What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease that occurs when uterine tissue similar to uterine tissue (from the endometrium – the lining of the womb you shed every month) grows in parts of the body where it does not belong. Most often this is in a woman’s pelvis (uterus, ovaries, vaginal wall, peritoneal cavity etc) but it has also been found in other random places such as the lungs, eyes and even under fingernails.
The three types of Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a mysterious disease of inflammation, immune dysfunction and potential microbial disease/ imbalance that is categorised in three ways:
- Peritoneal Superficial Endometriosis – where Endometriosis lesions involve the peritoneum, which is a thin film that cloaks the inner surfaces of the pelvic cavity.
- Ovarian Endometrioma – otherwise known as ‘chocolate cysts’. They form when endometrial tissue grows inside the ovaries.
- Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis – When endometrial tissue is found to grow deep(more than 5mm) under the peritoneum, within the organs and tissues. It is often found in the uterovesical fold (between the bladder and the uterus), in the Pouch of Douglass, between the vagina and rectum, on the uterosacral ligaments, bowel, appendix, ureter, bladder, or the pelvic wall. It has also been known to grow into nerves including the sciatic or obturator nerves.
Who gets Endometriosis?
According to recent statistics, 1 in 10 women around the world have endometriosis. And since those statistics are based on diagnosed endometriosis, the numbers are bound to be much higher as a formal diagnosis cannot be made without a laparoscopy.
Endometriosis is a disease that does not discriminate. It can be found in adolescent girls, women of reproductive age and even women that have already been through menopause. It can be silent in some women who show no symptoms at all, but chronic in others. These are the women forced to live life with consistent severe pain, fatigue and sometimes infertility.
Whilst Natural therapists are becoming more skilled at quickly being able to identify Endometriosis when they see it, this disease requires a formal diagnosis by s specialist gynaecologist. Some of the tests used to diagnose the disease include:
- Blood tests –useful markers for Endometriosis in the blood include inflammatory markers (CRP, ESR, cytokines etc); CA-125, iron panels, autoimmune markers, thyroid function markers and hormone levels.
- Deep Endometriosis Ultrasound – Ultrasounds can reveal a lot without the need to have surgery with the work of expert sonographers and gynaecology specialists.
- Physical exam – An experienced gynaecologist can perform a pelvic exam where they palpate to feel for any abnormalities such as scar tissue or cysts.
- Laparoscopy – this keyhole surgery is the gold standard for Endometriosis diagnosis. It can be used for both diagnosis and removal of endometrial tissue.
What causes Endometriosis?
Scientific research has come a long way in the last ten years when it comes to Endometriosis. And yet there is still no one answer to this question. There are several known key factors that increase the risk of women developing the disease. These include:
- Genetic pre-dispositions – Endometriosis runs in families. Many studies have also demonstrated this is particularly more likely if your maternal grandmother had it.
- Poor methylation status – which effects the expression of specific genes associated with progesterone resistance, apoptosis, oestrogen excess and oestrogen metabolite clearance.
- Chemical/pesticide/dioxin exposure – Not only in your life but potentially from when in utero (maternal exposure).
- High levels of Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) & gram-negative bacteria in the pelvis – that often stem from a leaky gut.
- Immunological Dysfunction – often caused by altered gene expression (from exposure to environmental toxin), a poorly functioning microbiome or previous viral exposure.
- Chronic stress – which increases inflammation and depletes sex hormones.
- A history of childhood and/or sexual abuse – Many scientific studies have shown that early abuse increases the chance of endometriosis later on in life anywhere from 10-30%.
An naturopathic approach to Endometriosis
Despite their being no current cure for Endometriosis, naturopathic medicine greatly can help relieve the symptoms caused by the underlying pathology. It does this by:
- Testing – By working with the wider medical community and private labs, there is a lot you can find out about your state of Endometriosis (via blood tests, ultrasounds, stool tests and functional laboratory panels).
- Dietary changes – gluten, dairy and amine free diets improve symptoms dramatically.
- Nutritional and herbal medicines – supplementation plays an important role in the healing process as they restore the body back to a place in which it can heal itself. Different nutrients and herbs work to:
- System Restoration – of general organ function, including the digestion, microbiome, immune system, detoxification and hormones.
- Enhancement of detoxification & Methylation pathways – imperative to the clearance of contributing factors such as excess oestrogen and heavy metals.
- Reducing inflammation – via diet and natural medicines as per above.
- Treat underlying infections or imbalances – such as SIBO, bacterial or parasitic infections
- Reduce histamine levels – that increase Endometriosis symptoms
- Support hormone balance and function – by supporting the Thyroid and Adrenal Glands
- Reducing overall stress levels – Stress is a well known trigger of endometriosis.
Are you interested in knowing more about how in how you can overcome symptoms of Endometriosis? If you are please check out my specific and dedicated posts on this blog.