Endometriosis can be a debilitating condition leading to painful intercourse and excessive menstruation in 2-10% of American women (1), affecting over one million women in the US at any given time (2) during their childbearing years. Endometrial cells (uterine lining cells) develop outside of the uterus throughout the body, and in particular in the pelvic cavity, causing adhesions to organs which may result in stabbing pains, organ dysfunctions, and bleeding into the surrounding tissues because these cells still function like uterine cells and respond to female sex hormones by thickening with blood as female sex hormones fluctuate on a monthly basis. (3) When a woman menstruates from the uterus, bleeding from stray endometrial cells into the surrounding tissues of the body causes inflammation and further discomfort for the woman. And as if this extreme monthly hardship (which can sometimes dominate 3 out of every 4 weeks per month in the life of some women) is not bad enough, it is estimated that between 24-50% of women in America who suffer from endometriosis experience infertility as well. (4),(5) In fact, often women are counseled to have hysterectomies as a solution to endometriosis, which further dejects the woman who wants to have children, frequently resulting in lifelong trauma and heartache. Women with endometriosis often feel helplessly enslaved to their condition.
If you do your research on standard medical explanations for endometriosis, you will find that the majority of sources state that “the exact cause of endometriosis is not certain,” (6), and several possible explanations are offered including:
- Retrograde menstruation, which is like menstrual reflux backing up into the fallopian tubes and pelvic cavity
- Scar tissue from surgical procedures, abdominal cells differentiating into endometrial cells (coelomic metaplasia) (7), (8)
- Endometrial cells being released into the blood and lymph
- Immune disorders (9), (10), (11), (12)
I was both surprised and encouraged to find that mainstream medicine is beginning to recommend more alternative therapies for endometriosis including acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional approaches, homeopathy, allergy management, and immune therapy (more about this one later); however, these alternative options are ALWAYS listed as a sort of “last resort” AFTER pain management using NSAIDs, hormone therapy (such as Gn-RH therapy which creates a “medical menopause” by stopping menstruation, Danazol a synthetic form of testosterone, and oral contraceptives also containing synthetic forms of estrogen and/ or progestins), surgery including laproscopy, laparotomy, and lastly hysterectomy. Yikes! This makes me sad…very sad. Especially since these modern medical treatments often do more harm than good by increasing the risk of other complications such as ovarian and breast cancers due to synthetic hormone use (13), (14) as well as organ damage from prolonged use of NSAIDs.(15), (16) By the way, under a doctor’s care, long-term NSAID use led to severe damage to my father’s pancreas and kidneys, resulting Stage IV kidney failure-- really frustrating!
The good news is that my father’s health has been miraculously restored through herbs and nutrition! Watch this video. And there are natural therapies that REALLY work for endometriosis too without the side effects and invasive, reactive response of traditional medical procedures. These alternative options should be the first course of action, in my opinion, but they don’t make as much money for our modern medical system as do surgeries and prescription meds, so most people are not steered in that direction until the medical community can do no more, or the patient decides to take her health into her own hands and seek a natural approach like The 10 Steps to Freedom from Endometriosis that I recommend here:
1. Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) & Zinc Test
Hair Mineral Tissue Analysis is an affordable, non-invasive screening that provides concrete measurements of mineral levels at a tissue level in your body as well as data about heavy metal toxicity. Mineral deficiencies or excesses must be corrected in order for hormones to be balanced. For instance, zinc and/ or selenium deficiency may:
- Adversely affect pineal gland (regulates sleep which affects hormone levels) (17)
- Reduce thyroid function (more about this below under Improve Thyroid Function) (18), (19)
- Increase PMS and fibroids (20), (21), (22)
- Reduce immune function (23), (24)
- Diminish nail and skin health (25), (26)
- Negatively impact hormone balance and utilization (estrogen dominance and testosterone deficiency in men and estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency in women) (27), (28), (29)
- Eliminate or decrease libido (30), (31), (32)
- Decrease fertility in both men and women (33), (34), (35)
- Lead to miscarriage, birth defects, and low milk supply in nursing women (36), (37), (38), (39)
Excess minerals such as copper may induce zinc deficiency and lead to excessive estrogen production, which aggravates endometriosis, fibroid formation, and PMS. Zinc deficiency can also result from the use of pharmaceuticals such as contraceptives (oral and IUD) or excess endogenous and exogenous estrogens or “foreign” estrogens (discussed later). White spots on the fingernails can indicate a zinc deficiency, but even if you lack spots, you may still be deficient, and a simple Zinc Test can also be performed as a preliminary step before HTMA. This link provides with you information about 21 key minerals that are tested with each HTMA, and the Hair Analysis tab on that same page will explain further about the procedures as well as why HTMA works. For the month of November 2014, you can SAVE 15% ($59 vs. $69) on Hair Analysis from Analytical Research Labs. Contact me to order either test today!
