Endometriosis: can you manage it naturally?
From pain medications, the pill, surgery to the ‘just put up with it’ approach, conventional treatment alone can leave women feeling disempowered and in pain. Here I share my professional, personal and holistic tips to managing endometriosis naturally.
Debilitating period pain, fainting and diarrhoea with period pain, lower back pain, heavy bleeding, irregular bleeding, abdominal swelling, irritability, pain with sex, pain with urination, pain with bowel motions… These are just some of the symptoms women can experience with endometriosis. Oh the fun.
It breaks my heart that 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis. According to an Australian study in 2014, the overall cost of endometriosis is approximately $13,000 annually per woman. This is not even factoring in what it costs to the individual – pain management, sick leave, childcare due to chronic pain, medications, seeing a multitude of health practitioners. It’s a debilitating condition that needs some focus, and a bloody good plan!
If you’ve stumbled across this article, chances are you (or someone you know) have already had a diagnosis of endometriosis and/or are exploring treatment options. I personally was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2005 and have managed this successfully, even though at times challenging. Read ‘My personal story with endometriosis – and how I manage it’.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition (and possibly autoimmune) where the normal lining of the uterus (endometrium) that is shed each month during a period, finds its way outside of the uterus. It can grow throughout the pelvic cavity and/or on and around the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and bladder and can cause pain (often severe), scarring and infertility.
How is diagnosis made?
Diagnosis is made via a laparoscopy, where a small telescope is inserted through the navel so that the surgeon is able to see whether there’s presence of endometriotic tissue around the pelvic cavity. If there is, in most cases this is removed at the time of the surgery. Sometimes, having a pelvic ultrasound may reveal endometriotic lesions and cysts around the ovaries and suggests a diagnosis. An official diagnosis, however, requires laparoscopy.
What’s the current treatment?
At this stage, endometriosis is about management rather than cure. Medications, surgery and complementary treatments are on offer. All with varying success. In my practice and experience, if an individualised and holistic approach is taken for each woman, then positive results can be long-lasting.
What is my approach?
I take a case by case approach. I cannot stress the importance of individualised holistic treatment. Even though there are ‘blanket’ treatments, each woman has unique symptoms and life experiences and these need to be factored in. I have found that hormonal medications, intrauterine devices such as the Mirena, pain medications and surgery are warranted in some cases, but should not be used as the sole treatment. Complementary medicine ie: nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture etc are fast becoming effective management for endometriosis with and without conventional medicine. In a nutshell, here is my go-to approach to managing endometriosis naturally…
1. Reduce the inflammation
Seeing as endometriosis is an inflammatory condition it makes sense to reduce the inflammatory process in the most supportive way possible. Alongside effective and natural anti-inflammatories, it’s important to investigate what other factors are driving the inflammation as well. Good questioning and functional pathology tests by your practitioner can reveal hormonal imbalances, chronic adrenal stress, gut disorders or dysbiosis, environmental toxin exposure or nutritional deficiencies. Examples of treatments include: herbal anti-inflammatories such as curcumin; specific-strain probiotics; herbal adaptogens such as withania; and balancing oestrogen excess with herbs like peony or vitex. Investing in these tests and treatments can make a very big difference long-term.
2. Address nutrition
There’s no point in doing all the anti-inflammatory work when you’re indulging in a junk food diet and are deficient in essential nutrients that help heal endometriosis – which include zinc, magnesium, omega 3, vitamin D and iodine. You may need to test and supplement these short to long term. It has also been shown that reducing sugar, gluten and dairy (casein) intake can reduce pain in endometriosis. Not always the case for everyone, but most definitely worth trying.
3. Address stress, fear and unresolved emotions
This was the turning point for me and many of my clients. I had addressed the above physical imbalances but still suffered immense pain. I discovered that addressing the emotional fear around experiencing the pain each month helped significantly. I explored other healing modalities such as reiki, kinesiology, EFT (emotional freedom technique) and counselling. I recommend this for my clients too, as chronic stress contributes to inflammation. It also makes you feel exhausted, emotionally unstable and disempowered. Your body struggles to heal in a state of fear so please do what it takes to manage your stress. I find this step is almost always overlooked, but is the key to reducing the inflammation caused by unresolved emotions.
4. Nourish the soul
Women with endometriosis suffer not just physically but psychologically. At times it can consume your headspace all day. Therefore it’s so important to do things that make you feel good, promote self-love and encourage the body to heal. These things are individual and can include creative hobbies, dancing, learning a new skill, starting a meditation course, setting personal boundaries, deepening your relationships, taking time off. Nourishing the soul is a lifelong practice and is the very thing that needs to stay present in your life even if you don’t get the results you want as quickly as you’d like. For me personally, this contributed significantly to my long-term healing (read about my experience with endometriosis).