As I’m writing this, today is national Women’s Day, which somehow seems ironic when we’re so often treated like second class citizens. March is also Endometriosis Awareness month, which is one reason why the subject has been on my mind. This morning I was having a chat with a friend about contraception and it made me really angry that its so normal for women to be prescribed synthetic hormones to mask or interrupt their own hormonal cycles. This may be for birth control, or to “regulate” periods and PMS symptoms, or to “ease” the pain of endometriosis, or to “help” PCOS, or to get rid of acne, etc. And this is often without exploration of the underlying cause of these diseases or symptoms, and without explaining the impact on our bodies of the cessation of our natural hormonal cycle.
It also amazes and frightens me how many women think it is “normal” to have painful periods, heavy bleeding, clots, etc. This is not normal. Yes it is common, and it is often dismissed as “normal”, but it is a sign that our body has underlying problems that need to be addressed.
My personal experience with Endometriosis
Yesterday I got my period back for the first time since falling pregnant 2 and 3/4 years ago. And it’s been making me think about how complex women are in comparison to men – particularly in relation to our hormones. And it’s also been making me think back to when I was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 34. The intense, nausea inducing pain and lack of pregnancy that led up to the diagnosis, the laparoscopy that removed the lesions, and the anti-inflammatory diet (the Autoimmune protocol, I thank you!) that kept my symptoms at bay.
Generally, after a laparoscopy, symptoms are expected to return after 3-6 mths. I was very lucky and had no return of symptoms and 3 years after the operation I became pregnant (through IVF). It’s now, 5 years later and, I won’t lie, I’m carefully monitoring my body for symptoms of endometriosis whilst sipping my organic turmeric (anti-inflammatory) tea.
It makes me angry that the standard mainstream medical “treatment” of endometriosis is the contraceptive pill. We, our bodies and our fertility are worth more than that. And I suppose that’s why this rant has tun into a 3 part series on the subject of endometriosis and how it can be managed, perhaps after a laparoscopy as in my case, with diet and lifestyle interventions.
What is Endometriosis?
1 in 10 women have diagnosed endometriosis (the actual figure of sufferers is probably higher) with half experiencing impaired fertility. It affects the whole body in terms of systemic inflammation, not just your uterus, and is characterised by the growth of misplaced endometrial cells (from the endometrium – the lining of the uterus that sheds during your period) outside of the uterus. These cells are responsive to the sex hormones that are part of the natural menstrual cycle. During ovulation, the endometrium and the misplaced cells thicken, but the misplaced cells cannot leave the body via menstruation. Instead they bleed, which causes inflammation and pain, and then heal. Overtime this process can create scar tissue and adhesions where the uterus attaches to the ovaries, fallopian tubes and / or bowel.
“Normal” period pain:
Usually a bit of cramping in the lower pelvis or back, occurs on the first day or so of your period and doesn’t interfere in your daily activities. It can improve with age
Abnormal period pain:
Intense pain that doesn’t improve with ibuprofen – can be a throbbing, searing, burning or stabbing pain. Interferes with daily life to the degree of missing school or work. Can last for many days, can occur between periods. For some women the pain can be constant. Usually there’s an underlying cause, such as endometriosis. Can get worse with age.
However, 70% of women experience pain as a symptom of endometriosis, leaving 30% who don’t experience pain (but can still experience the impact on their fertility). Pain is also no indication as to the severity of the disease.
70% of teens who experience chronic pelvic pain go on to be diagnosed with endometriosis
And these may occur with or without period pain.
- Pain with sex
- Pelvic pain
- Ovulation pain
- Pain in lower back and thighs
- GIT issues
- Bladder issues
- Reduced fertility
- Obesity – inflammatory, oestrogenic
- MTHFR genetic defect – particularly on SNP C677T
- Genetic predisposition
- Delayed reproductive age
- Parasites / dysbiosis – inhibits oestrogen clearance
Unknown! But there are several theories:
Retrograde flow – the flow of blood back through fallopian tubes and into pelvic cavity instead of out through the vagina. Whilst probably normal to a degree, increased retrograde flow (due to a “blockage” stopping menstrual blood from leaving the body) is associated with a higher risk of endometriosis.
Increased exposure to oestrogens – due to, for example, delayed pregnancy, periods started early, relatively high number of periods per year.
There has also been shown to be increased local production of oestrogen in endometriosis sufferers. This process increases prostaglandins, resulting in pain and inflammation, and the prostaglandins further increase local oestrogen production.
Environmental toxins – dioxin exposure in the womb. Dioxins are industrial by-products that accumulate in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, etc.
Immuno ”incompetence” – dysregulation of the immune system, and an altered immune environment.
My next post in this series is on the correlations between the digestive and immune system dysfunction and endometriosis. I found the links fascinating.
Helpful Resources (not affiliated)
Website – Better Health Australia
Book – Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle by Ruth Trickey
Book – Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden
Fertility Specialist and Gynaecologist – Dr Natasha Andreadis
If you’d like to contact me in relation to how I can help your management of endometriosis, or you’d like to book in for a free 10 min Discovery call, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org