2. 28-Day Female Hormone Saliva Panel
Much like Hair Mineral Tissue Analysis, this 28-Day Female Hormone Saliva Panel paints a picture of your hormone balance and trends over the course of an entire month. This is critical because hormones fluctuate depending on where a woman is her cycle, and deficient or excess hormones at any stage can help with assessing the causes of endometriosis or other hormone-related issues in my clients. This chart shows a comparison between optimal female hormone ranges vs. actual values for me over the course of one monthly cycle. Women in my family tend to run low on progesterone, leading to estrogen dominance, which can be a concern with breast health. However, by running this saliva panel, I was able to see that I do although my progesterone levels are low, I have normal levels of estrogen vs. excess estrogen.
Most women with endometriosis suffer from estrogen dominance and/ or excess estrogens which can result from environmental toxins (xenoestrogens), plant sources (phytoestrogens), mineral imbalances, obesity, (fat produces estrogen and has recently come to be considered an endocrine organ as well) (40), (41) and genetics. Estrogen is a building, proliferating hormone which prepares the breasts and uterus to nourish a baby. Excess estrogen produces excess breast and uterine tissue, which contributes to endometriosis as well as unpleasant PMS symptoms. The saliva hormone panel provides solid data and a baseline to work from. It also measures DHEA, cortisol, and testosterone, which are other important hormones related to libido, stress, and overall hormone production. So, if you struggle with low sex drive, low motivation/ energy, or other menstrual irregularities aside from endometriosis, this would be a good test for you to order. The great news is that you can manage your health by yourself, without a doctor! Often my clients tell me that they would like to have certain lab tests run, but their doctor refuses to order those tests for them. Order your 28-Day Female Hormone Saliva Panel here today, along with any other lab tests you desire, all at a very reasonable cost! In fact, this month, you can SAVE OVER $400 on a Comprehensive Wellness Panel.
3. Eat an Unprocessed, Whole Food Diet & Avoid Exposure to Foreign Estrogens
I have written MANY blogs about proper nutrition including the need for “good fats” which are essential building blocks for hormones, so in the interest of simplicity, here is a list of blogs that you can peruse and explore at your own leisure. Fat Soluble Chlorophyll, wheat germ, evening primrose and fish oils are excellent sources of fat-soluble vitamins! For now, let’s talk about xenoestrogens. These foreign “hormones” are similar in structure to natural estrogens, but like hormone replacement therapy (not bioidential hormone replacement therapy, ie- BHRT), they wreak havoc on your health by disrupting your own hormone production, contribute to obesity, and may lead to preventable diseases such as cancer. (42)(43) They come in the form of pesticides, plastics (BPA, including the lining of canned foods), fuels, exhaust from vehicles, dry cleaning chemicals, industrial waste, meat from animals which have been fattened with estrogenic drugs, and countless other household and personal products which many of us use every day such as hand sanitizers and wipes. I carry a tube of SilverSol gel in my purse to use when I am at the grocery store or other places where hand sanitizer may be warranted. This article gives more information about sources of xenoestrogens and how to avoid them.
Another source of exogenous estrogens is from plants such as unfermented soy products, and since soy flour, oil, vegetable protein, etc. are in virtually ALL processed foods, eating fresh, whole, organic foods will reduce your exposure to excess estrogens. And if cancer and hormone disruption are not good enough reasons to avoid foreign estrogen exposure, then excess weight gain may be a better motivator. “Excess estrogen increases body fat. Fat tissue produces and stores more estrogen. The estrogen in turn, causes the body to increase fat tissue, fat tissue produces more estrogen, estrogen continues to produce fat tissue, and on and on the cycle goes.” (44) This is why fat is now being considered an endocrine organ as discussed above. This is bad news for women with endometriosis, so diet and lifestyle are critical to freedom from endometriosis!
