There are steps you can take to help manage your symptoms, through diet, exercise and complementary therapies
As discussion about endometriosis seeps more into the mainstream, women are sharing their experiences of living with and managing their condition, and many have found that functional medicines are key. There are lifestyle changes that those living with the condition can do to help themselves, ranging from diet to exercise, complementary therapies and meditation. After having surgery, Amee Leigh Atkins, 25, was frustrated with how she still felt. “I just felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with my recovery. So, I had a huge shift in my attitude and tried as many natural therapies as I could. I started with acupuncture, which has been incredible, I slowly weaned myself off the drugs and overhauled my diet. I learned to listen to my body on every level that I can.”
Monica Karpinski, founder and editor of The Femedic, a website devoted to reporting women’s health, organised an event to promote the different lifestyle options available to women living with the condition, because she felt they were not widely known enough. She says, “Women living with the condition face the daily task of managing their symptoms and doing what they can to improve their quality of life in a world that often doesn’t recognise their pain or take their experiences seriously. Above all, there is no focus on women with endometriosis living joyful and meaningful lives.”
But, she says, there is hope. “Techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, along with new devices designed for comfort and convenience, are changing the conversation about endometriosis to one that focuses on helping women to thrive rather than feeling trapped by their symptoms.”
The functional medicine – or complementary medicine – approaches to managing endometriosis aim to bring hormonal balance back to the body through diet and lifestyle, rather than mask or suppress symptoms with drugs. We are all genetically different so no one plan fits all, however the basics of any endometriosis plan would involve improving oestrogen metabolism, which is central to helping to manage this oestrogen-sensitive disorder.
Weight is an important part of treatment as adipose fat can contribute to excess oestrogen, so a low sugar and low saturated fat diet is the first step to consider.
Supporting the liver, our major hormone detoxification organ, is vital to reduce the recirculation of hormones, which can lead to oestrogen dominance. Gut bacteria is also integral in supporting the liver’s hormone removal processes, so probiotics may be helpful. Supplements such methylfolate (highly absorbable folic acid) that can help support healthy methylation (liver detoxification) may also be useful to help detoxify oestrogen.
Because diets low in vegetables/fruit, and those high in red meat are thought to be linked to endometriosis, it’s also key to improve our fruit and veg intake and cut back on red meat.
Jessica Duffin, author of This Endo Life, says that removing sugar and caffeine from her diet has helped.
All of us benefit from including daily movement into our lives, but it might feel challenging for those struggling with the symptoms of endometriosis. A recent study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yoga not only helped endometriosis patients with chronic pelvic pain, but also improved their overall quality of life – easing not only some physical pain, but also helping to calm an anxious mind. In particular, the wide knee child’s pose is especially good to help ease cramping and anxiety.
“Yoga, in particular Yin and Somatic Yoga, has helped me manage my endometriosis symptoms and recovery in so many ways,” says yoga teacher Bridie Appleby-Gunnill, who has created an online platform, Flow. Grow. Glow. “Yoga has taught me how to breathe through a pain wave rather than tense up. It has helped me incorporate gentle movement into my life which is key when you’re having an endo flare up and spending days in bed (bed yoga is a thing!). And most importantly it has helped me reform a healthy relationship with my body when sometimes it feels like it's ruling the direction of my life and mind.”
Several studies have concluded that acupuncture can have measurable therapeutic effects on women suffering with endometriosis. In a foreword to Coping with Endometriosis, Hilary Mantel writes, “Reflexology, autogenic training – a range of therapies can help with with pain control, with the side effects of drug treatment, and with self-image.”
It’s important to see a specialist who can help and advise, but also to record and log your own symptoms, so you know what works for you.
Read more from Moody Month’s endometriosis mini-series: