Please visit our PCOS page for more on integrative PCOS care.
Integrative Endometriosis Treatment
Endometriosis is a disease that affects 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth*. For people who have endometriosis, tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body, usually in the pelvic cavity. On average, it takes 7-10 years for a person to receive an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis, and even after diagnosis, treatment options are limited, leaving many people struggling with pain, infertility and more.
Your pain is real.
You deserve to be heard.
You deserve to live well and thrive.
Natural Harmony Reproductive Health specializes in caring for people with endometriosis, recognizing that many people living with this disease have traveled a long and often challenging road. Our practice is dedicated to providing a safe space to come share your story, receive support to meet your unique needs, and heal.
People living with endometriosis may experience:
- Chronic, severe pain
- Extreme bloating
- Digestive issues
- Frozen pelvis
- Hormonal swings
- Pain with penetration/intercourse and more
Modern medicine still doesn’t understand what causes endometriosis, but there are many common theories about why it occurs in some people and not others. Some of these theories include metaplasia (when one type of tissue changes to another), genetic predisposition, lymphatic or vascular dysfunction, autoimmune issues and retrograde menstruation (reverse menstrual flow through the fallopian tubes into the pelvis).
Most researchers agree that retrograde flow alone is not the cause of endometriosis, because nearly all people who menstruate experience it and not all people who menstruate have endometriosis. Retrograde flow combined with a faulty immune system, genetic predisposition, and/or lymph and vascular dysfunction, however, might point towards some potential causes. Whatever the root is, newer studies are supporting that women with endometriosis nearly always have significant immune system dysfunction, which can contribute to chronic inflammation, pain and more. (1, 2, 3)
Chronic Inflammation: When the Immune System Gets Stuck
People with endometriosis are constantly battling inflammation, which can contribute to pain, scarring, fertility complications, and more. Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system and necessary for survival. Short term, acute inflammation is essential for keeping us healthy and safe from injury, bacteria, viruses and more. With endometriosis however, the immune system becomes stuck in the “on” position, causing chronic, persistent inflammation and a potential myriad of long term health challenges.
Why does the immune system get “stuck”? People with endometriosis develop tissue called “endometrial lesions” in various parts of the body, usually in the pelvis. Similar to the endometrial lining of the uterus, endometrial lesions build up throughout the month, then bleed along with uterine tissue during the menstrual period. The body’s immune system registers the lesions outside of the uterus as foreign and sends out “troops”—immune cells like Natural Killer (yes that’s really the scientific name!) and Macrophage cells—to “tag and kill” the lesions. This is the same way the immune system responds to any foreign invader.
The problem is, for people with endometriosis, the immune system isn’t actually able to clear the lesions, but it continues trying, and trying… and trying. These immune soldiers continue to recognize that these lesions don’t belong, and so continues to try to clear them using macrophage cells and inflammatory cytokines in an attempt to obliterate the foreign tissue and remove it from the body. Eventually this leads to chronic inflammation, or, an immune system that can’t turn itself off.
A Gut Instinct
One of the cornerstones of treating endometriosis (and often the piece that gets overlooked) is addressing the root of gastrointestinal issues. “Endo belly,” where a person with endometriosis experiences extreme bloating and discomfort, often to the point of looking several months pregnant, is very common, and usually not well understood, both by providers and those living with the issue.
A recent study came out showing that there is a strong correlation with endometriosis and “leaky gut syndrome” or Intestinal Permeability. People with endometriosis are more likely to have leaky gut (in fact, we’ve never met an endo patient who didn’t have some degree of leaky gut). Leaky gut is especially problematic for endometriosis patients because it significantly contributes to chronic inflammation — it wreaks havoc on the immune system. Recalling what we learned in the above paragraph, endometriosis patients are already dealing with an overactive immune system, and having a leaky gut is like adding gas to the fire.
The good news is, we can heal the gut! And when we heal the gut, we lay the foundation to help the rest of the body heal from endometriosis.
