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Understanding Endometriosis: Functional Medicine Approach

Endometriosis is a complex and often misunderstood condition affecting millions of women worldwide. In functional medicine, we approach endometriosis by assessing for underlying imbalances in the body. By addressing these imbalances holistically, we can often provide significant relief for those struggling with this condition.
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Endometriosis is a complex and often misunderstood condition affecting millions of women worldwide. In functional medicine, we approach endometriosis by assessing for underlying imbalances in the body. By addressing these imbalances holistically, we can often provide significant relief for those struggling with this condition.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, typically in the pelvic area, although it can appear in any body tissue. This misplaced tissue responds to hormonal changes, leading to tissue growth, pain, and the formation of scar tissue or adhesions. It affects an estimated 6-10% of women of reproductive age.

Symptoms of Endometriosis

Common symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Pelvic pain, especially during menstruation
  • Heavy periods
  • Painful intercourse
  • Bowel upset
  • Bowel pain
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Among others

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), endometriosis a leading cause of infertility in women. The severity of these symptoms can vary widely among individuals.

Diagnosing Endometriosis

Diagnosis is a significant challenge of endometriosis, as it has similarity to other conditions. This can lead to delays in proper diagnosis and treatment, prolonging suffering for those affected. The average time interval between symptoms onset and diagnosis is 7-8 years. It is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ovarian cysts, primary dysmenorrhea or interstitial cystitis.

A comprehensive work-up for endometriosis includes a detailed medical history, physical examination, and imaging studies such as ultrasound or MRI. Endometriosis does not cause common laboratory abnormalities that are useful for diagnosis. The gold standard for diagnosis is laparoscopic surgery, where a surgeon can directly visualize and confirm the presence of endometrial tissue.

Managing Endometriosis

Conventional management for endometriosis typically involves modulating symptoms with pain medications, hormonal therapies (such as birth control pills), and, in severe cases, surgery to remove endometrial tissue or adhesions. These approaches can provide relief, though may only be temporary and often do not address the underlying factors that may be contributing to the condition.

Functional medicine offers a holistic approach to managing endometriosis by addressing the underlying imbalances in the body that contribute to the development of the condition. This approach focuses on:

  • Hormonal Balance: Balancing hormones, especially estrogen, is crucial in managing endometriosis. This can be achieved through nutrition, lifestyle modifications, and targeted supplementation to support hormone metabolism.
  • Inflammation Reduction: Chronic inflammation can play a role in the development and progression of endometriosis. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce inflammation, protect tissues and manage symptoms.
  • Gut Health: There is a connection between gut health and hormonal imbalances. Improving gut health through a balanced diet, probiotics, and addressing any underlying mucosal, motility or microbiome issues can help reduce inflammation, hormone imbalance and support overall health.
  • Stress Management: Chronic stress can exacerbate symptoms of endometriosis. Techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can make a difference in developing stress resiliency.
  • Detoxification Support: Supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways can help eliminate excess estrogen and other toxins that contribute to the development of endometriosis. This might look like increasing dietary fiber, increasing lymph movement and sweating.

Endometriosis is a complex condition with far-reaching effects on women’s health. Functional medicine offers a promising path to relief for those affected. Addressing hormonal imbalances, reducing inflammation, supporting gut health, managing stress, and supporting detoxification are key components of this approach. Working with a certified functional medicine physician can help those with endometriosis develop a personalized plan to address their unique needs.

 

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (2020). FAQ121: Endometriosis. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/endometriosis

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (2010). Practice bulletin no. 114: Management of endometriosis. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(1), 223-236.

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