and therefore can cause irritation and pain. Symptoms for endometriosis may include heavy periods, painful menstrual cramps, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea.
This painful condition affects up to one in three women. Unfortunately it takes an average of 10 years to diagnose endometriosis after symptoms start, partly because so many women think it’s merely severe menstrual cramps.
Dian Shepperson Mills, MA, is a British nutritionist who pioneered a dietary program for endometriosis. Her diet theory in her book, Endometriosis: A Key to Healing and Fertility through Nutrition, aims to reduce internal inflammation within the body, improve pain responses, and support estrogen excretion from the body.
How Diet May Affect Endometriosis
“Women with endometriosis should avoid fatty foods, such as red meat and [high-fat] dairy foods that may be high in PCBs and dioxins, to reduce their exposure to these estrogenic pesticides,” she suggests. Use organic food whenever feasible, or peel fruits and vegetables, she recommends. Some research suggests a link between dioxins in the environment and increased levels of estrogen.
Additional research found that oxidative stress and a lack of antioxidants may contribute to endometriosis.
What to Eat for Endometriosis
The core of Shepperson Mills’ diet for endometriosis includes these hallmarks of healthy nutrition:
- Freshness. Buy the freshest food you can find and eat it while it’s fresh. Avoid highly processed foods full of additives. Cook with fresh foods, but also eat some raw vegetables and fruit every day. To minimize exposure to pesticides, eat organically grown produce whenever possible.
- Variety. Eat a wide variety of foods every day. “Make it fun to try new dishes on weekends and expand your horizons,” says Shepperson Mills
Specific Nutrients that Work
Certain foods rich in key nutrients contribute direct effects to a diet for endometriosis:
- Vegetables with B vitamins. This diet would include green vegetables that help the body deal with constant breakdown of circulating estrogens. Green, leafy vegetables can also help the nervous and immune systems, and magnesium relaxes smooth muscles found in the intestines and uterus. The best vegetables: such as cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips, radishes, horseradish, and watercress.
- Iron-rich foods. “With endometriosis you may experience heavy bleeding, so replacing lost iron is important,” she says. Two types of iron are available in the foods we eat, heme iron from protein sources and non-heme iron from plant sources.
- Omega fatty acids. Include 1 tablespoon of cold-pressed vegetable oil in your meals daily. Avoid trans fats, and keep saturated fats low. Sources of omega fatty acids include oily fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and Pacific halibut, and tree nuts, seeds, and extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil.
- Fiber. Shepperson Mills suggests getting 30 grams of fiber from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains including rye, oats, rice, corn, millet, and buckwheat to keep your intestinal tract healthy and promote the excretion of excess estrogens.
- Water. Drink four to six 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine, refined sugars, sweeteners, soda (including diet), and alcohol when struggling with endometriosis or trying to get pregnant.
Endometriosis is a problem that many women have during their childbearing years. It means that a type of tissue that lines your uterus is also growing outside your uterus. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, and is usually not dangerous. However, it can cause pain and other problems. The clumps of tissue that grow outside your uterus are called implants and they usually grow on the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the outer wall of the uterus, the intestines, or other organs in the belly. Your uterus is lined with a type of tissue called endometrium and each month, your body releases hormones that will cause the endometrium to thicken and get ready for an egg. If you get pregnant, the fertilized egg will attach to the endometrium and start to grow. If you don’t get pregnant, the endometrium breaks down, and your body sheds it as blood. This is your menstrual cycle.
When you have endometriosis, the implants of tissue outside your uterus act just like the tissue lining of your uterus. During your menstrual cycle, the implants get thicker, then break down and bleed. However, since the implants are outside your uterus, the blood can’t flow out of your body. The implants will get irritated and painful, sometimes forming scar tissue or fluid-filled sacs. Experts are not sure yet what causes the tissue to grow outside the uterus. They do know that the female hormone estrogen makes the problem worse. Women tend to have higher levels of the hormone during their childbearing years, and during these years is when women have endometriosis.
The most common symptoms of endometriosis are:
- Pain: Depending where the implants are growing is where you may have pain. The pain can be in your lower belly, your rectum or vagina, or your lower back. You may experience pain only before and during your periods or all the time. Some women have more pain during sex, when they have a bowel movement, or when their ovaries release an egg.
- Abnormal bleeding: Some women can have heavy periods, spotting or bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, or blood in their urine of stool.
- Trouble getting pregnant: This can be the only symptom that some women have.
Endometriosis can vary from woman to woman. Many don’t know that they have it until they go to see a doctor because they can’t get pregnant or have a procedure for another problem. If you notice any of the symptoms above, speak with your doctor.
If you eat dairy or meat, you’ll want to be careful. Two pesticides carried in animal fat, beta-h and mirex, have been shown to elevate women’s risk of endometriosis by up to 70% according to research.
After testing blood of 786 women in Washington state, researchers found that women with the highest levels of mirex were 50% more likely to have the condition, while women with even a moderate level of beta-h exposure were 70% more likely to have endometriosis, compared to women with the lowest levels. The pesticides’ estrogen-like qualities are thought to be responsible for the dramatic link between exposure and endometriosis, a painful, estrogen-driven condition where the lining of the uterus starts growing in other parts of the body.
Both pesticides have been banned in the US since the late 70s. So what in the world are they still doing in our veins?
“This class of pesticides is highly persistent; they’re not broken down in our bodies—they’re stored in our fat,” says study author Kristen Upson, PhD, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The same is true for the fat of the animals we eat. “Our exposure is coming from the consumption of fatty foods like meat, dairy, and fish.”
What’s worse is that pesticides were sprayed over large swaths of land, undetectable but present in our environment. Although Dr. Upson declined to say whether cutting back on meat and dairy was a good way for women to reduce their exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, it’s not hard to connect the dots. Limit your intake and stay healthy.