Endometriosis is not a life sentence. Naturopathic medicine to restore hormonal harmony for symptom relief and long-term balance
Female hormonal conditions are challenging, often complex and can have a significant impact on quality of life and associated with greater psychological disturbance including depression, anxiety, aggression and a lower degree of both life and sexual satisfaction. To add to this, many women feel unheard, misunderstood, belittled or dismissed – with factors such as their quality of life and/or pain underestimated. Few women are exempt from suffering at some time during their reproductive years, with 50 to 80% of women experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and 30 to 40% of women reporting PMS symptoms which require treatment. More than 50% of women will develop fibroids by the age of fifty, and a similar percentage experience mild to moderate symptoms during the menopausal transition, with 25% suffering from more severe symptoms. The great news is that achieving symptom relief and positive long-term change, can be achieved more easily by taking a more integrative and functional medicine approach. Endometriosis is one of the hormonal conditions that respond well to Naturopathic and functional medicine. Sheena Hendon tells more.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is one of the most common health issues experienced among women and one of the leading causes of infertility. How common? It’s estimated that over 176 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis symptoms. It is believed that 40 percent to 60 percent of women who have excruciating periods also have endometriosis, and 20 percent to 30 percent of women who are unable to get pregnant are believed to have this disease.
It is a chronic inflammatory condition in which tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows in other areas of the body. The female reproductive system includes the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. During a normal menstrual cycle, the ovaries make hormones, which signal the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, to thicken and build up in preparation to receive a fertilised egg. If the egg is not fertilised, this leads to menstruation or the shedding of the lining.
For people with endometriosis, the lining tissue grows outside of the uterus. The misplaced tissue responds to the hormones by thickening and shedding with every menstrual cycle; however, the thick tissue is outside of the uterus and is unable to pass through the vagina and out of the body. The endometrial flow is then trapped and may cause inflammation and pain. Adhesions, or scar tissue, may form and stick to one organ to another. It can even cause the fallopian tubes to close, which is a dangerous endometriosis symptom because it can lead to infertility. Endometriosis may also result in abnormal bleeding, and dark, reddish-brown cysts or fluid-filled sacks may form on the ovaries that affect fertility. If endometrial tissue invades the uterine wall, it is called adenomyosis.
There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but various procedures are used to relieve the symptoms. Some medication options, like hormonal therapy, can increase the risk of long-term infertility and cancer. If endometriosis symptoms become too severe, surgical procedures may even be necessary. Unfortunately, 50 to 80 % of women experience recurring disease after surgical and/or hormonal treatment.
Fortunately, there are many Naturopathic medical remedies for endometriosis that may be used before turning to hormone treatments or invasive surgical procedures.
The Naturopathic and Functional Medical approach to Endo
From a Natural medicine point of view, Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterised by the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside the uterus, mainly on pelvic structures and rarely at other body sites, such as the lungs. Under the influence of oestrogen, these ectopic cells proliferate and become encapsulated by immune defence mechanisms to form inflammatory cysts and lesions that can cause abdominal pain, scar tissue and adhesions.
Beyond the physical symptoms, the pain and infertility of endometriosis is linked to clinical depression with many symptoms that may worsen with the menstrual cycle.
Complicating the diagnosis, sufferers commonly also experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and have higher rates of atopic and autoimmune disorders, IBD and interstitial cystitis; along with an increased risk of ovarian carcinoma. Mast cell activation links IBS and endo, as the presence of mast cells perpetuate bowel inflammation in response to multiple stimuli, as well as activated in endometriosis lesions. There is also evidence to show that dysbiosis, with a higher number of E. coli and Shigella and reduced Lactobacillus spp., is identified in endometriosis patients compared to healthy controls. In light of this, we recognise that excess oestrogen drives endometriosis and triggers progesterone sensitivity, leading to cell growth, pain and inflammation.
Inflammatory drivers of endo include;
- Mast cell activation; Mast cell activation is well-recognised in allergic responses and increasingly linked to other conditions, including the inflammatory and neurological pain of endometriosis.
- Microbial dysbiosis; The peritoneum microbiome is a driver in endometriosis. Women with endometriosis have four to six times higher gram-negative bacterial counts in their menstrual fluid. Local infection is associated with increased disease prevalence, and antimicrobial treatments can address this aspect for better treatment outcomes
- Pelvic iron overload and oxidative stress;
- Environmental toxicity; Why might women who have worked as flight attendants, in service stations or as hospital nurses have higher rates of endometriosis? The answer lies in environmental pollution, from formaldehyde exposure, electronic screens, chemical dust and organic solvents, which have all been linked to increased risk of developing endometriosis. Many toxins can disrupt gene function, affect immunity and hormonal regulation, and induce oxidative stress.
Hence addressing these drivers as well as oestrogen clearance and anti-inflammatory strategies are essential core treatments. Taking an anti-inflammatory approach gives better results than treating hormones alone. Additionally, although gut disorders such as IBS are not a cause of endometriosis, they may be a contributing factor and treatments addressing this can improve endometriosis pain.
Testing for endometriosis
In my clinic, tests for Endometriosis may include testing for inflammatory markers, antibodies against the thyroid and gluten, and gut infections or SIBO as well as the DUTCH hormonal test. I am always interested to see blood vitamin D levels, hormone profiles, serum iron and ferritin, liver function and more which can be a goldmine of information
Simple interventions can give excellent results
- Avoiding inflammatory foods, including A1 dairy, gluten and sometimes eggs in addition to antimicrobials, zinc and selenium is a good We will prescribe a diet individually developed for your overall needs
- Use herbal medicine and nutraceuticals for hormonal modulation, to reduce lesion growth, immune modulation and improving gut function. Always get a prescription prescribed by your Registered Naturopath and Medical herbalist
- Prescribing iron in endometriosis. There are some cases where iron infusions can flare symptoms. However, gentle oral iron and ways to reduce a heavy flow contributing to iron loss may be addressed
- Approaching pain holistically. Pain can also be associated with pelvic muscle spasm and post-surgical adhesions. NLP or acupuncture for pain management, castor oil packs and herbal medicines may be used
- Protocols for reducing toxin overload may be used to reduce toxic accumulation and improve resilience against unavoidable environmental exposure.
Visit us here at Sheena Hendon Health for an individualised plan to manage, treat and even prevent endometriosis or any other hormonal imbalances
Useful links and resources:
- Altered Immunity in Endometriosis: What Came First? – PubMed – NCBI
- Bacterial Contamination Hypothesis: A New Concept in Endometriosis
- What Do We Know About Regulatory T Cells and Endometriosis? A Systematic Review
- The Role of the B Lymphocytes in Endometriosis: A Systematic Review
- Immunological Aspects of Endometriosis: A Review
- Exacerbation of Endometriosis Due To Regulatory T-Cell Dysfunction
- Pathogenesis of Endometriosis: Interaction Between Endocrine and Inflammatory Pathways
- Progesterone Alleviates Endometriosis via Inhibition of Uterine Cell Proliferation, Inflammation and Angiogenesis in an Immunocompetent Mouse Model
- Pleiotropic Roles of Melatonin in Endometriosis, Recurrent Spontaneous Abortion, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- The Use of Retinoic Acid for the Treatment of Endometriosis