I’ve previously referred to “The Endometriosis Octopus“; that creature with invisible arms that stretch out to taint and challenge every area of life.
Endometriosis is a tough chronic illness, and there truly isn’t one approach to its management. I’ve seen countless doctors, specialists and natural therapists; and each offer their own advice and recommendations to managing and reducing the negative impact of endometriosis in my life.
At the end of the day, it’s a very personal journey of mostly trial and error. Each and every sufferer has symptoms in varying degrees, and we have to trial some treatments and prioritise those that work for our bodies. While the following may not work for everyone, I wanted to share the primary changes that I made in life in my attempt to adapt to life living with endometriosis.
1. Low Inflammatory, Low Acidity Diet
Food honestly has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures, so changing your diet from what you are used to can be extremely difficult. It is however a worthwhile change and one that I strongly recommend. Once my diagnosis of endometriosis came in, I was told that my diet was one of the first things that I needed to change. The foods that I was eating were a major contributor to my inflammation levels, and I needed to convert to eating foods that were less likely to set off an inflammatory response.
When my endometriosis was at a peak several years ago, I experienced constant nausea and vomiting, with high CRP levels. CRP in the blood is a marker of inflammation in the body with optimal levels being under 0.55 mg/L in men and under 1.0 mg/L in women. Levels over 10 mg/L can indicate bone infection, osteomyelitis, or even cancer. My CRP levels were over 30 mg/L.
While I would of course recommend talking to your doctor, nutritionist and/or dietitian for your own unique recommendations, below is an overview of the diet I have been following. My CRP levels have since dropped to around 9 mg/L and I am hoping they continue to improve.
- Gluten Free
- Lactose Free
- Low Acidity Foods
- Less Red Meat
- Less Sugar
- Less Fats
- Less Processed Food
- No Alcohol
I experienced severe abdominal bloating and inflammation in response to gluten – a protein found in wheat, oats, rye, barley, and triticale.
Eliminating foods containing gluten immediately reduced my levels of inflammation. Luckily there is a great variety of gluten-free alternatives now on the market for the gluten intolerant.
Milk is a common allergen that can trigger inflammation, bloating, gas and other reactions. I had always felt a slightly ‘queasy’ after icecream or cheese, but I put it down to being overindulgent. An endoscopy confirmed that I was in fact lactose intolerant.
Several doctors advised me that an overly acidic diet may be a key cause of chronic inflammation. I didn’t actually realise how many acidic foods I was consuming until I saw a list from my nutritionist. Included were foods such as following:
- meats such as beef, pork and processed meats
- coffee and chocolate
- cheese and some dairy
- sugars, sodas and fructose.
Being from a Mediterranean cultural background, didn’t realise that the amount of red meat in my diet wasn’t normal. I had been eating red meat up to 5 times a week.
There is a potential connection between red meat consumption and chronic inflammation, so I was advised to reduce my red meat intake to once or twice a week.
I was advised that a rapid rise in blood sugar causes insulin levels to increase, in turn triggering a pro-inflammatory response.
This was tough to swallow – yes, this meant less chocolate, sodas, lollies and other tasty treats.
There is a link between saturated fats and inflammatory response in the body. Saturated fats can often found in deep fried foods or fast foods.
Funnily enough, my body could never seem to process high fat foods anyway (I could never keep it down), so this did not pose a substantial change to my existing diet.
Food additives and emulsifiers, commonly added to processed foods, are shown to have a link with changes in gut microbiome composition that can cause inflammatory symptoms.
The process that the body takes in order to break alcohol down generates toxins. These by-products damage liver cells and promote inflammation.
My body exhibited an acute negative reaction to alcohol, so I had actually cut alcohol altogether even before I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
2. Vitamin Supplements
Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammation. My blood work supported this finding, showing Vitamin D deficiency. I now take daily supplements of Vitamin D.
I also take daily supplements of vitamin C which is said to reduce symptoms of chronic inflammation, and occasionally magnesium supplements which have been found to reduce CRP levels indicative of inflammatory response.
3. Choose a Low Stress Career
After my haematologist saw my CRP levels were over 30 mg/L, he advised me to consider a change in career to a one with lower stress. He joked saying “a gentle life in the country is for you”.
Chronic stress, and frequent activities causing a boost in adrenaline, trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. This means that some of the body’s other functions such as our immunes system and digestion are suppressed as energy is shifted towards this fight-or-flight mode. Where there is chronic stress, this response can linger; so when there is an underlying autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation will also come along for the ride.
My career was a hectic 12-14 hours a day role, managing multiple large projects with struct deadlines. Of course I had chronic stress. I instead started freelancing so that I could choose roles or projects that were shorter term and flexible. Changing careers was a difficult adjustment to make, but one I needed to do for my health.
4. Mobilise the Body
I have to confess that years of sitting in an office chair took its toll on my body, and I noticed. It became obvious to me that my incidence of endometrial adhesions and laparoscopies were linked to excessive periods of just sitting and working.
I moved into freelancing and made an effort to have normal hours of work, shorter stints sitting in my chair and taking short walks during lunch. I feel the difference it has made to my body already.
5. Meditate and be Mindful'
Research has found that meditation and mindfulness impacts changes in the brain’s functional connectivity, in turn producing health benefits by lowering inflammatory responses.
I have to admit that ‘slowing down’ was never my strong suit. Ironically, it has taken hard work to train myself into slowing my pace after years of multitasking, high pressure, and rushing to meet deadlines.
Slowing down to be aware of our self, body and our surroundings – or even taking time out by ourselves to ‘smell the roses’ – shouldn’t be something we have to force ourselves to do. It is vital to be mindful of our body, actions and our environment, so that we can lower stress levels in our daily life which can in turn have a positive affect on inflammatory levels.
Eleni Fegan is the founder and Managing Editor of DearBub Blog and Magazine which began from a personal journey of research and healing. Her motivation for DearBub is beautifully summarised in her Editor’s Letter: “I realised that there is beauty to giving voice to our experiences, and raising an awareness that we are not alone in them. I realised the immense power that ‘sharing’ had in transforming our sense of self and being through creating connection”.