Endometriosis is a disease that has been brought up to me more and more lately, whether the presence is becoming more common, or more women are just receiving the correct diagnosis of it, I have had so many more questions of “what can I do to feel better again?” Endometriosis is defined lesions or endometrial tissue that has formed outside the uterus. An estimated 176 million women of reproductive age are affected worldwide.
Where it gets complicated is that every woman can experience different symptoms and some may not have any symptoms at all. And the severity of the symptoms does not always correlate to the severity of the endometriosis. Typical symptoms that can be seen with endometriosis range from infertility, pelvic pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, chronic fatigue, and dysmenorrhea. Why is the diagnosis so difficult? Because many other diseases can present with the same or similar symptoms. A laparoscopy is seen as one of the best objective and conclusive ways to diagnosis it.
The underlying cause of endometriosis is unknown, but it is though to likely be multifactorial. Some of the possible causes are genetics, epigenetic, or environmental exposures. There are many ways to treat endometriosis and can range from surgery to the use of oral contraceptives and hormones. Chinese medicine can be used with traditional western treatments or on its own depending on the stage of endometriosis. But, the combination of both Eastern and Western medicine is a very effective way of both treating endometriosis symptoms and relieving some of the negative side effects of western treatments.
Speaking just as an acupuncturist, I can only speak for the Chinese medical side, but the goal of the treatments for endometriosis is to help your body learn how to regulate itself and find a hormonal balance. The length of time required for acupuncture treatments will differ depending on each individual women’s response, but typical treatments consists of weekly acupuncture for 4-6 months or until a regular cycle is regained. The aim of the treatments is to resolve the issue at its root, and to understand why the imbalance occurred in the first place. Some of the known benefits of acupuncture
Diet is another extremely powerful and important tool in treating endometriosis. In a treatment for acupuncture I will go through specific dietary recommendations for each person specifically, but in general the goal is to create a diet that reduces inflammation. Cutting out or just back on refined foods, sugars, alcohol, and red meat is a great place to start.
When talking about this endometriosis another important topic to cover is estrogen dominance. The symptoms of estrogen dominance are similar to those of endometriosis and include: great swelling and tenderness, anxiety and mood swings, fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, slow metabolism, water retention and weight gain, loss of libido, insomnia, thickening of endometrial lining, increased risk of fibroids and ovarian cysts. Often estrogen dominance is present in women with endometriosis as well as women after menopause.
Estrogen dominance can occur when progesterone declines like before menopause, and estrogen levels remain the same or increase. So relatively estrogen is higher relatively than progesterone.
From a Chinese medicine point of view these symptoms can be related to Qi/and or Blood Stagnation, Yang deficiency, or damp. A good way to look at this is the weak yang (often Kidney Yang) relates to low progesterone and thus estrogen dominance, which correlates to the stagnation of yin (blood or damp). So Yin and Yang correlate with each other, when one is too high the other becomes too low. A real life example to understand the Yin/Yang relationship is when you are boiling water, when the heat (yang increase) is too high the water doesn’t just heat up it evaporates (yin decrease).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney, Spleen, and Liver play major roles in hormone balance and all can be seen in the symptoms of estrogen dominance. The Kidney symptoms are water retention, low libido, and insomnia. The Spleen symptoms correlate with swelling, slow metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, and fuzzy thinking. And the Liver is present in the mood swings, anxiety, and irritability.
So acupunctures focus would be to strengthen the Kidney Yang and the Spleen Qi, and then calm the Liver, as well as move the stagnations causing the pain and fibroids/ovarian cysts. But, again the diet can be a major help in treating these symptoms and should be utilized in conjunction with acupuncture.
To start lets focus on the liver, it is the best way to defend against estrogen dominance because it holds the job of eliminating excess estrogen. So what hurts the Liver? Go figure alcohol and fatty foods. Minimizing alcohol and fatty foods and increasing your intake of bitter greens can be very beneficial. Artichokes, beets and apples also support the Liver. Drinking water with lemon juice first thing in the morning can also calm the Liver.
Eating plenty of vegetables (especially cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts- al which improve estrogen metabolism), protein and healthy fats are important in a hormone balancing diet, but fiber is also crucial so the excess estrogen can be excreted through your bowels.
As far as supplements go Vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential in the metabolism of estrogen