01.06.2012 Naturopathy

Controlling Endometriosis

Serious hormonal problems like endometriosis are increasing. Jeremy Hill examines some causes.

An increase in the incidence of hormonal problems seems to be a modern phenomenon, linked to the Western diet, along with exposure to hormonally disruptive xeno-oestrogen chemicals, known as xeno-oestrogens. Decreased physical activity, increased weight and excessive stress levels also seem to often play a part.

For many women, the whole process of menstruation can be a traumatic and painful experience with many hormonally induced symptoms, such as cramps, bloating and mood changes accompanying their monthly shedding of endometrial tissue. The endometrium is the highly vascularised bed of tissue on the uterine wall that instinctively develops in Mother Nature's monthly anticipation of a fertilised egg implanting itself. If the egg misses its opportunity of successfully meeting a willing sperm, the endometrium simply sloughs off, ready for the cycle to start again. A disturbing and very painful complication that can arise in up to 20% of women of childbearing age is a condition known as endometriosis.

Endometriosis begins when small pieces of endometrial tissue make their way to areas of the body where they were not designed to be and set up home there. This may be as close as the fallopian tubes, or the ovaries, or less commonly, even reaching as far as the nasal tissue. All of these misguided endometrial trial plots behave as per normal during menstruation, being stimulated by the hormonal changes to develop into a miniature copy of the fertile bed that is found in the uterus and resulting in the typical monthly bleed. For wayward endometrium that has found itself encapsulated within tissue such as the ovaries, muscles of the gut lining, or uterus wall, for example, the pain caused by such a bleed prior to and during menstruation can be excruciating.

If the endometriosis has encapsulated the ovaries, or caused fibrous tissue to block the fallopian tubes, then the release and fertilisation of a matured egg may be physically impossible. As a result, endometriosis has become a very common cause of infertility, with estimates of up to half of all infertile women having difficulty conceiving due to such problems with endometrial tissue growth.

Endometriosis is often difficult to diagnose and often overlooked throughout many years of menstrual problems. Painful menstruation (known as dysmenorrhea), excessively heavy bleeding (menorrhagia), bleeding outside the normal menstrual cycle and pain during sexual intercourse are just some of the symptoms that may indicate endometriosis could be a problem. Endometrial tissue can even implant in the bowel wall and masquerade as irritable bowel syndrome, with symptoms peaking during menstruation.

While endometriosis is essentially a benign tissue growth, it still exhibits several similarities to malignancies. Prior exposure to mutagenic toxins, along with poor detoxification pathways in the liver, may be involved in the cause and progression of endometrial disease. Thus, a detoxification program that is able to successfully reduce the body's toxic burden may provide both preventative and therapeutic support.

In addition, the potential for tumour restricting and anti-angiogenic (anti-vascularisation) activity in errant endometrial growths, is better achieved when a patient is able to maintain a healthy inflammatory and immunological response. Detoxification has much to offer in these areas also, including balancing specific immune cells known as T helper 1 and T helper 2. This immune balancing approach may also help regulate other seemingly unrelated health problems often seen in compromised health.

One of the major contributors to the development of endometriosis appears to be the excessive production of a particular type of oestrogen known as 16-hydroxyoestrone. High levels of these particularly unwanted hormones has been associated with many conditions of hormonal disturbance. Once again, detoxification becomes extremely relevant as specific enzymes within the liver can be stimulated to assist in clearing the detrimental oestrogens and instead promoting the shift towards the beneficial alternatives known as 2-hydroxyoestrones.

Important lifestyle approaches to helping control endometriosis include simply losing excess weight and controlling blood sugar and insulin levels. If such hormonal conditions are causing you grief, then these and other supportive naturopathic approaches may help relieve your hormonal disturbances on both a symptomatic and causative level. Or you could always just wait until menopause kicks in.

Good health, Jeremy Hill.

Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill AdvDipNutMed, AdvDipWHM, NDAdv is a Perth-based naturopath