When Elle first came to see me for her debilitatingly painful periods she was also experiencing some pretty serious digestive issues that were the result of her non-stop ibuprofen use. At 36, she had already gone through multiple surgeries, which offered only temporary relief.
For about a week and a half every month she’d find herself missing family events, work meetings, and social events with her friends. Her endometrial pain was causing her to feel isolated and it was taking a toll on her mood and her life.
Elle was diagnosed with endometriosis just after she turned 33. She is one in ten women who are diagnosed with this condition, although the number may be higher due to undiagnosed cases.
What is Endometriosis?
Women with endometriosis experience growth of endometrial tissue, which is normally only found lining the uterus, in other areas of the body — fallopian tubes, ovaries, intestines and other tissues.
The number one symptom women with endometriosis report is pain — with their period, with sex, and for some women, their pelvic pain is constant.
Because the endometrium responds to the same hormones that result in your period, these tissues also bleed when you have your period, regardless of where it is in the body. The blood causes irritation and inflammation, which results in a whole lot of pain and scar tissue. Overtime, adhesions begin to form in the reproductive organs, intestines, bladder, and other organs.
Like Elle, many women use NSAIDs, like Ibuprofen and Motrin, to cope with the pain, Unfortunately, these are often not enough and can cause damage of their own. And pain killers do little to treat the other symptoms that often accompany endometriosis, like chronic fatigue, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, low back pain, ovarian mass, heavy periods, urinary issues.
But not all women are symptomatic. In fact, 20-25% of women with endometriosis are without symptoms, which makes getting an early diagnosis more difficult.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Environmental Toxins and Endometriosis
We are not entirely sure what causes endometriosis, but some experts have begun to question the role of environmental toxins in the disease. Chemicals like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are thought to increase the risk of endometriosis by altering cytokines, immune function, hormones and growth factors.
Estrogen Dominance and Endometriosis
We also know that endometriosis is estrogen dependent, which is a hormone that is sensitive to environmental endocrine disruptors. It may be possible that the effect of environmental toxins on hormone balance contributes to disease progression.
Endometriosis does have a relationship to estrogen dominance and getting estrogen back in balance is one of the keys to treatment.
Read more on Detoxing Your Hormone for Better Hormones.
Is Endometriosis Autoimmune?
And while the exact cause of endometriosis has yet to be found in medicine, it is looking like this one may be autoimmune. Yes, endometriosis may very well be an autoimmune disease. There is still an estrogen dominance component, as there typically is with most autoimmune disease, but it appears that the immune system may be driving the condtion.
Research has identified tissue-specific antibodies and inflammatory cytokines, which are present with endometriosis. Or in other words, the immune system is definitely involved.
One thing we know about autoimmune disease is that leaky gut is a risk factor and present in those who develop autoimmune disorders. Leaky gut is also commonly caused by the use of pain killers and birth control pill—two commonly used groups of drugs.
Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Disease and Endometriosis
The analogy I use with my patients is the recipe for autoimmune disease. The recipe has 3 ingredients — intestinal hyperpermeability (aka leaky gut), a triggering event and the right genes.
When intestinal hyperpermeability is present, large proteins, which should be kept within the intestine, are allowed to escape. Your immune system doesn’t take kindly to strange proteins wandering through the body and so it attacks. With 70-80% of your immune system present in the gut, it is easy to see how these proteins can cause a big issue for your immune system and your body.
Chronic stress, food sensitivities/ allergies, bacterial infections, parasites, viral infections, antibiotics, and some drugs (including NSAIDs) can cause a breakdown of your gut’s integrity at the cellular level.
This is how food sensitivities develop and is at the heart of autoimmune disease.
Learn more about Leaky Gut here.
A Natural Approach to Endometriosis
Women with endometriosis are given little treatment options by their conventional doctors — painkillers, hormone therapy like birth control, surgeries, and a hysterectomy are all aimed at managing symptoms. And while they can offer short term symptom relief, these therapies have many side effects, can be dangerous and do nothing to address the root cause.
As a holistic doctor who focuses on educating and empowering women with practical tools, I have helped many women successful manage their endometriosis symptoms without the need of harmful medications.
By utilizing natural pain remedies we can alleviate the discomfort that keeps you from being able to enjoy life and engage in activities that would ultimately help you resolve your root cause.
Here’s my 5 Step Approach to Endometriosis that we use at Rubus Health, my Root Cause Women’s Medicine clinic:
5 Steps to Heal Naturally from Endometriosis
#1 Treating Endometriosis Pain Naturally
We’ve got two major priorities here: 1. Getting you out of pain. 2. Minimizing or eliminating the need for pain medications.
Number one is all about making sure you’re not only comfortable in your body, but also have the energy, the stamina, and the motivation to do the self care it takes to heal. And yes, you can heal, but you need to be willing to do the work (no worries, you’ve got this!).
