Endometriosis Healing Protocol
Amongst women of childbearing age, estrogen-dominant hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis are the most common health challenges. Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women’s health expert and author of the best-selling books Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause (amongst others), explains that this is likely related to the fact that most women are waiting much longer to conceive than in the past, or, in many cases, not carrying children at all. She notes that hormonal imbalances are the body’s way of responding to its biological desire to procreate. There may also be a connection to past surgeries, abortions, menstrual issues, and a lack of effectively clearing old tissue from the uterus.
In endometriosis, uterine tissue develops outside of the uterus - on ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or the tissue lining the pelvis. Although some people do not experience any symptoms, generally the result is painful cramps or extreme discomfort (especially in the lower back/side, uterus, and organs in the pelvic cavity) before or during a period (menstruation is not supposed to be overly or unbearably painful), heavy periods and excessive bleeding including the passing of large clots and shreds of tissue during the menses, digestive upset (nausea, vomiting, and/or constipation) during the menses, a low sex drive, painful intercourse, dyschezia (difficulty passing stools due to weak pelvic muscles and anal sphincter), dysuria (pain while urinating), abdominal weight gain, swollen and painful breasts around menstruation, the growth of male patterned facial hair, stronger-than-normal body odor, moodiness and mood swings, and acne around the jawline. Depending on the severity of the estrogen imbalance, irregular periods or a lack of periods altogether may also be experienced, and infertility can result.
These symptoms can be incredibly debilitating and disruptive to a woman’s life and sense of self. A woman’s cycle is a beautiful process that connects her to the earth, other women, and herself. The health of our cycles shows us so much about our overall health. Women experiencing hormonal imbalances often feel imbalanced and unwell on many levels, and these imbalances are unfortunately quite common - an estimated 10% of women reaching reproductive age suffer from endometriosis.
Risk factors include a family history of endometriosis, unbalanced or elevated estrogen levels, lack of exercise from an early age, and a continuous high-fat diet. Other possible causes include lowered immune function, exposure to chemical pollutants that mimic hormones and disrupt hormonal levels, and increased levels of stress and chronic inflammation.
While the exact cause of endometriosis and other estrogen-dominant imbalances is disputed and likely multifaceted, it’s clear that hormonal imbalances are at the root. The health of our hormones is dictated by our diet and lifestyle, and can be affected by everything from the hormones found in conventionally-raised meat to hormone disruptors found in plastics (water bottles!) to how often we eliminate.
It’s very common to feel frightened, out of control, worried, anxious, and frightened about endometriosis. The recommendations and techniques provided in this guide are aimed to offer support and symptom reduction. The good news is that healing is possible.
Steps to Healing
The holistic approach to managing endometriosis is designed to reduce overall inflammation, promote detoxification, and alleviate bothersome symptoms. Below are suggestions on how to prevent or support endometriosis using nutrition, herbal remedies, and lifestyle improvements.
Optimize your Diet through Nutrition
Consume a predominantly vegetarian, fiber-rich diet
Consuming a diet of roughly 50% fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to help manage endometriosis. The high fiber content of fruits and vegetables will lead to the healthy elimination of excess hormones and therefore lower estrogen levels in the blood, as fiber adds bulk to stool and aids in digestion and excretion (excess hormones are removed from the body via the stool). Increased fiber intake results in decreased circulating estrogens, androgen concentrations, and sex hormone binding globulin concentrations in the body.
Some vegetarian, high-fiber foods to enjoy and incorporate daily include cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, turnips, oatmeal, raw nuts and seeds, sprouted beans and lentils, peas, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, plums, avocados, berries, coconut, figs, artichokes, okra, citrus fruits, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Including green smoothies on a regular basis to add more fiber and nutrients to the diet will also reap benefits.
Focus on a balanced diet of whole foods
Cooking and eating primarily home-cooked, balanced meals is an essential step to correcting hormonal imbalances. Refined and processed foods are often void of nutrients and contain harmful additives and toxic ingredients. Focus on fresh, organic, local, and seasonal foods that will provide the body with adequate amounts of amino acids, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, fluids, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
If eating a vegetarian diet, ensure that you’re getting your full amino acid profile by eating many different sources of plant foods in order to get complete proteins. This can be achieved by combining beans, peas, or lentils with rice, or by consuming foods such as quinoa, buckwheat, or spirulina with grains or nuts.
Maintain regular meal & snack times
When it comes to any hormonal issue, the importance of balancing blood sugar levels cannot be overstated. Eat at regular meal times (three times per day), consuming snacks in between if necessary, to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stabilized throughout the day. Avoid the spikes and crashes associated with blood sugar levels fluctuating rapidly by ensuring that every meal and snack contains a healthy amount of protein, fat, and fiber. Remove high-glycemic foods from your diet - common culprits include bread, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates and sugars - or include them only in small amounts.
*If you’re having issues keeping your energy levels stable, try eating every 3 hours to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel.
