What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a painful condition impacting over 830,000 Australian women and girls and over 176 million women worldwide (1, 6, 8). With endometriosis, inflammation and oestrogen dominance impacts tissue similar to the uterine lining and encourages growths in other areas of the body outside the womb such as in the pelvic cavity, on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines or bowel (8).
Treatment commonly consists of medical and surgical therapies to remove the endometrial-like tissue. Painkillers and hormonal treatments are frequently offered to sufferers, but unfortunately up to 50% of women will experience recurrence of symptoms within 5 years (2). Many find the years prior to diagnosis extremely frustrating as they seek validation for their symptoms.
The exact causes of endometriosis remain unknown, however family history, retrograde menstruation, metaplasia (conversion of normal pelvic tissue into endometriosis), alcohol intake, and early onset of periods (prior 11 years of age) may play a role (6).
A third of women will be diagnosed after being unable to fall pregnant or inadvertently during an operation.
Common symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Abdominal, lower back or pelvic pain during periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain on going to the toilet
- Ovulation pain, including pain in the thigh or leg
- Heavy bleeding or bleeding longer than usual
- Bleeding from the bladder or bowel
- Increased abdominal bloating, constipation, and other digestion issues such as small intestine bacteria overgrowth
- Tiredness or lack of energy
- Anxiety and depression
How endometriosis affects athletes
Endometriosis impacts athletes at all levels. Olympian Elinor Baker along with many women in sport advocates are working to improve the awareness of endometriosis in sport. If you suffer from endometriosis its likely you may be able to relate to Elinor’s painful symptoms “as though someone was ringing out my organs as if they were a tea towel” (9). The fatigue, pain and heavy bleeding experienced with endometriosis can severely impact athletes and their ability to compete and train. It is not uncommon for athletes to miss competitions due to surgeries, muscle cramps and debilitating pain.
Natural treatment options for endometriosis
Our understanding of endometriosis is deepening, and holistic treatment approaches are showing promising results. Symptom reduction and improvements in quality of life have been demonstrated through a food first and a targeted treatment approach including herbal and nutritional medicines.
By reducing underlying inflammation, improving the immune response and clearing excess oestrogen, women can reduce their severity of symptoms, scaring and formation of endometrium growths.
Dietary interventions alone have reported reductions in painful symptoms and bowel complaints in up to 75% of women (4, 5). Increased consumption of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and a combination of vitamins and minerals have also been shown to have positive effects on endometriosis-associated symptoms (8). Other nutraceuticals such as resveratrol may improve endothelial wound healing while phytochemicals such as Diindolylmethane (DIM) or calcium-D-glucarate may help support clearance of excess oestrogen and relieve pain associated with periods in sufferers of endometriosis (7).
It can be reassuring to know that with the right self-care and a holistic approach to health, you can continue to achieve life goals and sporting success. An early diagnosis and understanding of your condition may results in better management of your symptoms. For further information contact our Sports Naturopath Kate Smyth for an individual assessment here
- Endometriosis in Australia: prevalence and hospitalisations. AIHW
- Hickey M, Ballard K, Farquhar C. Endometriosis BMJ 2014; 348 :g1752 doi:10.1136/bmj.g1752
- Huijs, E., & Nap, A. (2020). The effects of nutrients on symptoms in women with endometriosis: a systematic review. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 41(2), 317-328. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S147264832030225X
- Marziali M, Venza M, Lazzaro S, et al. Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of painful endometriosis related symptoms? Minerva Chirurgica. 2012 Dec;67(6):499-504. http://europepmc.org/article/med/23334113
- Moore, J. S., Gibson, P. R., Perry, R. E., & Burgell, R. E. (2017). Endometriosis in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: specific symptomatic and demographic profile, and response to the low FODMAP diet. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 57(2), 201-205. https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajo.12594
- Jean Hailes www.jeanhailes.org.au
- Oregon State University (2022).Resveratrol www.https://lpi.oregonstate.edu
- Endometriosis Australia www.endometriosisaustralia.org
- BBC Sport www.bbc.com/sport/56276626