.I’ve talked a lot about my struggles with mental health in the past, but I’m less vocal about one of the root causes: endometriosis. I’ve been living with endometriosis since I was twelve years old, though it took nearly a decade of condescending, dismissing remarks from doctors to get a diagnosis.
The first time I complained to a doctor about the pain that came along with my period, he dramatically rolled his eyes and said, “Welcome to womanhood. What you’re experiencing is normal and you’ll be experiencing it for the next 40 years.”
And for a few years, I believed him.
It wasn’t until I was fourteen and my friends started to get their periods and we compared war stories that I finally realized that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal compared to the mild symptoms my friends were dealing with.
From there, I began actively advocating for myself at doctor’s appointments, only to be dismissed as dramatic or having a low pain tolerance. Through my own research, I self-diagnosed myself with endometriosis at 16, but I couldn’t get a doctor to even give that idea the time of day until my early twenties.
It took years of trying to convince my doctors that something was actually wrong, but in college I finally got my endometriosis diagnosis and the validation I’d been seeking for years.
What is endometriosis?
I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to pretend to be one. If you want a really scientific breakdown watch the video below. Otherwise, I wrote out how I usually explain endo to my friends.
Long story short: Endometriosis is a disease in which the endometrium grows outside of the uterus.
For those of you who (like me) never had a comprehensive education on women’s health, here’s a breakdown of what that means:
Basically, every teen / adult who has a normally functioning reproductive system and a uterus will get a period each month. But that period is only a short window of their reproductive cycle.
Before they get their period, their body will line their uterus with endometrium to help prepare for a potential baby. If there is no pregnancy, the body sheds that tissue through a period.
For a person with endometriosis, the endometrium doesn’t just grow in their uterus. It grows in the bowels, on the ovaries, on the uterus, and sometimes even in the heart or brain.
The growth itself can be painful, oftentime fusing organs together or evolving into cysts, but the real pain comes during the period. Endometrium that is growing inside of the uterus can easily be shed and removed through the body via the birthing canal, whereas endometrium growing outside of the uterus has nowhere to go.
What are symptoms of endometriosis?
For me, endometriosis looked like this:
- Fainting spells at the onset of my period
- Vomiting at the onset of my period
- Intense pain in my upper legs, groin, stomach, and back
- Increased fatigue
- Extreme bloating at the beginning of my period
- Severe breast pain the days leading up to my period (like even just walking too aggressively will send a shooting pain through the tatas.)
Other people experience things like pain using the bathroom, diarrhea, pain during sex, extreme mood swings, hot flashes, and infertility.
While my symptoms aren’t gone, the strategies in this post have helped reduce them.
How do doctors treat endometriosis?
Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to endometriosis. The two most common treatments, though, are hormonal intervention and surgery.
For people who respond well to hormonal intervention, birth control can go a long way in reducing endo symptoms, or in rare cases, eliminating them altogether.
I’ve tried hormonal intervention, but due to issues I was already experiencing with my mental health it wasn’t a good fit.
Personally, I’m against hormonal birth control on a whole for a handful of reasons (that’s another post for another time, but a lot of my opinions are based on reading The Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden), but for people who are comfortable with hormonal interventions, it can be an elegant solution for treating endometriosis.
The second option I haven’t experienced myself and that’s a laparoscopic surgery to remove the endometrium and scar tissue. In college I went in for a consultation about the surgery, and with the doctor determined that it’s something I wanted, just not yet. In short, the surgery isn’t a permanent solution and in some cases only provides a few months of relief. For me, the risks of going under anesthesia and the costs weren’t worth it.
With that said, I do plan on getting the surgery in the future if I ever decide to try and conceive. Endometriosis can decrease fertility and increase the chances of a miscarriage.
Now, for some people, the surgery is a near permanent solution. I’ve talked to a handful of women who have had the surgery and years later their symptoms haven’t reappeared. Their stories make me want to go forth with the surgery ASAP, but as of now my insurance doesn’t see it as a necessary procedure. With that in mind, it’d cost more than I’m willing to pay for a 50/50 shot at comfort.
Treating endometriosis homeopathically
OK, so here are where things are about to get ~controversial~. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can heal your body through nutrition, largely because I’ve seen my own body heal from making intentional changes to my diet.
In addition to nutrition, I’ve also made lifestyle changes that have helped greatly reduce my symptoms, too.
Let me say this: I’ve done trial and error and things that have worked beautifully for some of my friends have done nothing for me. Likewise, something that has worked for me may do absolutely nothing for you. A lot of this is backed up by anecdotal evidence instead of science, so keep that in mind, too.
With that out of the way, here are the changes I’ve made and the logic behind them. But fair warning: there are some hippy-dippy suggestions. I definitely had to get over a healthy amount of skepticism before getting behind them myself.