Try an anti-inflammatory diet
Endometriosis can be caused by and worsened by inflammation, so consuming anti-inflammatory foods will help to reduce all signs, symptoms, and manifestations of the condition.
Potent anti-inflammatory foods include: dark leafy green vegetables, celery, bone broth, beets, bok choy, broccoli, blueberries, coconut oil, chia seeds, ginger, flax seeds, pineapple, wild-caught salmon, turmeric, and walnuts.
By contrast, avoid inflammatory foods which are foods that cause inflammation due to the body’s inability to break them down or due to the components they’re made of. These foods include dairy products, gluten, sugar and refined carbohydrates, factory-farmed meat and eggs, and vegetable oils. The worst offender of all is damaged vegetable oils, i.e. fried foods - so avoid these at all costs.
Up your daily intake of omega 3 fatty acid-rich foods
Essential fatty acids regulate hormonal and prostaglandin balance, and have anti-inflammatory benefits - both of which are beneficial for easing endometriosis. Getting plenty of omega 3 essential fatty acids, both in the form of food and supplementation, will help to bring the inflammation down in the affected areas and to balance estrogen levels.
Great sources to include: primrose oil, hemp seed oil and hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and wild-caught salmon.
Eat more magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium helps to soothe the uterus and reduce pain. Foods rich in this important mineral include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black beans, avocados, almonds, bananas, Swiss chard, and spinach.
Increase iron-rich foods
Because menstruation is typically heavy in women with endometriosis, iron-deficiency anemia is common. Increase your iron uptake by including natural food sources of iron into your diet on a daily basis. Great sources of iron-rich foods include beans, dark leafy greens, grass jelly (which can be found in Asian marketplaces and is delicious with coconut milk), dark chocolate, and blackstrap molasses.
Focus on drinking more water & less caffeine
Women who consume more than 225 mg of caffeine per day have a 60% increased risk of developing endometriosis. Regular caffeine consumption is a huge risk factor and should be avoided as much as possible. Switching to a coffee alternative or opting for a green smoothie or herbal tea instead will give you the same energy kick without the added side effects that caffeine comes with.
Great coffee alternatives to explore include Dandy Blend, green tea, herbal teas such as dandelion root or burdock (both of which support the liver), RUNA tea, holy basil tea (also known as tulsi), or chicory root.
Alcohol burdens the liver and leads to a decreased ability to detoxify toxins (which include excess hormones) and body waste. This means that the body’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen and chemicals mimicking hormones becomes compromised.
Support the liver
The liver is a primary organ that has many different jobs. One of its central roles is to help rid the body of estrogen when it is no longer needed. If the liver is not doing its job correctly, excess estrogen will accumulate in the system and create an imbalance.
To support the liver, drink plenty of water (at least 2-3 liters per day), limit the toxins mentioned above (caffeine, sugar, and alcohol), consume cruciferous vegetables daily (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.), and get a regular dose of antioxidants by eating the rainbow and focusing on nutrient-dense foods such as wild blueberries, cranberries, pecans, artichoke, and dark chocolate (bonus!).
Fasting prior to your menstrual cycle can help to reduce the uncomfortable and painful symptoms associated with endometriosis. This is because fasting diverts energy away from the digestive system, thereby allowing the body to rest, recover, and remove accumulated toxins from the tissues.
How to: Fast for anywhere from 24-72 hours prior to your anticipated menstrual cycle. The fast should include distilled water, herbal teas, freshly pressed juice/spirulina, and/or bone broths. You want to maintain adequate hydration levels while simultaneously allowing your body to rest.
*Note: Though fasting can be an excellent tool used to help reduce the symptoms of endometriosis, it’s not necessarily best for everyone. If you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, or any other chronic illness, fasting should be supervised. Pregnant and lactating women should never fast. Consult your physician or holistic practitioner before giving this step a try.
Add Helpful Supplements
The following supplements are especially beneficial in the treatment of endometriosis. They can be taken in supplemental form, although a focus should also be placed on including plenty of natural food sources of each nutrient into your daily diet. Nutrients are best absorbed and used by our bodies when they’re in their most natural, bioavailable forms.
Dosage: 200 IU daily (D-alpha-tocopherol form).
How it helps: It aids in hormonal balance.
Food sources: Almonds, sweet potatoes, spinach, butternut squash, avocados, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, dandelion greens, Swiss chard, turnips, eggs, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, trout, and extra virgin olive oil.
Dosage: 200 mcg daily (often combined with a vitamin D3 supplement).
How it helps: Needed for normal blood clotting.
Foods sources: Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce), cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), natto, spring onions, prunes, cucumbers, and dried basil.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Dosage: 1,500 mg daily.
How it helps: Provides essential fatty acids such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) that aid in regulating hormonal and prostaglandin balance.
Foods sources: Flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds, dark leafy green vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, Atlantic mackerel, wild-caught salmon, cod liver oil, chia seeds, white fish, sardines, and anchovies.
