Endometriosis is an unfortunately common condition where the tissue which makes up the uterine lining (the endometrium) grows in other areas of the body, usually in the pelvic area. The severity of its symptoms, which may include pelvic pain, period pain or infertility, can be anything from mostly silent to constantly debilitating. Conventional treatment includes surgery to remove inappropriate tissue (also the only way to diagnose it), pain relievers and hormonal medications, but these are not without their side effects. Thankfully, there are natural methods that may help to prevent endometriosis if you are at risk, or reduce the severity of its signs and symptoms, such as changes to your diet.
We all need fat in our diets, but one way of reducing the risk of endometriosis, or possibly reducing its severity, may be by changing the types of fat we eat. To investigate whether fat intake has any relation to endometriosis, researchers analysed 12 years of data from the Nurses' Health Study II that began in 1989. Total fat consumption had no relation to endometriosis risk, but women in the top fifth for long-chain omega-3 fat intake had a 22% lower risk of endometriosis, compared to women in the bottom fifth. Omega-3 fats are found in foods such as oily fish and flaxseed. On the other hand, women in the top fifth of trans-fat intake had a 48% greater risk of being diagnosed with endometriosis. Trans fats are found in margarine and many other packaged, processed foods. Intake of palmitic acid, a type of fat in animal products, was linked with a 52% increase in endometriosis risk when the top and bottom fifths were compared. It is suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fats may be behind their benefits, as a 1995 study found a reduced risk of period pain linked with fish oil consumption. Trans fats, and too much saturated animal fat, is pro-inflammatory.
Increasing intake of green vegetables and fruit may also be protective against endometriosis. In an Italian case-control study, women in the highest thirds for green vegetable and fruit intake had a 70% and 40% reduced risk of developing endometriosis, respectively. These results were consistent after adjusting for affecting factors. The folate, methionine (an amino acid) and vitamin B6 found in green vegetables can regulate gene expression and detoxification. While another study disagreed, vegetables and fruit do often contain pesticides linked to reproductive problems such as endometriosis. Fruit and vegetables also contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, which protect cells from damage and thus reduce inflammation.
These are just a few ways that nutrition can protect against endometriosis, but further research is needed. An optimal treatment plan for conditions such as this must involve professional support, and communication between practitioners regardless of treatment modality. But as you can see, complex does not mean hopeless.