Cut out meat
This is by far the most controversial piece of advice in this article. Surprisingly, my personal decision to not eat meat has offended more people than I could possibly keep count of. With that said, it’s arguably one of the best choices I’ve made in my life.
I read that meat could make endometriosis worse, so I cut it out. Immediately, my body began to rejoice. My pain went from a 50/10 to a 12/10, I stopped fainting, and my acne disappeared.
With those great results I decided to cut out all meat and for about three months transitioned to only eating turkey and fish, to only eating fish, to ceasing consumption of all animals altogether.
The next three months I experience the easiest, least painful periods of my life. While it wasn’t a permanent solution, my endometriosis has never been as bad as it was when I was eating meat.
Basically, meat can cause inflammation in the body and inflammation paired with endometriosis = misery.
Cut out animal byproducts
The next logical step for me was to try a vegan diet. Now full disclaimer: I’ve never been a “perfect” vegan. I won’t eat meat at all, but I don’t grill waiters when I go out to eat, I will eat any meat free dish that a friend or relative cooks for me to be polite, and I will even have a slice of birthday cake if it’s offered to me, but I do cook exclusively vegan food at home and then just focus on doing the best I can do outside of the house.
Again, this change gave me a few great months before my pain returned. Not only that, but it also had the most phenomenal effect on my skin. On the months where I eat 100% plant-based, I will have clear, blemish free skin. When I do consume something containing dairy, my chin and jaw break out in the next few days.
Like meat, a lot of animal products can cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation is often negligible enough not to notice when you’re really healthy. But, again, with endometriosis any amount of inflammation is enough to ruin your week.
Eat whole foods
A lot of people prefer the term “plant-based” over “vegan” because a whole-food plant-based diet more strongly implies a healthy diet.
In short, you want to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. Processed foods often have preservatives or not-so-great ingredients added to them. Whereas if you’re eating a largely whole food diet you’re getting food in its most natural state.
Eating foods that aren’t processed and as close to their natural form as possible nearly forces you to eat healthier. Whole foods = fruits and veggies.
Cut out added sugar
This one has been the hardest for me, and one that I’ve got a lot of room for improvement on. With that said, like meat and dairy, sugar basically feeds inflammation in your body, and that added inflammation really magnifies the pain associated with endo.
I really don’t do a great job at this (I’m sipping on a coffee with almond milk and sugar now), but I am a lot better than I used to be.
Supplement with magnesium
I cannot say enough good things about magnesium. Taking a magnesium supplement was the first tip I took from Period Repair Manual and saying that it changed my life would be an understatement.
Given this post is about endometriosis, you may think I’m about to say that magnesium cured me.
Well, not quite.
Yes, it’s decreased my period related symptoms slightly thanks to the effect it has on inflammation, but the real life changing part is that magnesium has done wonders for my anxiety and depression.
I usually get low about once a month or so. Since starting magnesium in June I haven’t had any significant bouts of depression. Even amidst my team at work falling apart, my workload skyrocketing, and a breakup I stayed healthy.
Stop using plastic
OK, here is where I’m going to get a little bit crazy. I was reading through forums and read about eliminating plastic from your life to reduce your symptoms.
In short, plastic can contain chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors which alters the way your body processes hormones.
Again, if things are all good in your body, the effect might be negligible. For people who are already dealing with hormonal issues, these endocrine disruptors can be enough to push their disease to the next level.
I switched from using a reusable plastic bottle to glass, I got a new shower curtain liner that’s plastic free, swapped most of my tupperware for glass containers, and donated a bunch of plastic products I had lying around my house.
While I haven’t noticed any huge changes doing this yet, I’ve found that I actually prefer non-plastic products.
Focus on gut health
I’ve been all about gut health ever since I learned about kombucha. Basically, for people eating the Standard American Diet, your gut is probably 10/10 out of whack.
A healthy gut goes a long way in ensuring a healthy body.
Less than optimal gut health is linked with endometriosis and a slew of other diseases. (Did you know they call the gut our second brain? Healing your gut also helps cure anxiety and depression!)
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
We’ve talked about foods that cause inflammation, but there are also foods that fight inflammation in your body, too.
Garlic, turmeric, lemon, and onions are my favorite anti-inflammatory foods, but there are anti-inflammatory foods for every preference.
Now, just because you have turmeric tea with breakfast doesn’t cancel out a big steak dinner with onion rings and a milkshake on the side, but anti-inflammatory foods can help neutralize small amounts of inflammation in the body.
I’m still learning…
Like I said, I’m not a doctor and some of these methods aren’t scientifically backed. But for me, they work and they’re worth it. I’m not telling you that you have to make these changes to heal yourself. Or that they are definitely going to work for you.
But I do recommend researching them further and deciding if any are a good fit for you and your situation.
If any of you have endo, I’d love to hear what works for you!