NSAIDs perpetuate the leaky gut, plus they suppress ovulation, which leads to estrogen dominance. Easy to see why we want to ditch those.
Melatonin for Endometriosis Pain
Melatonin has been shown in the research to help reduce menstrual pain, pain with sex, and pain with urination or having a bowel movement. While the research suggests higher doses are needed, I recommend talking to your doctor before supplementing.
For now, boost your own melatonin naturally:
- Wear amber glasses 2 hours before bed
- Sleep in a completely dark room
- Eat pineapple, bananas, and oranges as they may increase melatonin levels
- Magnesium 150-300 mg nightly
- B Complex daily (specifically B6 helps with melatonin production)
Pycnogenol for Endometriosis Pain
For women with endometriosis, pycnogenol (an extract from pine bark) has been shown to offer a 33% reduction in pain symptoms when taken at 30 mg twice daily.
Natural Remedies for Endometrial Pain
For solutions to menstrual and pelvic pain read Natural Remedies for PMS & Cramps.
#2 Root Cause Investigation of Endometriosis
You need a partner who understands how to support you with short-term and long-term solutions and who knows how to dig to find your root cause.
There is a root cause to endometriosis and although your other doctors may have told you that there is no hope because we aren’t sure what the cause is, I want you to know that I’ve assisted many women in healing their endometriosis and living symptom free.
Healing is possible.
Part of the healing process includes getting necessary lab testing and exploring your unique journey to identify what may have triggered your condition and what you must do to heal.
We recommend lab testing on an individualized basis in my clinic, but in the case of endometriosis we always investigate hormones and gut health.
Read more about the Autoimmune Hormone Connection.
Physical Therapy for Endometriosis
In our clinic, we also partner with Physical Therapists—because how you move in your body every day is incredibly important in your healing. Most women with endometriosis don’t even recognized how the way they walk and move their body may have changed since the disease began. Muscle imbalances can result from your body compensating and avoiding pain and can it can make symptoms worse.
Getting evaluated by a physical therapist is an important part of your root cause resolution to endometriosis.
Depending on a woman’s history or her symptoms, we may also prescribe sessions with a bodyworker who can help resolve the pelvic and abdominal adhesions that are common with endometriosis.
#3 Rubus Pelvic Care for Endometriosis
Rubus Pelvic Care™ is a therapeutic approach to pelvic health that integrates myofascial pelvic floor therapy, energetic work, and custom blended herbal remedies to support female energy and wellbeing.
This service allows women to deepen their connection to their pelvic floor and helps increase circulation to aid in healing. We teach our patients how to perform self massage and techniques to practice daily to improve their pelvic health.
Read more about Rubus Pelvic Care here.
#4 Lifestyle Therapy to Heal Endometriosis
At Rubus Health, our Holistic Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaches help women totally rock this part of the treatment plan! Lifestyle therapies are powerful medicine and they are what will keep you out of the doctor’s office for good!
Dietary Changes That Halt Endometriosis—The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory elimination diet coupled with gut healing therapies can make a serious impact on your pain and periods.
I typically have patients increase their consumption of turmeric, ginger, garlic, onions, fermented foods, cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower, and consume lots of leafy greens. This not only supports detox, but also lowers inflammation.
Stress makes pain worse and it leads to hormone imbalances.
Try meditating for 5 minutes a day for 30 days and see how you feel. If you want to really up your meditation game and reap the benefits at a faster pace, consider the Muse meditation device.
Movement is Medicine.
Engaging in both stress reducing activities and short HIIT sessions can help with balancing your hormones and your immune system. Try alternating gentler activities like walking, gentle yoga, pilates, Qi Gong and Tai Chi with 7-15 minute HIIT sessions 2-3 times per week.
Keep in mind that if you have adrenal or other health issues you’ll need to modify your exercise to best suit your body’s needs. This is one of those times it can help to talk with an expert. My good friend Steph Gaudreau is an excellent resource if you’re looking to keep it safe with exercise. Plus, she also has endometriosis and is one of the strongest women I know…and she lives a pain free life.
#5 Individualized Root Cause Resolution of Endometriosis
What we know is women with endometriosis are likely to have estrogen dominance, immune system dysfunction, and a need for detoxification support. But what it takes to heal endometriosis in each person is very individualized. Sometimes we need to spend more time healing the gut and the liver before the estrogen will balance. Other times we have to focus heavily on clearing infections and reducing stress to gain traction in healing. In my clinical experience, it is different for each woman.
This is where digging in and investigating comes in. Having necessary lab testing, along with a thorough evaluation of your story is essential to understanding your individualized needs.
As for Elle… I’m happy to report she is no longer at the mercy of endometrial pain and she is living a much fuller life thanks to the strategies discussed in this article.
Are you a woman living with endometriosis? What have you tried that has helped? Leave a comment below to share with us.