by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Every woman needs to know and understand the basics about endometriosis. This insight can offer a way to better see how our bodies work – and what we can do to keep ourselves healthy. The diagnosis of endometriosis can be scary, but let’s look at why we at Women to Women feel it may not be so.
Endometriosis has been on the increase, and there is debate about why. We suspect that the high estrogen levels in American women and increasing number of women with auto immune disorders are a contributing factor. It also often runs in families. And we know from clinical experience that emotional issues are often involved. But in all these causes we find the theme of hormonal imbalance. And the good news is that we can usually do something about that – without drugs or surgery – and usually see great improvement.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis (sometimes misspelled endometreosis) is an outgrowth of the normal menstrual cycle. Each month the tissue inside the uterus—the endometrium—thickens as it intends to support a fertilized egg during pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized and the woman does not become pregnant, then the uterus sloughs off the lining with the onset of her period. This is the bleeding that occurs during your monthly period. It is usually a healthy sign and a normal process of being a mature woman.
In the case of endometriosis, the same type of tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the uterus in other parts of the body. And the same hormones that trigger a menstrual cycle will trigger sloughing of the endometrial implants in the abdomen. Endometriosis can appear on the Fallopian tubes, the ovaries, the outside of the uterus, the peritoneum, or the intestines. Each month this displaced tissue responds to the hormonal changes that regulate your menstrual cycle, engorging itself through the first half of the cycle, and often releasing a small amount of blood in the second half, which causes repeated irritation to the surrounding tissue.
Over time this can cause scarring or adhesions inside the reproductive organs, pelvis, and intestines. Adhesions are like spider webs inside the abdomen. It has been speculated that when the scarring occurs on reproductive organs it can contribute to fertility issues and increased menstrual pain. Some 3 to 10 percent of all women have endometriosis, while 9 to 50 percent of infertility is caused by this condition. A much newer understanding is that significant amounts of evidence associates endometriosis with high levels of dioxins, a type of environmental toxin.
Symptoms of Endometriosis
It is not easy to diagnose endometriosis. Some of the symptoms – such as chronic pelvic pain, menstrual pain, bloating, painful sex, or pelvic discomfort between ovulation and your period – do provide a suspicion that a woman has this disease, but it is not a conclusive diagnosis. Notably, some women have the condition without symptoms, while others have the same symptoms but no endometriosis. An experienced practitioner can tell much from a pelvic exam, but the only way to tell for sure and have a definitive diagnosis of endometriosis is surgical. This is another reason we recommend a natural approach as a first step to see if it provides symptom relief.
The root cause of endometriosis just isn’t known, and while there are multiple theories, we still do not know for sure. It’s feasible that more than one particular idea is correct, and there are probably various paths to establishing the condition… One very likely contributing factor that can be reduced with natural methods is the estrogen-like chemicals that surround us, known as xenoestrogens.
Our Estrogenic Environment
Estrogen’s natural function is to stimulate cell growth. But excess estrogen contributes to unnatural growth. We know that American women have the highest levels of estrogen in the world. And that is something we can do something about. We believe that most of that excess comes from so-called xenoestrogens, compounds whose molecular structure is so similar to estrogen that they have estrogenic effects in the body. These compounds consist of the development hormones prevalent in milk and meat production, agricultural pesticides, the chemical substances offered off by plastics when heated in microwaves, and a lot of other sources. Not surprising, for most of us such xenoestrogens are pervasive.