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The Importance of Food Choices and Healthy Digestion for Endometriosis

The Importance of Food Choices and Healthy Digestion for Endometriosis

We know women with endometriosis benefit by making dietary changes like focusing on organic foods and eating a plant-based Fertility Diet. However, a new study shows that food choices, specifically your choice of fruits and vegetables, plus your overall digestive health may make a big difference in your endometriosis risk.

Endometriosis affects up to 10% of women. Today, while diagnostic methods remain somewhat limited, more women are taking charge of their own health if they are at risk. Medical treatments like hormone blocking medication and laparoscopic surgery are options some women pursue. Further, many women want to try natural approaches, especially if they are planning to try to conceive down the road.

The Role of Digestion in Endometriosis: While we don’t completely understand all of the factors that lead to endometriosis, we are learning more all the time. Family history, hormone imbalance, immune dysfunction, inflammation and retrograde menstruation are all believed to be involved in endometriosis onset. Research is showing your digestive health and the foods you eat are two other critical factors.

Nurses’ Health Study II

A 2018 study published in Human Reproduction found daily intake of citrus fruits decreased risk of endometriosis by 22%. Strangely, the study showed a daily intake of cruciferous vegetables increased endometriosis risk by 13%. Intake of corn, peas and lima beans was also found to increase risk.

Making sense of the study findings:

There’s no question that the findings were surprising as many of the food choices, foods studied, are thought to be good for women with endometriosis. So, what’s the story?

In Natural Medicine Journal, Lorenda Sorensen ND, LA.c, and Haley Doherty comment that a common link between the foods that increased endometriosis risk in the study is that they contain fermentable constituents like oligosaccharides, disaccharides and monosaccharides linked to gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation.

Fermentable constituents like these commonly lead to gas, bloating and GI stress, especially if digestive health is weakened or if you’re not used to them. (We often see GI symptoms when someone makes a dramatic diet change, like switching to raw foods or a vegan diet.)

The authors of the study also noted that it’s possible the increase in digestive symptoms may have led to more gynecological referrals, which then led to an increase in the diagnosis of endometriosis.

Do You Stop Eating Certain Plant Foods?

In my opinion, no, you don’t need to stop consuming a variety of healthy, whole plant foods, including citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables and beans, while addressing endometriosis. However, you do want to pay close attention to how you’re digesting the foods you eat. Even healthy foods can be problematic for fertility health if you don’t digest them well.

While this study is illuminating in a lot of ways, it is just one study. Many natural health practitioners find women with endometriosis feel much better when they move towards a plant-based diet. Further, poor gut health has been linked to endometriosis by practitioners and in studies over the years (Digestive & Liver Disease, 2018).

My closing thoughts…

If you’re transitioning to a Fertility Diet and are not used to eating a lot of fiber or fruits and vegetables, start slow. Work your way up to your goals. Start with the fruits and vegetables that are easiest for you to digest. Add prebiotics foods and probiotics foods or supplements to give your digestive system extra support.

If you have Irritable Bowel symptoms or a history of digestive problems along with endometriosis, consider working with a naturopath or Fertility Herbalist for guidance on the best diet for you. Your gut health plays a big role in your fertility!

Remember: You are not only what you eat, but how you digest the foods you eat as well!

More resources:
Endometriosis and Its Link to the Microbiome
Symptoms to Share With Your Doctor if You Suspect Endometriosis
Gut Health and the Microbiome Connection to Optimum Fertility

References

Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Traxler is a University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, working with patients in Minnesota for over 20 years. She is a professional medical writer; having authored multiple books on pregnancy and childbirth; textbooks and coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers; and has written over 1000 articles on medical, health, and wellness topics.  Dr. Traxler attended the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School,  earning a degree in biochemistry with summa cum laude honors in 1981,  and receiving her Medical Doctorate degree (MD) in 1986.

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