The actual cause of endometriosis is unknown, however we do know that endometriosis is an oestrogen-dependent inflammatory disease. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that prostaglandins, a group of lipids secreted by the endometrium that have a hormone-like effect in the body, regulate many of the physiological processes in the development of endometriosis. Prostaglandins are involved in a range of body functions, including the modulation of inflammation. Prostaglandins are made at sites of tissue damage or infection, where they cause inflammation, pain or fever associated with the healing process. Prostaglandins also regulate the female reproductive system, and are necessary in the control of ovulation, the menstrual cycle and the induction of labour.
There has been a fair amount of research into diet and endometriosis, which suggests that cutting certain foods from your diet and including more of others may stop endometriosis from developing and /or reduce symptoms. Essential fatty acids found in our diet are converted into prostaglandins in our bodies. Prostaglandins break down into three forms: Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1); Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2); and Prostaglandin F2a (PGF2a). While PGE1 is said to help reduce endometriosis symptoms, PGE2 can contribute to heavy painful bleeding and PGF2a has been linked to vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea. By making changes to your diet it is though possible to reduce PGE2 and PGF2a and encourage the production of PGE1 with the aim of managing and reducing endometriosis symptoms.
Foods to increase in diet:
- Omega 3’s help increase non-inflammatory Prostaglandins (PGE1) – found in oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, herrings, anchovies, salmon and trout (aim to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week), walnuts, ground flaxseeds (add to cereal or porridge) and pumpkin seeds
- Evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil and borage oil are great sources of GLA (Gamma linolenic acid) which the body converts to PGE1
- Fibre is effective for keeping our bowels regular and helping to excrete excess oestrogen associated with endometriosis. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains such as brown rice, buckwheat noodles, quinoa, rye bread etc.
- The brassica family of vegetables: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower to aid liver detoxification for excretion of excess oestrogen.
Foods to avoid / decrease:
- Coffee – can exacerbate cramps and is said to increase oestrogen levels in the body (most likely due to the extra burden it puts on our livers) and other caffeinated drinks such as strong black tea, colas and energy drinks
- Alcohol – for similar reasons to caffeine. Alcohol interferes with oestrogen detoxification
- Red meat – especially processed meats such as sausages, bacon, salamis, cured meats and hams, increase inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE2) levels in the body
- Deep fried foods – have been linked to elevated PGE2 levels
- Trans fats – found in processed foods such as cakes, croissants, sausages, margarines, muffins, pies etc. block anti-inflammatory prostaglandins
- Sugary foods – such as cakes, muffins, sweets, chocolate, processed / convenience food, fizzy drinks and fruit juice. Eating sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by lots of names so look out for words ending in ‘ose’ on the back of packs. Fructose, sucrose, maltose, galactose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup and even agave syrup should be kept to a minimum.