You’ve surely heard the saying “food is fuel” (early 2000s infomercials, we’re looking at you). But, have you heard the theory that food can be used as medicine?
Yep, as it turns out, they were right. Chicken soup is *actually* good for the soul (and by soul, we mean the immune system), and certain foods have the ability to boost moods, lift energy levels, promote healthy immune systems, and make your skin glow. But, did you know that our diets can also play a pivotal role in helping to manage endometriosis and other inflammatory conditions?
While our diet alone can’t cure endometriosis (aka endo), upping our fruit and veg (and incorporating other superpower-fueled superfoods such as salmon, quinoa, and nuts) can help to reduce and alleviate some of the most common symptoms of endometriosis, including:
- Abdominal bloating, aka ‘endo belly’
- Painful bowel movements
- Digestive issues
Read on to find out how the right foods can be used as medicine to help heal your body from the inside out by reducing the symptoms of endometriosis and other inflammatory conditions.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Endometriosis
If your endo pain often leaves you doubled over in pain, you might have inflammation to thank for that.
Inflammation and elevated oestrogen levels can team up to make endometriosis symptoms even worse. Interestingly, one of the most powerful tools that can be used to fight these two enemies of endometriosis (aka inflammation and high oestrogen levels) isn’t found in our medicine cabinets or at the pharmacy – it’s actually found in our fridges and pantries.
While a range of lifestyle factors can contribute to inflammation, what you eat also plays a large role, and can make your inflammation worse or better. Certain foods have been shown to promote inflammation within the body. These foods include:
- Processed meats, such as sausages, cured bacon, canned meats and salami
- Deep fried foods
- Foods high in added sugars – think lollies, chocolates and syrups
- Sugary drinks such as energy drinks and soft drinks
- Foods with trans fats, such as butter, hydrogenated oils, and pastries
We’re not here to tell you to ditch your favourite takeaway or force you to forego a few squares of chocolate when it’s that time of the month, but it’s important to remember that a diet high in inflammatory foods could increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, psoriasis and more too.
Just like certain foods can promote inflammation within the body, other foods have also been shown to decrease inflammation within the body. Examples of foods that are anti-inflammatory include:
- Colourful fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, apples, and leafy greens
- Fibre-rich whole grains, such as oats and brown rice
- Legumes, including chickpeas, beans, and lentils
- Omega-3, found in fatty fish
- Olive oil
- Herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon
In addition to lowering levels of inflammation in people with endometriosis, a diet that is low in processed foods and saturated fats and high in fresh, natural foods can also help to manage digestive health, balance intestinal bacteria, prevent obesity, and reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. It’s literally a win, win.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms of Endometriosis
Just when you thought endometriosis couldn’t get ANY more complex, enter gastrointestinal problems. Along with the usual pelvic pain associated with endo, many people with endometriosis have also reported experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms.
Some of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms people with endometriosis experience include:
- Abdominal pain
- Painful bowel movements
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Studies suggest that eating a diet low in inflammatory foods and high in anti-inflammatory foods reduces the gastrointestinal-related symptoms of endometriosis, whilst also providing other significant general health benefits.
Along with lowering levels of inflammation among people living with endometriosis, the Mediterranean diet is an example of an anti-inflammatory regimen that may help fight chronic diseases, maintain weight , and reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Functional Foods and Endometriosis
Eat more of this, eat less of that. Try more of these but, ooh – avoid those. Have these in moderation, and steer clear of those altogether. Capisce?
No. No capisce. Actually.
With food, it can feel like there are so many rules to follow when really, all we need to do is fill our tummies with what makes our bodies and brains feel good. Functional foods make doing that easier, and here’s how.
Functional foods are foods that provide additional benefits beyond their simple nutritional value and have a number of powerful benefits that are crucial to using food as medicine. They are typically high in all the things our doctors want us to eat more of, such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fibre.
But exactly how important are functional foods for managing symptoms of endometriosis? Here are just a few of the potential health benefits of functional foods:
- Reduce inflammation associated with endometriosis
- Help protect against diseases (including diabetes)
- Decrease rates of iron deficiency
- Prevent nutrient deficiencies
Examples of Functional Foods
Ready to start incorporating more functional foods in your diet but aren’t sure where to start? Well, chances are, you’re probably munching down on a few of them already. Functional foods can be found in foods such as:
- Fermented foods (think sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha)
What’s more, certain fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients – chemical compounds that protect us from chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease), reduce chronic inflammation, have anti-cancer effects and reduce our risk of heart disease.
Some examples of fruits and vegetables that are rich in phytonutrients include cranberries, red onions, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, blueberries, cauliflower, and mushrooms.
Remember, fruits and vegetables are king queen – the greater the variety, the better.
Trigger Foods for Endometriosis
Ever eaten something and noticed straight away that it didn’t agree with you? Whether that be in the way of a headache, nausea, the urge to drop whatever you’re doing and run straight to the bathroom, or general feelings of bleugh-ness (that’s a word…right?), you’re not alone. We’ve all been there.
