The effect that your diet can have on endometriosis is a commonly discussed topic, and everyone has their own opinions on it. Bring up the topic and you’ll find people suggest a whole host of different things to try that will help with your endometriosis symptoms. One of the most common questions that I get asked in my Q&As and in my inbox is ‘what is the best diet to cure endometriosis?’, and unfortunately there isn’t one. There is currently no evidence that there is a specific diet that helps or cures endo ona wide scale – however, there will be people who can benefit from changes in their diets. I will detail some of these diets in this blog, but as a reminder, I have no medical or nutritional training and I really recommend speaking to either a medical practitioner or nutritionist before cutting specific food groups completely out of your diet.
Jessica Duffin of This Endo Life is a strong advocate for treating endo through natural remedies such as changes in diet, and provides a lot of resources for anyone considering this route. Another great source is the Doctor’s Kitchen podcast as he talks about food medicine in general. I will link the episode with Gynae Geek where they talk specifically about endo, fibroids and heavy periods.
The general ‘rules’ of endo diets are to cut out the following:
High fat food
High FODMAP foods.
I will start with the FODMAP diet, this is an abbreviation for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides,Monosaccharides And Polyols. It is commonly used to eliminate all potentially inflammatory foods from a persons diet, then you slowly add each category back into your diet and monitor your body’s reaction. If you have been suspected of having IBS or a gluten intolerance then you may have already had this diet recommended to you as it allows you to identify if there are any specific food groups that cause inflammation for you. This diet can be useful for people with endometriosis as many of us experience bloating which could at times be triggered by the consumption of inflammatory foods. The most difficult aspect of this diet is that it is so restrictive. At the start, you need to cut out all foods that fall into the high FODMAP groups for 8 weeks so that they are completely out of your system which makes it easier to identify whether adding them back in is causing your inflammation. I will be starting this diet in the near future, as I am interested in seeing if there is anything I am eating that my body does not respond well to. I do not know whether this will be related to my endometriosis, or just a food that I do not react well to but I am hoping that it will help to ease my discomfort at times. I will be providing updates through my blog during this period in case anyone else is considering this diet.
Other recommended diets include anti-inflammatory, Keto and vegan to name a few. And I’m sure you’ve had it before when you mention having endometriosis to someone and get the response “have you tried X diet/yoga/meditation?”, these are things that may be able to help specific people, but at a population level there isn’t any evidence to suggest that these changes ease symptoms for the majority of people.
So why is it recommended by most diets to cut out the fun foods and drinks? When I was researching endo before my diagnosis I saw the foods that it is recommended you cut out, and my first thought was “but I can’t cut out caffeine”. I’m the kind of person who gets a headache and feels sleepy if I haven’t had at least one (preferably more) tea or coffee by 10am, it’s not great, I know, but the thought of cutting out caffeine was not something I had ever considered possible. The overarching reason for cutting these foods out is because they have some form of inflammatory property that can irritate your abdomen, causing bloating, inflammation and pain.
There are some studies that suggest that there is a higher risk of endometriosis with a higher intake of caffeine, however the majority do not suggest this and there is not enough information from the studies that do suggest it to prove a link. A high caffeine intake can increase estrogen levels, which is thought to contribute to the amount of endometriosis present.
Several studies have concluded that women with endometriosis tend to consume higher levels of alcohol than women without endometriosis, but they have not managed to prove that this leads to endometriosis. My opinion? Women with endometriosis drink more because of their frustration and pain. It’s not the healthiest way to deal with a situation, but after a tough day who doesn’t fancy a drink? If you’re body makes most days tough, are you likely to drink more? I’d say probably. Most alcohols are high in sugar, which is another group that you are advised to avoid.
I found that after a week on holiday where I’d eaten only fresh food, nothing processed (although there was a fair amount of alcohol) I experienced barely any bloating at all. I weighed myself when I got home, and it turns out I had lost weight, and it was visibly obvious. Its not like I hadn’t eaten for a week, if anything I’d eaten more food that I would if I’d been at home! But the food was fresh, and additive free. There were no Doritos, Pringles, sweets or chocolate and my body was definitely happy with me for this. I did still experience a really painful flare up whilst I was away, but I didn’t have any of the bloating that I would usually experience. Considering I was spending the majority of my time in a bikini, I was pretty thankful for this! Although sometimes I do slip up, I have tried to limit my intake of processed foods since getting back home, and I notice an immediate difference in how bloated and stodgy my body feels as soon as I eat highly processed foods.
Soy contains something called phytoestrogens, which is a plant form that mimics estrogen. As estrogen can have a negative impact on endometriosis, it is recommended by many to avoid soy. However, there is a theory that contradicts the removal of soy from your diet being beneficial. Some researchers have proposed that phytoestrogens can actually reduce the effect of estrogen in the body. Here comes the science-y bit – estrogen binds to cell receptors that make up the tissues in your body. Phytoestrogens have a weaker impact than estrogen, but it acts in the same way in your body – it binds to cell receptors. The theory is that if the phytoestrogen is binding to a cell receptor before estrogen does, then there is no where for the estrogen to bind to, which may result in an anti-estrogen effect in the body. Currently there is not much evidence to support this theory, but research is being conducted into it, with an aim of using phytoestrogens to reduce the impact of endometriosis. So, this section has not given a definitive answer as to whether soy is something to avoid or increase in your diet. If you’re considering switching to soy products definitely do lots of research before making the change and monitor your body’s response to it.
It is recommended by many health professionals that the intake of a lot of these foods should be limited by women with endometriosis, however that it usually due to general health and not a specific link with endometriosis. These are also foods that it is recommended that the general population to reduce.
The information detailed in this blog has been gathered from my research both in books and online. I have no medical or nutritional training, and I am unable to give advice on how to use food to manage your endometriosis symptoms. This blog is comprised of my own experiences and information I have found during research. If you are considering altering your diet to help with your endometriosis symptoms I would highly recommend doing a lot of research and talking to either a nutritional specialist or medical professional before making any changes. As always, if you have any questions on the information I’ve provided, please let me know!