The Hormone Connection
Endometriosis is an estrogen dominant disease (4). Estrogen dominance means that a person’s body has either too much estrogen, an inadequate ratio of estrogen to progesterone, or both. Estrogen dominance occurs for a number of reasons, but regardless of the cause, when estrogen levels are too high or are not adequately balanced, endometriosis gets worse.
What causes estrogen dominance?
- Environmental agents – certain pesticides, body products, plastics, certain cleaning products, etc
- Impaired immune function – inflammation creates a host of issues
- Impaired liver detox function – hormones are processed primarily through the liver
- Low fiber, nutrient-poor diet – proper nutrients are essential for healthy hormone metabolism
- Excess body fat – estrogen is stored in and produced by fat tissue
- Stress – high cortisol levels lead to insulin resistance, fat storage and hormone imbalance
Excess estrogen can negatively impact the immune system, endocrine system (decreased thyroid function and low progesterone are common examples) and more, and can make it difficult for people to break the cycle of chronic inflammation.
Estrogen dominance is just one piece of the puzzle when treating endometriosis, and is best managed by supporting optimal liver detox and a balanced lifestyle. In today’s modern world, it’s nearly impossible to avoid all synthetic estrogens. You don’t have to be prefect, but if you limit your exposure at home, you’ll be able to significantly reduce your estrogen load.
Our Approach to Endometriosis
Our integrative reproductive health clinic uses time tested and evidence based tools rooted in natural medicine to create customized treatment plans for each endometriosis patient we see.
Optimal nutrition is the cornerstone of healing from endometriosis (and we’re not talking about “the endo diet” here). Nutrition therapy for endometriosis requires a layered approach, addressing one issue at a time, ultimately fortifying the body with strategic, deep nutrition to promote healing at a cellular level. Our team will create a custom treatment plan for you based on your unique history.
Acupuncture has been shown to optimize blood flow to the reproductive organs, regulate the cycle and reduce inflammation. By gently inserting hair fine needles into select points on the body, we are able to promote circulation to areas that need a little extra love, and also connect with the immune and nervous system to help reduce inflammation and pain.
Herbs + Supplements
Herbs and supplements offer powerful medicine to regulate the cycle, soothe the immune system and heal the gut. Your providers will create a custom herb and supplement regimen for you based on your cycle patterns and individual health history.
Lab Testing + Functional Medicine
Endometriosis presents with some unique patterns and health challenges. Often lab testing can help to uncover more precisely where an endometriosis patient’s body may be out of balance. Tests may range from simple blood work to functional lab testing to evaluate more subtle imbalances in the body.
Stress management, healthy sleep, work life balance and a joyful quality of life all play a role in a successful endometriosis plan. Very often, our patients come in “tired and wired” and utterly burnt out trying to get through another day dealing with debilitating pain (we get it — this process can be downright devastating!). Our team will help you rediscover tools to cultivate a balanced lifestyle.
If you have endometriosis, or suspect you have endometriosis: we see you, we hear you, we’re here for you. Your pain is real. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be helped, and we would love to be a part of your journey.
- Capobianco A, Rovere-Querini P. (2013) Endometriosis, a disease of the macrophage.
- Harada T, Iwabe T, Terakawa N. (2001) Role of cytokines in endometriosis.
- Thiruchelvam U, Wingfield M, O’Farrelly C (2015) Natural Killer Cells, Key Players in Endometriosis
- SE Bulun, KM Zeitoun, K Takayama and H Sasano (2000), Estrogen biosynthesis in endometriosis: molecular basis and clinical relevance
*Language is important to us here at NHRH. Endometriosis, often thought of as a “women’s” disease, does not just impact women. It can be present in anyone who was “assigned female at birth,” meaning that people who were assigned female at birth, but who now identify with a different gender, like transgender men, or gender non-binary folks, may also live with this disease. It is important to us that everyone suffering with endometriosis has access to great healthcare in an environment where they feel seen, heard, and safe.