Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that’s typically found on the inside of your uterus grows on the outside of it. The tissue that lines the uterus is called the endometrium, which is where the condition’s name comes from. This condition affects 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years.
Endometriosis is often a painful disorder that takes place primarily in the pelvic area. It’s rare for this tissue to spread further than the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and tissues lining the area of the pelvis.
The symptoms of this condition tend to be worse around menstruation periods. Signs and symptoms include:
- pelvic pain
- increased pain during periods and intercourse
- pain with bowel movements and urination
- heavy periods, or bleeding between periods
- low back pain
- intense cramping
There is currently no cure. However, this condition can be positively affected with comprehensive care that includes both a pain management plan and a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and exercise. Read on to learn more about how your diet may help if you have endometriosis.
Certain lifestyle choices can impact the progression of endometriosis and increase your risk of developing it. These choices can also have an effect on how painful or well-managed the disorder is. Although further research needs to be done to fully correlate certain foods or lifestyle habits with the development or worsening of this condition, the following factors may negatively influence endometriosis:
- A diet high in trans fat. Research has shown higher rates of endometriosis diagnosis among women who consume more trans fat. Trans fat is found predominately in fried, processed, and fast foods. Learn more about why trans fats are so unhealthy.
- Red meat consumption. Some research has shown an increased risk for endometriosis development with a high intake of red meat.
- Gluten. One study involving 207 women with endometriosis showed a pain decrease in 75 percent of them after eliminating gluten from the diet. Check out this detailed beginner’s guide to a gluten-free diet if you’re interested in eliminating gluten.
- High-FODMAP foods. One study found significantly improved symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis who followed a low-FODMAP diet.
Foods that can influence hormone regulation, particularly estrogen balance, can negatively affect those with endometriosis. In addition, you should avoid foods that may promote inflammation in the body and lead to further pain or progression of the disorder. These foods include:
- red meat
- saturated and trans fat
To fight inflammation and pain caused by endometriosis, it’s best to consume a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet that is primarily plant-based and full of vitamins and minerals. This includes:
- fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
- iron-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans, fortified grains, and nuts/seeds
- foods rich in essential fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds
- antioxidant-rich foods found in colorful fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, berries, dark chocolate, spinach, and beets
Make sure you pay attention to how your body acts when you eat certain foods. Keeping a journal of the foods you eat and any symptoms or triggers you have may be helpful. Meet with a registered dietitian to help you plan meals that work best with you and endometriosis, as there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, some supplementation may be beneficial for those with endometriosis. One small study involved 59 women with endometriosis. Participants supplemented with 1200 international units (IU) of vitamin E and 1000 IU of vitamin C. Results showed a reduction in chronic pelvic pain and a decrease in inflammation. To get more vitamin E into your diet, check out these foods.
Another study included supplemental intake of zinc and vitamins A, C, and E. Women with endometriosis had decreased peripheral oxidative stress markers and enhanced antioxidant markers.
Curcumin, the anti-inflammatory part of the well-known spice turmeric, may also help with endometriosis management. One study showed that curcumin inhibited the endometrial cells by reducing estradiol production. Turmeric and curcumin have many additional health benefits.
One large prospective study showed that women with a higher vitamin D level, and those who had a higher intake of dairy in their diet, had a decreased rate of endometriosis. In addition to vitamin D, calcium and magnesium from foods or supplements may be beneficial as well.
Exercising may help with the management of endometriosis. This is because it can reduce estrogen levels and release “feel-good” hormones.
In addition to conventional methods of treatment, alternative treatments may be very helpful for women with endometriosis. For example, relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga, as well as acupuncture and massage, may be beneficial.
More research is needed related specifically to lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms. Talk with your doctor and meet with a dietitian to find the best plan of action to manage endometriosis. Everyone’s body is different, so a specific and tailored plan based on your individual needs will be best.