Truth about Endometriosis?
What special recommendations would you make regarding diet for endometriosis sufferers? Do you think this is an autoimmune disease?
I don't know what the root cause of endometriosis is. Nobody does. It's a very poorly understood disease - the reason for its development is unclear, and the treatments only partly helpful. The symptoms can be debilitating or just very bothersome, and include severe cramping, painful menstruation, intestinal gas, and sometimes depression. The condition is characterized by tissue that looks and behaves just like the lining of the uterus, but grows elsewhere in the body: the abdominal cavity, the intestines, the ovaries, or the abdominal wall. And just like the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, this tissue builds up with hormonal changes over the month, then breaks down and bleeds. Blood in the abdomen causes intense inflammation that can be very painful. In some women, the result is severe scarring and organ dysfunction. Endometriosis is often associated with infertility, but hasn't been shown to cause it directly.
Endometriosis doesn't necessarily progress to damage within the pelvis, or contribute to infertility. Sometimes it's very hard to find it in the body, but more and more, doctors are learning that it's quite common, with as many as 2 to 50 percent of menstruating women living with endometriosis. So some people are starting to believe that mild endometriosis may actually be normal, and not need any treatment. In fact, some studies have found that in many instances it doesn't spread and grow worse over time at all.
The most popular theory about endometriosis rests on the idea that menstrual fluid sometimes moves backward and up through the fallopian tubes during menstruation, and out into areas within the pelvis. There, the discarded tissue seems to implant and begin to grow. Another view holds that the ova leaves behind bits of cells outside the uterus that can grow into misplaced endometrial tissue later on. The hypothesis you mention is one of the most recent - that the immune system is misbehaving, failing to kill off stray endometrial cells and then pumping up their growth. Women with painful endometriosis often make antibodies against their own tissue, as in autoimmune disease.
It's commonly held that pregnancy will protect against endometriosis, but recent studies have found no difference in incidence between women who have been pregnant and those who have not. It is clear that the condition is strongly affected by hormones, and hormone therapies are the favored treatment. So I'd suggest minimizing your intake of estrogen from outside sources, such as commercially raised animal foods. Eat soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and miso, which are rich in plant estrogens and seem to block more harmful forms of estrogen. Reduce the fat in your diet. Limit your alcohol intake. Make sure you get nourishing food and eat lots of fiber. Exercise regularly. Also, cut dairy foods from your diet. Try all this for one month and see whether it reduces the pain.
Stress will worsen this condition. Visualization, hypnotherapy, and Chinese medicine can all be helpful. You may want to consult with an herbalist as well. Dr. Christiane Northrup has an excellent chapter on endometriosis in "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" (Bantam, 1994). She suggests taking a multivitamin with plenty of B complex and magnesium (about 50 milligrams of each of the B vitamins and 400 to 800 milligrams of magnesium), in addition to maintaining a low-fat, high-fiber diet.