March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and this is an important talk to bring up, because as women, we are silenced about our options regarding our cycle, its pain, and more. More than 1 in 10 women have endometriosis, yet on average, it takes about 8-10 years to get diagnosed. Let’s talk about what endometriosis is, the diagnosis, and management tips.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a women-specific condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside of the uterus, typically on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the tissue lining the pelvis. It can also occur on other organs within the pelvis or even outside the pelvis.
During the menstrual cycle, the tissue growing outside the uterus thickens, breaks down, and bleeds, which can cause pain, inflammation, and scarring. The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but it may be linked to genetic factors or exposure to certain chemicals. There is no “cure” for endometriosis, current treatment options include: pain medications, hormonal therapies, alternative medicine/therapies, and surgery.
- painful periods
- discomfort/pain with sexual intercourse
- painful and/or irregular bowel movements and/or urination
- chronic pelvic pain
- abdominal bloating & nausea
There isn’t a diet currently that has been proven to “cure” symptoms of Endometriosis, however simple diet changes can be made to improve symptoms and maximize your health.
- Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition, so eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, can help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Reduce Inflammatory Foods: Processed foods and sugar can increase inflammation in the body, so it’s best to limit these types of foods as much as possible– I truly preach balance, so finding a way to incorporate your favorite foods while also balancing foods positive for your health success.
- Increase Fiber Intake: Fiber helps to promote regular bowel movements and can also help to eliminate excess estrogen from the body, which can help reduce symptoms of endometriosis. For more info, check out this article I wrote about Increasing Fiber Intake.
- Increase Your Omega-3’s: These fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body as well, so try adding fatty fish, nuts, and seeds to your diet.
- Consider a Vitamin D Supplement: Research has shown Vitamin D can have anti-inflammatory effects, and may be helpful for women with endometriosis. However, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
- Hydrate: Staying hydrated is important for overall health and can also help to reduce bloating and constipation, which are common symptoms of endometriosis. Read more about determining your hydration needs.
As a personal trainer and yoga therapist, I strongly recommend regular exercise, as it can help to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and promote overall physical and mental health. However, it’s important to listen to your body and not overdo it, especially during times when you are in a flare or symptoms are particularly severe. Here are some tips for exercising with endometriosis:
- Start Slow: If you’re new to exercise, or haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. (Example: 2 30-minute workouts per week then builds to 3 30-minute workouts, 4 30-minute workouts, 3 45-minute workouts etc.)
- Choose Low-Impact Exercises: Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or yoga, can be gentler on the body and still provide a great workout. High-impact exercises, such as running or jumping, can be intense on the body and may increase symptoms.
- Listen to Your Body: If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort during exercise, take a break or modify your workout as needed. It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard.
Aside from “traditional” exercise, I strongly recommend stretching and yoga poses that can specifically help with vaginal pain, circulation, and digestion such as:
- Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Child’s Pose
- Downward Dog
- Supine Twist
- Happy Baby
- Reclined Bound Angle Pose
Another option I would strongly recommend is to consider pelvic floor physical therapy. This guided support can help to improve pelvic floor muscle function, increase strength and decrease weakness that can cause additional pain and discomfort.
If you are experiencing symptoms or have a diagnosis of endometriosis, here are some areas within lifestyle to help manage your symptoms:
- Have a Consistent Routine: Consistency can help you maintain positive routine & less symptoms when you’ve found lifestyle factors that work for you and your body.
- Stress Management: Alleviating stress reduces blood pressure, improves digestion, and can help activate the body’s chemicals and hormone release in a positive manner.
- Improve your Sleep Habits: Aim for 8-10 hours per night.
- Find a Local or Virtual Support Group: Having support from others who understand first-hand what you are experiencing can be therapeutic and supportive throughout your journey wiht endometriosis.
- Utilize Mental Health Services: finding a quality therapist is a great way to manage stress, discuss symptoms, and mental health tactics to improve your quality of life.