The Role of Nutrition in Endometriosis
By Dietician: Ashleigh Feltham @feedyourfuturedietetics
Did you know, up to half of women who are unable to conceive discover they have endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus (endometrium) begins to grow outside of the uterine wall. This lining can spread to surrounding organs, causing painful and/or heavy periods, pain during sex (dyspareunia), musculoskeletal pelvic pain throughout day-to-day life, and altered and/or painful urination and/or defecation.
Endometriosis is exceptionally prevalent; with 1 in 10 Australian women diagnosed with it throughout their life. There is a large range of symptom type and severity, leading to the potential for this statistic to be conservative and a large number of women to remain undiagnosed.
Endometriosis has no clear research indicating its cause or what causes progression of the disease. There is however, preliminary research showing particular dietary components which seem to have positive impacts on endometriosis:
- Dairy – potentially due to high vitamin D levels contained in its products.
- B vitamins – found in breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal products (specifically for their B12).
- Antioxidants – found in all fruits and vegetables, with particularly high concentrations found in dark coloured fruits and vegetables (berries, dark leafy greens, tomatoes and other red/purple vegetables).
- Fibre – Meeting 25-30g of fibre/day is key (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds). Fibre is critical for feeding your beneficial gut bacteria. These little critters make an enzyme which changes oestrogen’s function, reducing its stimulating role in endometrium growth.
- Healthy fats – particularly from fish or fish oil, have been shown to reduce endometriosis onset.
- Brassica Vegetables – containing insoles, which assists the liver’s ability to naturally detox excessive levels of oestrogen (thought to exacerbate endometrium growth). These vegetables include: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale, all of which are also high in fibre.
A 2007 study reported a link between high level red meat, trans fat and fruit consumption being shown to increase the risk of developing endometriosis. Scientists in this study speculate that the link with fruit was more due to consumption of the pesticides on the skin of the fruit rather than the fruit itself. Pesticides can be removed easily by washing fruit with water and baking soda, the alternative is purchasing organic products which inherently contain none of these damaging chemicals.
Research into whether soy impacts risk or endometriosis onset/progression due to its oestrogen-like receptors remains unclear. The current dietary recommendations remain that, particularly minimally processed soy products, are still safe to consume. Soy offers a great source of both protein and calcium, which is particularly critical for those following vegan diets. If you are not exceeding the recommended 2 serves of soy/day (with strong emphasis on consuming unrefined soy products rather than ultra-refined meat-like substitutes), the benefits still outweigh the potential risks at this point.
Take home message: nutrition alone is unlikely to solve endometriosis, but it does play a role in how it should be managed. Diet, in combination with support from your doctor, can help you to live your fullest, best life despite your condition.