Chances are you or someone you know has endometriosis, an often-painful, chronic condition that can negatively infiltrate every aspect of day-to-day life—heavy menstrual cycles, fertility issues, painful intercourse and even missed days at work.
Unfortunately, the causes for endometriosis are still unknown, and there is currently no cure. While this seems pretty bleak, especially if you’re the one diagnosed with it, there’s some good news in the treatment department.
While comprehensive treatment is important to reduce the risks of complications, you can also bolster your fight against the condition by eating and avoiding certain foods.
“Nutrition has always played an important role in the maintenance and prevention of certain diseases, but often we neglect that inflammatory foods will have an effect on inflammatory diseases like endometriosis,” said Jamal Mourad, DO, an OBGYN and endometriosis specialist at Banner – University Medicine Women’s Institute in Phoenix, AZ. “While diet alone may not completely eliminate symptoms, it’s an important tool we consider when discussing treatment options with patients. The more we can do to lower the impact the better.”
Read on to learn more about how your diet may help manage your symptoms.
What to eat
The basic concept of an endometriosis diet is to limit inflammatory foods and things that can trigger symptoms. “Because we know inflammation causes discomfort, if we can engage patients in these healthy changes, it can be both informational and transformational,” Dr. Mourad said.
Here are five key dietary elements that can help you.
It’s all about the omega-3 fatty acids! Omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties that can block certain substances in the body that cause inflammation. Foods with omega-3 fats include salmon, sardines, trout, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Soluble fibers and whole grains
Fiber is not only great for reducing the symptoms of endometriosis but it will also help reduce your cholesterol and may help aid you in the bathroom. Fiber can be found in a number of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Fresh fruits and vegetables
What healthy diet doesn’t include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables? Both are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that does every body good. Plus, they’re rich in antioxidants, which we’ll touch on next.
Many studies show that a diet rich in antioxidants (nutrients that reduce the oxidation process) can reduce inflammation and pain. So go ahead and fill your plate with foods like dark berries, spinach, beets, cantaloupe and even dark chocolate (Hey, just because you have endometriosis, doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself sometimes!).
Endometriosis is often linked to heavy periods, which can lead to iron deficiencies. Iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens, broccoli, beets, lentils and beans can help boost iron resources and guard against deficiencies.
What to avoid
There are plenty of colorful and delicious foods that can help boost your health and resiliency when it comes to managing endometriosis, but there are also some foods that can promote inflammation in your body and lead to further pain. These include:
While lean meats like turkey and chicken are just fine, red meat, especially processed red meat, may be no good for you. Some research has linked red meat to higher inflammation and even higher blood estrogen levels.
Fried and processed food
While omega-3 fatty acids help reduce symptoms, fried and processed foods can have the opposite effect. That’s because these foods are high in trans fats, which have been known to increase inflammation and raise bad cholesterol.
Too much sugar in any diet isn’t good. It can impact your gut and make symptoms worse. Here are six ways to decrease your processed sugar intake.
Excessive coffee and alcohol usage
Caffeine and alcohol can both make a difference in endometriosis symptoms. Both may increase estrogen levels. Coffee can also inhibit iron absorption, which can be problematic for women who may be susceptible to an iron deficiency. Drinking these in moderation may be okay but check with your doctor.
While a gluten-free diet isn’t often recommended for those with endometriosis, for some, removing gluten from their diets has helped relieve bloating and discomfort.
“We don’t know if there is a direct link, but those with a combination of issues, such as gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal disorders, have found following a gluten-free diet has been helpful in reducing symptoms,” Dr. Mourad said.
To determine if you have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten or other foods, it’s best to speak with your health care provider and a nutritionist. They may have you eliminate certain foods for a period of time to see if you have any noticeable changes to your symptoms.
Don’t wait! Talk to an endometriosis specialist
There’s no specific diet that will prevent or cure endometriosis but eating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce symptoms and help you feel better. That said, Dr. Mourad urges women to seek treatment early on to get a proper diagnosis and not to wait until symptoms are unbearable.
“Treating endometriosis is a comprehensive process that has to be a partnership between the doctor, the patient, family members and specialists,” Dr. Mourad. “The earlier it’s diagnosed, the more disciplined and compliant patients are likely to be. Actively engaging in learning about their condition and working with someone experienced in this area is critical in a patient’s overall management of this condition.”
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.