Some individuals with endometriosis report that certain foods have been shown to exacerbate their symptoms by boosting inflammation and/or oestrogen levels. Some of the foods you may want to limit include:
- Fatty meats
- Processed foods
- Sugary drinks
It’s important to remember that endometriosis impacts everyone differently, and what might be a trigger for you may not be a trigger for another person living with the condition.
With this in mind, if you suspect a particular food might be playing a role in your endo flare-ups, we recommend booking an appointment with an experienced women’s health dietitian, like one of our Hazel experts. Our team will work with you to provide you with evidence-based guidance and personalised nutrition plans to help you identify what foods don’t play nicely with your endometriosis, and point you in the direction of foods that do.
The Effects of Alcohol on Endometriosis
So, if the right foods can be used as medicine for managing endometriosis, what exactly does that mean for alcohol?
Alcohol can commonly be perceived as the Big Bad Wolf in the medical world, and a lot of the time, for good reason! If you need a quick refresher on the less *ahem* pleasant effects alcohol can have on the body, we’re here to help.
Consuming chronically moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol can:
- Throw off the balance of our microbiomes
- Weaken the lining of intestinal walls over time
- Raise oestrogen levels (one of the key players responsible for causing inflammation in endometriosis)
- Increase insulin resistance (people living with PCOS or diabetes, beware!)
- Disrupt our gut health
More broadly, over time, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of:
- Liver cirrhosis
- Certain cancers
- Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder
- Premature death
- Increased healthcare costs
While the relationship between endometriosis and alcohol consumption is an area that still needs more research, studies have confirmed that excessive alcohol intake is one of the main risk factors for endometriosis.
Further research on the matter has highlighted that alcohol consumption directly impacts the immune system, leading to a slow, long-term inflammatory response.
Remember that thing about endometriosis being an inflammatory disease that’s affected by hormones? Because of the established link between inflammation and endometriosis, chronic inflammation has been shown to increase the promotion of the growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, which can contribute to the formation of endometrial lesions.
So, do you need to bid adieu to a glass of bubbles on special occasions, or a little vino with your favourite pasta? Nope.
While you don’t have to banish the booze for good, your guts will definitely thank you for enjoying your alcohol responsibly, and not overdoing it on the spicy margs every Saturday night.
As we always say at Hazel, everything can be enjoyed in moderation, and you don’t have to cut out the things you love cold turkey.
Supplements for Endometriosis
Okay, so you’re eating a balanced diet, steering clear of triggers, and moving your body in a way that serves you, but something still feels…off? We’ve got something else tucked up our sleeves for you.
While your primary source of nutrients should come from your diet, some supplements have attracted the attention of health professionals as a result of their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. Some examples of supplements you can incorporate into your regimen include:
- Magnesium: may reduce period and pelvic pain
- Vitamin B: may reduce the growth of endometriosis and decrease inflammation
- Fish oil: may result in a non-inflammatory balance in the body and help ease chronic pain symptoms
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to endometriosis – so supplements that may work for one individual may have the opposite effect for you. Before beginning your journey with supplements, we always recommend consulting the help of a healthcare provider, such as a clinical naturopath, to help identify what supplements could benefit you and your lifestyle.
Finding Nutrition Help at Hazel
At Hazel, our collaborative care team, comprised of doctors, dietitians, naturopaths, nutritionists, and dietitians focus on holistically healing the whole you. We recognise the role that adequate nutrition plays in all aspects of an individual’s life, especially the management of inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS, and we take your own unique situation into account when preparing your comprehensive care plan.
Ready to take the first step on your journey to better nutritional health and healing your body with food? Join Hazel today.
The Bottom Line
Endometriosis can sometimes be a pain in the guts (literally), and inflammation can make it all the worse.
However, you don’t have to accept chronic inflammation and other painful endo symptoms as a fact of life. Along with leading an active lifestyle, getting enough sleep and upping your water intake, incorporating a wide range of anti-inflammatory foods into your diet can help to manage the symptoms of endometriosis and reduce inflammation.
Before making any drastic changes to your diet and lifestyle, we recommend booking a consultation with an expert in women’s health conditions, like one of our Hazel doctors, dietitians or naturopaths. Our team of caring professionals will work with you (and each other) to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your specific needs and symptoms.
FAQ: Endometriosis and Inflammation
What Foods Should I Eat if I Have Endometriosis?
The most crucial part of using food as medicine is not to over-complicate things for yourself. We recommend incorporating a mix of whole foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables into your diet, and avoiding foods that raise inflammation. Studies show that adults should aim to consume 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit each day.
To put it simply: more greens, fewer deep-fried foods.
I Have Endometriosis. Does That Mean I Have Inflammation?
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Because inflammation and endometriosis are so closely linked, inflammation can play an integral role in the growth and development of endometrial tissue, and endometriosis can also release inflammation in areas of the body where endometrial tissue is found, and can also trigger an inflammatory reaction from the immune system.
Experiencing inflammation doesn’t always mean you have endometriosis. However, because endometriosis is an inflammatory condition, if you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, you’re likely to experience varying degrees of inflammation throughout your cycle.
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