This excellent blog on Estrogen Dominance by Catherine from Butter Nutrition contains more tips for balancing estrogen through nutrition and lifestyle.
4. Use Supplements to Balance Hormones
Proper nutrition is foundational to health, but in this day and age, it is NOT enough! Nutrient-depleted soils mean that our food has a lower nutritional content it did in the past. (45), (46) This translates into lower mineral levels in our bodies, which directly affect our health and ability to fight disease. We simply cannot eat enough food to get the nutrients that we need, and to top it off, most people suffer from some type of gut disorder (celiac, gluten-intolerance, lactose intolerance, leaky gut, etc.) that prevents them from digesting and assimilating the foods that they do eat. So, to start with, we need to get a base level of nutrients that is easily assimilated by the body. I recently found this wonderful product which contains 90 Essential Nutrients in a liquid, colloidal form (meaning these nutrients are able to penetrate the nucleus of the cells of your body) that are necessary for optimum health. Included in this product are Zinc, Selenium, B Vitamins (esp. B6 pyridoxine), EFAs, and fat-soluble vitamins (esp. Vitamin E), which are essential for hormone balance in the body.
In addition to the 90 Essentials, the following supplements assist with hormone balance:
- Symplex F-- contains powerful glandular combination to support HPTA Axis (intimately involved in hormone production)
- Thyroid Support-- another glandular product containing hypothalamus gland (not included in Symplex F; Hypothalamus PMG may added to Symplex F as a substitute for Thyroid Support)
- FemCo-- balances hormones with Chinese herbs
- Wild Yam-- plant-based form of progesterone
- Maca Root-- Peruvian hormone-balancer that will resolve deficient or excess hormones
- Capsella/ Shepherd’s Purse--stops excessive bleeding
- Chaste Tree-- also balances hormones, no matter if deficient or excess
- Nattokinase--breaks down blood clots & adhesions from endometriosis (47)
- Cruciferous Complete-- contains Indole-3-Carbinol which is a dervative of brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower and gives the body the raw material to inactivate estradiol, clinically reported better results using indole-3-carbinol than DIM (Diiindolymethane). Estradiol is the estrogen that stimulates endometriosis.
- Magnesium-- there are many forms, but I would stick with a plant-based source or an oil rubbed on the skin.
- Vitamin C-- if you take too much, you have loose stools, but this is just what many endometrial sufferers would love to have happen! And Vitamin C also nourishes the adrenal glands which assist with hormone balance.
- Fiber-- most people think “insoluble” fiber such as psyllium, but if you suffer from IBS (which is also common with endometriosis), you may benefit from avoiding high FODMAPs foods.
- Plenty of clear liquids (water, herbal teas, broths, water kefir, etc.-- but NOT pop of fruit juices)-- 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day. Hot water with lemon first thing in the morning is a great detoxifier that acts by stimulating the liver.
- Bowel stimulating herbs & supplements-- download this FREE eResource for a list
- Probiotics-- very important because congested bowels harbor nasty bacteria, including candida overgrowth (which is also a common plight of women with endometriosis-- I totally feel for you, ladies!) Probiotics can have a building action taken at lower doses and a cleansing action at higher dosages.
5. Improve Liver Function & Hormone Clearance
The liver stores toxins, including excess hormones, especially estrogen. “Liver clearance” or the excretion of excess estrogens is critical for balancing hormones and gaining freedom from endometriosis. Cruciferous Complete mentioned above is one supplement that helps with detoxifying the liver, and there are other foods and herbs that assist with this process as well. Red beet root and greens are wonder foods that work to thin the bile and increase bile flow. Bile flow into the small intestine stimulates peristalsis resulting in bowel regularity. I like to use Betafood for my clients. Using a supplement enables women to easily adjust the dosage and is more simple and cost effective than eating loads of beets daily-- I love beets, but even I get sick of eating large quantities every day! Doing a cleanse is a great way to kickstart the process of balancing hormones. Check out this blog which includes a FREE eResource about cleansing & Detox, along with a list of herbs that address liver congestion.
