By Dan Gleason, DC
Endometriosis is a painful condition that is common among women and often debilitating. It can impair fertility by preventing conception and implantation. It often causes painful menstrual cycles that can last for three weeks or more every month. The endometrium is the lining of the uterus. It is a highly vascular tissue that fluctuates in thickness throughout the menstrual cycle. Normally this dynamic tissue stays in the womb; however, with endometriosis, some cells escape and start to grow on the intestines and other abdominal organs. Being hormonally activated, these rogue cells respond to monthly estrogen and progesterone signaling.
The image depicts a typical 28-day menstrual cycle. Week One is when the endometrium shrinks as it is shed causing “the period”. Note that Estrogen (E) and Progesterone (P) are low during this week. There is an abrupt rise in E during Week Two, causing the endometrium to rapidly regrow. This occurs for both the normal cells within the uterus as well as the endometriosis cells elsewhere in the abdomen. Ovulation occurs mid-cycle due to spikes in E, FSH and LH. Week Three occurs after normal ovulation after the egg leaves the follicle. The follicle then morphs into the Corpus Luteum which produces P in large amounts. P stops endometrial overgrowth ripening, or maturing, the endometrium in preparation for pregnancy or normal menstruation. Successful menstruation requires continued P production during Week Four. Premature failure of P production causes all the classic symptoms of PMS including:
- Heavy bleeding
- Dark and clotted flow
- Breast tenderness
P deficiency has a profound effect on endometriosis. Failure to produce adequate P allows ongoing growth of the endometrium causing all the classic symptoms of endometriosis including:
- Extreme pain with menses
- Risk of surgical intervention
- including hysterectomy
- Psychological and physical stress
Bioidentical Progesterone is often the key to keeping the rogue endometriosis colonies in check. It can be used topically or sublingually. Testing for Progesterone, Estrogen and other hormones is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. Saliva and urine testing is best for detecting free hormone levels. Clinics that specialize in women’s health may be able to provide help in diagnosis and treatment of these hormone imbalances.
Problems with blood sugar can also contribute significantly to endometriosis. These include pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome and overweight, all of which are caused by high carbohydrate diets. The resulting elevated insulin levels disrupt sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) leading to over-expression of estrogen’s stimulation of the endometrium. A low carbohydrate/high fat diet reverses the damage from the high carbohydrate Standard American Diet. Look into low carb/ketogenic diets and practitioners who specialize in this area.
A third important factor is exposure to environmental estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Foods or skin care products that are tainted with hormones are common sources. Animals are often raised with chemicals and growth hormones. Plants generate toxins that mimic estrogen. These are often present in lotions, soaps and body washes. When applied to the skin they are absorbed and travel directly to the target cells in the endometrium, stimulating overgrowth. Some of the more common estrogen-mimicking plants include Lavender and Tea Tree extracts. When applied to the skin they can exacerbate female hormone problems including endometriosis. Lotions, soaps and shampoos with parabens and benzenes are also problematic. A more complete list is available from the address below.
Certain foods can provoke endometriosis symptoms. These may include nightshades, oxalates and/or brassicas. Working with a Functional Medicine clinic may be of help in identifying these contributing factors. There are answers for those that suffer from endometriosis.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410.