Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows throughout the pelvis causing pain and infertility. Endometriosis affects around 1 in 10 women and can be debilitating, affecting all aspects of life – physical, emotional and financial.
Endometriosis was previously thought of as a hormonal problem, but emerging research is suggesting that it may be an autoimmune and inflammatory condition. This shift in understanding may explain why some natural treatments are effective at reducing symptoms where conventional treatments have been ineffective.
Conventional treatments involve the suppression of hormones with synthetic drugs, surgical removal of the tissue or insertion of an IUD. For women with mild to moderate symptoms who wish to avoid these interventions, natural medicine can support and regulate the immune system, calm inflammation and reduce pain. Herbal medicine and acupuncture can also be used after surgery to slow the regrowth of endometrial masses, and as an alternative to the pill and IUD for women wishing to fall pregnant.
Chinese medicine considers endometriosis to be a condition of stagnation, where Blood and Qi are not flowing freely in the uterus and pelvis, causing pain. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments are aimed at restoring the free flow to stop pain, reduce stress and promote healing. A recent systematic review combined results from trials of yoga, acupuncture, exercise and electrotherapy in the treatment of endometriosis, finding that “only acupuncture has demonstrated a significant improvement in outcomes”. Another systematic review found that acupuncture “can alleviate the pain of dysmenorrhoea and reduce peripheral blood CA-125”, a compound that is elevated in women with endometriosis, and that it “yields better reductions in pain and serum CA-125 levels than do control treatments, regardless of the control intervention used”.
Dietary changes and nutrient supplementation are also important in the management of endometriosis. Gluten and dairy are known to irritate the immune system and promote inflammation, and are best avoided. Turmeric is used in Chinese medicine to activate Blood and move Qi, but is also known as a powerful anti-inflammatory herb in Western herbal traditions. Zinc deficiency has been shown to be associated with endometriosis and may play a role in its development. Maintaining optimum zinc levels is also important for supporting gut health and immune function.