Vitamin B Complex
Dosage: As directed on the label (different brands vary). Always take a B-complex supplement rather than supplementing with any of the B vitamins individually, including vitamin B12.
How it helps: Promotes blood cell productivity and proper hormone balance, relieves stress, is needed for proper adrenal function, and aids the body in removing excess fluids.
Foods sources: Atlantic mackerel, wild-caught salmon, nutritional yeast, sardines, eggs, lentils, split peas, black beans, spinach, mushrooms, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Dosage: 50 mg daily (make sure you do not exceed 100 mg total daily from all supplements).
How it helps: Needed for tissue repair and immune function.
Foods sources: Oysters, lamb, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cacao powder, mushrooms, and chicken.
Incorporate healing herbs
Herbal remedies are incredibly beneficial to the body. The herbs listed below are beneficial for endometriosis, and can be taken as herbal infusions. Buy loose leaf & make infusions by using 3-4 tbsp in a quart mason jar. Cover with cold water & a lid, then shake to mix & let sit overnight. Drink 2-3 cups of the herbal infusions daily, in the morning and throughout the day.
How it helps: Provides a great source of vitamin K and iron.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, or use alfalfa sprouts on top of salads or added to juices and smoothies.
How it helps: Helps to balance hormones and also improves digestion.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, as above.
How it helps: Helps to balance hormones and purify the blood.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, as above.
Red Raspberry Leaf
How it helps: Excellent for balancing hormones and ultimately keeping estrogen at a healthy level.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, as above. Red raspberry leaf infusions are especially beneficial taken one week prior to menses.
How it helps: Provides great iron content, which is needed for prevention and management of endometriosis.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, as above. Nettle leaf is helpful to drink on a consistent basis for two weeks to a month at a time in order to restore iron levels.
How it helps: Has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
How to use: Use the herb in cooking, turmeric lattes, or drink it as a tea.
How it helps: Has potent anti-inflammatory properties and relieves pain.
How to use: Make a herbal infusion, as above, or incorporate rosemary into your cooking - especially of cooked meats.
Medium-to high-intensity physical activity has been found to lower the levels of estrogen in the body, which can help to suppress the symptoms of endometriosis. The more aerobic exercise a woman engages in and the earlier on in life it’s started, the lower her risk of developing endometriosis or worsening the condition. Exercising can also help to lower overall inflammation, reduce stress, improve blood sugar regulation, strengthen the immune system, and enhance sleep quality.
Building an exercise routine you can stick to is critical. Exercise can range from light yoga to running a marathon - it’s all about meeting your body halfway and doing what you’re capable of, and what you genuinely enjoy.
Get enough good-quality sleep
To optimize your sleep, it’s crucial to get between 7-9 hours every night. High-quality sleep can aid with detoxification processes, muscle repair, hormonal balance, brain regeneration, and can also lower inflammation and reduce pain. To ensure you’re getting adequate sleep, aim to turn off all devices with screens one hour or more before going to sleep, practice breathing techniques before hitting the pillow, exercise consistently, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, avoid all alcohol and caffeine at least 4 hours before sleep, and avoid eating 1-2 hours before sleeping.
Decrease your toxic load
Toxins are increasingly prevalent in our environment and day-to-day lives, and they place a burden on our bodies’ natural detoxification processes. These toxins include environmental toxins (such as lead, mercury, radon, formaldehyde, benzene, cadmium, BPA, phthalates, and pesticides), medications, and harmful chemicals found in our foods, personal care products, and cleaning products. Many of these toxins, such as xenoestrogens, either mimic estrogen or are endocrine disruptors. This means they can worsen endometriosis as a whole and all of its symptoms. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins by avoiding plastic (water bottles, plastic Tupperware containers, etc.), buying organic foods, using natural or homemade personal care and cleaning products, avoiding artificial and processed foods, and choosing a form of birth control that’s not hormonal.
This is a safe and effective method to reduce pelvic pain. Acupuncture can also help to encourage proper detoxification by opening meridian flows within the body.
Explore yoni steaming
Steaming helps to improve stagnation and remove old residue in the vaginal canal and womb. If blood from the previous menstrual cycle has not been adequately removed and cleansed, the body identifies it as a foreign substance. This activates muscles in the abdomen, which attempt to push it out of the body. This muscle contraction can result in painful cramps. Doing vaginal (or “yoni”) steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus, speeding up blood flow, and improving circulation, which enhances the body’s cleansing mechanisms.
Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs include lavender, white sage, nettle, rose, chamomile, dandelion, mugwort, and calendula.
*Note: Do not steam during your period or if you’re trying to get pregnant.
Just as the causes of endometriosis are varied, so too must be our approach to healing. Incorporate a holistic diet, herbs and supplements, and lifestyle practices that support the healing of endometriosis, and you should begin to notice a rapid reduction in symptoms.