6. Get Your Bowels Moving Multiple Times Daily
Constipation is a documented side effect of endometriosis due to endometrial tissue blocking and binding up the bowels.(49) Endometriosis is oppressive by its own right, and having bound up bowels only adds insult to injury! Adequate, thin bile flow from the liver is just one component of healthy bowel function, but even before that, it is important to get the colon moving so that it can efficiently carry away the toxins from the liver. Many women with endometriosis have found help through implementing one or more of the following practices:
7. Eliminate Candida Overgrowth
“The intestinal microflora provide a strong defence against intestinal pathogens, and may be altered in inflammatory conditions that impact the gut, such as endometriosis….Endometriosis was associated with lower Lactobacilli concentrations and higher Gram-negative bacteria concentrations. Moreover, there was a higher prevalence of intestinal inflammation in monkeys with endometriosis in comparison to healthy controls. Endometriosis is associated with an altered profile of intestinal microflora in rhesus monkeys. Although the exact mechanisms linking endometriosis and the microflora are unknown, it is possible that the microflora were affected by endometriosis-associated intestinal inflammation.” (50)
Other studies conclude that “The endometrium is not a common resevoir for candida species and therefore, infection at this site is an unlikely cause of recurrent vaginal candidiasis.” (51) So, what is a woman to do with this conflicting information? If recurrent vaginal or bladder infections are a problem for you, then you have your answer. If not, then it wouldn’t hurt to act on the conservative side and eat a healthy, whole food, unprocessed diet that is low in added sugars and grains, which feed candida. Also, there is evidence that unhealthy immune function contributes to candida overgrowth-- after all, both pathogens grown in unhealthy environments, and the way to improve your internal biological terrain is through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Read this blog for another perspective on candida overgrowth and what to do about it. This FREE eResource contains information about supplements that can assist with eradicating yeast overgrowth as well.
8. Optimize Iodine Levels & Thyroid Function
A common thread between women with endometriosis is thyroid dysfunction. “Hypothyroidism — an underactive thyroid gland — was seven times more common in the endometriosis patients. In many cases, hypothyroidism may also be an autoimmune disorder, resulting from an immune system attack on the thyroid gland.” (52) Even worse news is that, “Women with endometriosis are at increased risk for a host of other diseases including chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, lupus, underactive thyroid, and rheumatoid arthritis, according to new government findings.” (53) Talk about bondage! Fortunately, there are common factors between all of these conditions including endometriosis: trace minerals and autoimmune dysfunction which we will discuss next in more detail. For now, it is important to recognize that selenium and iodine are critical for not only thyroid function but for reproductive organ health and prevention of fibroids in any part of the body, including breast and uterine tissues. Unfortunately, the USRDA for iodine is only 150 µg, which is nearly 100 times lower than the recommendation by Dr. David Brownstein who accounts for total body sufficiency vs. thyroid sufficiency alone. Furthermore, selenium is rarely recognized as having any influence over health; however, we it is absolutely critical for thyroid function with the thyroid having the highest concentration of selenium of all organs in the body. (54), (55), (56) For more information, read this blog about the thyroid, iodine sufficiency, and to download a FREE eResource about how to assess your iodine levels at home.
Other assessments on the thyroid can be run to determine how this small but powerful organ is functioning. A Complete Thyroid Panel (including TSH and several forms of T4 & T3. This is critical because while TSH may be normal, this hormone is produced by the pituitary, and T3 is the most active form of thyroid hormone but must undergo a conversion in the liver from T4, so all three hormones must be measured in order to get a complete picture of thyroid function). This thyroid panel includes thyroid antibodies. Additionally, autoimmune disorders of the thyroid respond well to cutting gluten out of the diet. (57) Contact me with questions, or to have me perform the Iodine Fulfillment Test for you.
