What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the reproductive organs which affects over 10% of Australian women at some point in their life. The condition results in tissue, which is similar to the lining of the uterus, growing in other parts of the body, most commonly within the pelvis. The stimulus for this tissue growth is the female hormone oestrogen. Currently, there is no known cure and symptoms include severe menstrual pain and bleeding, chronic pelvis pain and can result in fertility problems.
A specialist doctor will have diagnosed this condition and may be treating you with medicine. However, since diet is a vital factor in many diseases, if you have endometriosis, it’s recommended that you make an appointment to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Top 3 dietary changes
1. Choose healthy fats
Trans fats found in processed foods such as margarine, fried food, pastries, cakes, biscuits and refined oils are produced through high levels of processing and induce an inflammatory response in the body.
Palmitic acid has also been linked to increased rates of endometriosis. This fat is found mostly in red meat and again heightens the inflammatory response in the body.
Omega-6 is another fat found in red meat as well as in vegetable oils. Omega-6 is a major pro-inflammatory factor in the body. Omega-3, on the other hand is an anti-inflammatory fat which can actually improve endometriosis inflammation. This study found significant results of omega-3 reducing the effects of endometriosis, even with short-term diet change. Good sources of omega-3 includes fish such as salmon and tuna, as well as nuts and seeds.
2. Ensure good supply of antioxidants from fruit and vegetables
Women with endometriosis have an increased number of highly reactive substances in their body, known as free radicals. Free radicals 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 antioxidant supplementation (vitamins E and C) on endometriosis pain and found that 43% of those with higher intake of antioxidants reported less pain compared to 0% in the group without supplementation. Not only this, but three inflammatory markers (substances produced by or associated with inflammation) were found to be significantly lower in those taking the antioxidant supplement compared to those without supplementation. Therefore, it was concluded that increasing antioxidant intake in women with endometriosis had a positive effect on their condition. Fruit and vegetables are some of the most antioxidant rich foods, so ensure that you include a wide variety of these foods in your diet to reduce oxidative stress each day.
3. Boost your fibre intake
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. Excess oestrogen in the body can worsen the effects of endometriosis by promoting inflammation.
Too much oestrogen stimulates the formation of lipid substances which act like hormones – these are called prostaglandins. These increase inflammation and heighten the pain in pelvic regions of those with endometriosis. Along with this, oestrogen has been found to actually increase endometriosis cell growth and numbers, meaning larger cells and more of them. Ensure that you are consuming at least 25 grams of fibre each day by consuming foods such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and legumes.
In summary, diet is an important component of long-term endometriosis management. For more endometriosis dietary tips see Nourish With Melanie.
*This article was first published for the Great Health Guide, see article here.
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