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Endometriosis can cause painful periods, exhaustion, bloating, back pain….and make it more difficult to conceive. But, there is hope! Dietary modification is one of the best things that you can do to reduce your endo symptoms. In this blog we discuss the six most important dietary strategies you should be following if you have endometriosis.
If you’ve got endo, I’m sure that by now you know that it is a chronic inflammatory condition that results in tissue…. which is similar to the lining of the uterus….. growing in other parts of the body, most commonly within the pelvis. This results in severe menstrual pain and bleeding, chronic pain, and can result in fertility problems. There are different stages or grades of endometriosis, but altering your diet can help in reducing symptoms and pain.
Number 1: focus on fats
As endometriosis is an inflammatory disorder, it’s important to focus on consuming foods which can reduce inflammation. I’m sure you’ve heard about ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats….well bad fats promote inflammation and good fats reduce it. For example, trans fats are ‘bad’ fats found in processed foods such as fried food, pastries, cakes, biscuits and refined oils. They are produced through high levels of processing and induce an inflammatory response in your body.
Palmitic acid is another fat that has also been linked to increased rates of endometriosis. This fat is found mostly in red meat and again heightens the inflammatory response in your body. So, a practical strategy would be to replace some of your red meat intake with vegetable sources of protein such as lentils, chickpeas or tofu.
Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, is an anti-inflammatory fat which can actually improve endometriosis inflammation. A study by researchers from Harvard University found that women who ate high levels of omega 3 rich foods were 22% less likely to develop endometriosis. And some small studies have found that boosting omega-3 intake has reduced period pain for women with endometriosis. Good sources of omega-3 include fish, as well as nuts and seeds.
Number 2: boost your intake of antioxidants
Women with endometriosis have an increased number of highly reactive substances in their body, known as free radicals. These little monsters cause something known as ‘oxidative stress’, which really just means they enhance inflammation. Antioxidants can reduce the number of free radicals by binding with them to create a more stable form. This reduces the amount of oxidative stress and therefore reduces inflammation in those with endometriosis. One study researched the effects of antioxidants, using vitamin E and C supplements, on endometriosis pain and found that 43% of those with a higher intake of antioxidants reported less pain compared to 0% from the group without supplementation. Not only this, but three different inflammatory markers were found to be significantly lower in those taking the antioxidant supplement compared to those without supplementation.
Before you go out and buy a whole lot of supplements though, can I encourage you to look at your diet first? Vitamin C is found in oranges, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, mangoes and kiwifruit, while Vitamin E is found in avocados, nuts, seeds and grains. Getting your antioxidants from food will ensure that you’re getting all of the other key nutrients that you need from these healthy foods too…..
Number 3: fibre
Fibre can help excrete oestrogen out of the body through a process known as ‘barrier protection’ in which fibre surrounds substances and takes them on a journey to outside the body before they can be absorbed. You may be thinking, “but I don’t want my hormones gone, do I”? Excess oestrogen in the body can worsen the effects of endometriosis by promoting inflammation. Yes we need oestrogen, but too much oestrogen stimulates the formation of nasty substances which ACT like hormones – these are called prostaglandins.
I like to think of prostaglandins like a fake Gucci handbag. Ok, I admit it. I was tempted into purchasing one when I was in Spain. It looked like a Gucci handbag, felt like a Gucci handbag….but within a few weeks, it had fallen to pieces in my hand. Prostagladins are just like a fake Gucci handbag. They look like estrogen, but instead of doing what they’re supposed to, they reek havoc. Prostaglandins increase inflammation and heighten endo pain. Along with this, too much oestrogen has been found to actually increase endometriosis cell growth and numbers, meaning larger cells and more of them. So, aim for a diet with at least 25 grams of fibre per day from foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains.
Number 4: choose low GI foods
High GI foods have been found to increase the insulin response which may lead to it increasing the numbers of endometriosis cells. So, put down the white bread and potatoes and choose low GI foods like sweet potato, pasta, oats and barley.
Number 5: reduce your intake of pesticides
A diet rich in fruit and vegies is obviously a good idea if you have endo as they are rich in antioxidants and high in fibre, however exposure to pesticides and dioxins found on fruit and vegetables have been positively associated with endometriosis and its symptoms. This is probably due to certain pesticides interfering with hormonal pathways and contributing to oxidative stress. So, if you’ve got endo, or have a high risk of developing endo because you have others with endo in your family, you may wish to consider trying organic produce, which would remove the risk of pesticides worsening your symptoms while still getting all the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables.
Number 6: trial a low FODMAP diet
An Australian study conducted by Monash University found that there is a high level of overlap between women who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and women who have endometriosis. Furthermore, their research discovered that women who had both endo and IBS found significant improvements in pain, bloating and digestive issues with a low FODMAP diet. The low FODMAP diet is a diet which limits fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, then challenges these to help you work out which of these fermentable carbohydrates your body is reacting to.
OK, so I’ve given you a lot of information today. So, let’s summarise:
- Ensure that you’re eating lots of good fats such as fish and nuts, and limit your intake of bad fats from biscuits and fried foods
- Check that your diet is rich in antioxidants by eating a diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Make sure that you’re eating at least 25 grams of fibre each day
- Choose low GI foods by swapping white bread with a dense wholegrain bread or swapping sugary breakfast cereals for oats
- Reduce your intake of pesticides by investing in organic fruits and veg, and
- If you have bloating or bowel issues, see a dietitian about trialling a low FODMAP diet.
Now, I’m sure that you’ll have loads of questions, so feel free to post them in the comments below.
And, to make all this easier for you, I’d love you to download my free meal plan. Just go to www.melaniemcgrice.com/fertility.