9. Eradicate Autoimmune Disorders
Aside from autoimmune thyroid disease, endometriosis is associated with other autoimmune disorders too. There are a few recognized contributing factors for autoimmune dysfunction:
- Necrotic tissue-- damaged uterine tissue can begin to decay and if not contained, it can seep into the bloodstream. The immune system recognizes it as a foreign body (after all, wouldn’t it be a bad thing to have uterine tissue growing in other parts of your body?) Next the immune system begins to attack this tissue, then rather than stopping with the stray tissue, it identifies the source, in this case the uterus, and begins to attack the uterus itself.
- Leaky gut-- in this case, the immune system mistakes proteins leaked into the bloodstream from undigested foods for one of your organs. Endometrial tissues likely resemble a food protein much like how the molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. Antibodies to gliadin cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. (58)
The concept of protomorphogens (PMGs) is that the supplement acts as a sort of “decoy” for the auto antibodies, taking the stress off the tissue of origin and allowing a “window of opportunity” for healing with the use of herbs and supplements. Interestingly, endometrial cells have been found in every tissue of the body EXCEPT FOR THE SPLEEN, which makes Spleen PMG (59) a perfect fit for helping with endometriosis. Another protomorphogen that may be helpful is Utrophin PMG, which specifically targets uterine tissues.
Proteolytic enzymes, or enzymes used between meals on an empty stomach, also scavenge stray proteins from the blood and work in much the same way to heal organs affected by autoimmune disorders. Meanwhile, if leaky gut is the culprit, gut health can be restored through following the GAPS diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), or Paleo Diet, avoiding high FODMAPs foods, consuming foods high in pre-biotics, FOS, and beneficial bacteria, and supplementing with probiotics. There are also herbs which help soothe and re-build the gut, such as aloe vera, golden seal, marshmallow, and slippery elm. For more specifics about healing your gut, check out this FREE eBook by Chris Kresser.
10. Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)
As a last and final resort, I would recommend BHRT. This is ONLY after trying to work with the endocrine system to stimulate production of healthy progesterone levels. Feedback loops signaling a halt in hormone production can take place when using any hormone replacement therapy causing the endocrine system to down-regulate hormone production, meaning that the root of the problem is never addressed: “Why isn’t your body producing the correct amount of hormones in the first place?” This is a question I have asked myself for years, and I did use BHRT for a time which worked wonderfully, but I was troubled that the root issues were never addressed. Now I have the resources and education to get to the bottom of things, and I realize that a combination of nutritional and herbal supplements can be used to stimulate hormone signaling and production, along with diet and lifestyle practices that nurture my body in perfect balance!
But if you have addressed all of the issues above and have given it at least 6 months to change, then now may be the time to seek out a qualified Biological Hormone Replacement Therapist. Hormone guru, Dr. John Lee, MD reported in What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, "As an alternative, I have treated a number of endometriosis patients, some after failed natural progesterone and have observed considerable success." As during pregnancy, natural progesterone “retards the progress of the disease and occasionally cures it. With this in mind, other medical treatments attempt to create a state of pseudopregnancy... Progesterone stops further proliferation of endometrial cells.” Dr. Lee, advises “women to use natural progesterone cream from day six (6) of the cycle to day twenty-six (26) each month, using one ounce of cream per week for three weeks, stopping just before their expected period. This treatment requires patience. Over time (four to six months), however, the monthly pains gradually subside as monthly bleeding in the islets becomes less and healing of the inflammatory sites occurs. The monthly discomfort may not disappear entirely but becomes more tolerable. Endometriosis is cured by menopause. This technique is surely worth a trial, since the alternatives are not all that successful and laden with undesirable consequences and side effects." And just like my recommendations above take time, Dr. Lee says, "This treatment requires patience. Over time (four to six months), however, the monthly, the monthly pains gradually subside as monthly bleeding in the islets becomes less and healing of the inflammatory sites occurs. The monthly discomfort may not disappear entirely but becomes more tolerable."
Want more information about balancing hormones naturally? Download my eBook called “End the Hormone Madness.”
I trust this article has been helpful to women out there suffering from this horrific condition-- my heart goes out to you as I know you have endured a great deal of discomfort! My desire is that you have received newfound HOPE, INSPIRATION, and EMPOWERMENT to take your health into your own hands and fight for freedom from endometriosis! And when you are liberated, I would love to hear your story!
L’chaim-- To Life!