Endometriosis – the facts

3 Sep

Endo is a condition where the lining that normally grows in the uterus each month to nourish and protect a potential baby also grows outside the uterus. It can be found on the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and bowels. There have even been cases of endometrial tissue found in the lungs and brain (crazy!). Endo usually looks like little blood blisters, in some cases these blisters are bigger and darker (chocolate cysts) and are present in more advanced cases. Along with endo often come adhesions, filmy strings of connective tissue that can pull and twist and turn organs out of their natural position, or stick things together that shouldn’t be stuck. Basically, pelvic organs should be freely mobile, slipping and sliding around each other as they need to. Endo can put a stop to that – it’s basically like glue, gumming up your insides. Some good pictures can be found here.

It also causes pain. Pain from things being pulled in ways they shouldn’t be, but also pain from what is essentially internal bleeding. Each month as the hormones rise and fall to grow that wonderful life supporting tissue in the uterus and then shed the lining if there is no pregnancy, the endometrial tissue outside the uterus responds in the same way. Growing and developing and then being released. Except, unlike what is in the uterus, there is nowhere for it to go. So it just kind of sits there, causing an inflammatory reaction in the body, creating more adhesions, and just generally being a giant pain in the ass (or abdomen – ha!). Endo is classified by the physical characteristics from few spots/adhesions to significant amounts of it – stages 1-4. FUN FACT: The stage of endo has absolutely zero relationship to the amount of pain, symptoms or fertility issues being experienced.

Nobody really knows what causes endo though there are many theories:

Theory 1: Retrograde Menstruation – Basically, when a woman has her period, some of the blood and tissue go up and out the fallopian tubes (rather than down and out the cervix). Since the fallopian tubes are open to the abdominal cavity, that tissue is thought to break free and settle down on an organ or two and start growing there. The problem with this theory is that lots of women have some sort of retrograde menstruation but they don’t all get endo.

Theory 2: A ‘birth defect’ – the thought here is that way back when, when the woman was developing in her mother’s uterus, the cells that were supposed to become the inside of the uterus got lost along the way and ended up where they shouldn’t. They have remained lost but do what their supposed to do each month.

Theory 3: Environmental – Increasing chemicals in the environment are screwing with everything, including our reproductive organs. The big one here are the dioxins used to bleach tampons. Nice. Soak something in wicked chemicals and then put it in a very sensitive, highly absorbent part of your body and leave it there for long periods of time. Repeat monthly. This is a-ok according to the FDA because we’re not eating them, so the manufacturers can put whatever they want in/on them. Conventional pads also have these chemicals in them and are also in close contact with skin so they’re not much better. [public service announcement: please please PLEASE consider switching to reusable menstrual products such as the Diva Cup or cloth pads and teach your daughters, sisters, nieces etc to do the same, we should not willingly keep exposing ourselves to these known carcinogens and hormone disrupters. If nothing else, make the switch to unbleached organic tampons/pads].

Theory 4: Auto-immune disorder – This one is tricky too – lots of people have autoimmune disorders, not everyone has endo. So what gives? The fun thing about auto-immune disorders is that everyone is different – people’s bodies attack themselves in different ways. So where one person gets bowel issues, another gets skin issues, another gets reproductive issues. So if I have an autoimmune disorder and I get some retrograde blood flow, my body doesn’t quite know how to get rid of it so instead, it encourages it to stay. Without knowing specifically how the auto-immune part fits in, it’s one of the most compelling theories we have.

But, like I said. Nobody really knows for sure. (See here for more theories).

Treatment? Also fun – there really isn’t any. Next question?

Seriously, though, there really isn’t any definitive treatment. Some people with take hormones to basically put themselves into menopause for a time and see if it shrinks enough to not come back. Doesn’t work for everyone and hormones are going to screw with other things in your body. Some people have surgery and burn it all off. Works for some, grows back in others, causes more scar tissue (and hence pain) in most. Hysterectomy – basically, scoop it all out and hope that works. It does for some, not for others. Very invasive and most people want to take the ovaries too (which is a bad idea in my opinion) but if you don’t, you’ll still have the hormones and so potentially still have the problem.

Diet – you are what you eat. I can’t believe that people honestly still believe that what you put into your body every single day will have no effect on what your body is/does. Like my grade 7 teacher used to say: Garbage in, garbage out. Endo is an estrogen dominant condition which means that more estrogen will ‘feed’ it as it were. Being a woman, there’s not much I can do about that is there? Well yes, actually, there is – by eating foods low in estrogen and encouraging my body to get rid of estrogen effectively, it may very well reduce the pain and symptoms. Also, it’s an inflammatory reaction so I should be aiming to reduce inflammation also. What are prime sources of estrogen and inflammation? ANIMAL PRODUCTS. Yep, milk, cheese and meat (especially conventional sources) are full full full of estrogen and promote inflammatory responses in the body. Which might not be so bad in small doses for some people. But in my case, I should be running the other way. And hence this crazy diet.

[This is obviously a nutshell, for a great website on all the ins and outs of endo go here]

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