If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, you may have discussed treatment options with your doctor. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise are healthy additions to any medical treatment provided by your doctor (in addition to taking medication, laparoscopy surgery still remains the best treatment for endometriosis). Your diet can help to change the balance of hormones that stimulate the growth of endometrial cells and pelvic pain associated with endometriosis. Women with endometriosis who have good diet management may be able to control symptoms and live comfortably with the disorder.[i]
Where to look for changes in your diet
Take a look at your diet and assess the types of foods you’re eating. You can begin by writing out a typical meal plan for the week, and then break down the meals into food groups and raw ingredients. Doing this will help you identify the food you’re eating and where you can make changes to your diet. Knowing which foods to avoid or include can help with your meal planning. If you plan to remove certain foods from your diet, you may need to substitute food items with other sources to maintain a well-balanced diet.
Foods to include
Consuming these foods in your daily diet may help to reduce the impact of endometriosis.
- Fresh fruit such as citrus fruits, apples, lemons, red and purple berries and apricots are a great fresh source of antioxidants and vitamins
- Vegetables such as peas, beans, carrot, parsnip, celery, beets, cabbage, brussel sprouts, rhubarb, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, radish, green beans, cucumber and yams can also boost your vitamin intake
- Herbs such as ginger, parsley and watercress have anti-inflammatory properties
- Compound foods such as celery, alfalfa, licorice, rhubarb, anise, bean sprouts, sunflower seeds, red clover, soya, dark chocolate (in moderation!) may help to reduce inflammation
- Natural yoghurt can help to boost your immune system, but avoid flavoured yoghurts that contain a lot of sugar
- Green tea is thought to be beneficial for the immune system and eliminate chemicals that impact oestrogen levels
- Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid that produces prostaglandins (check you’re purchasing cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil)
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, cornmeal, popcorn, brown rice and whole rye are a great source of fibre
- Gluten-free grains such as wild rice, corn (maize), buckwheat, millet, quinoa, tapioca, arrowroot and sago including whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds and pulse vegetables (peas, beans and lentils)
- Oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids help the production of pain reducing prostaglandins – try herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, salmon, trout and tuna
- Other foods rich in essential oils include raw ground chia seeds, vegetable oil, flax seeds, hemp, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, fish oils, linseed oils and sesame seeds
- Alternatives to cow’s milk such as coconut milk and almond milk (not soy milk)
You may want to continuously consume these foods every day, or perhaps focus on including more of these healthier choices in your diet in the days leading up to the start of menstruation.
Foods to exclude
When eliminating foods from your diet, you may need to consider alternate substitutes. Selecting foods from the food to include can be a useful way to ensure you maintain a well-balanced diet.
- Red meat is a good source of iron, so you may not want to eliminate red meat entirely – consider alternatives to red meat some nights, such as chicken or seafood
- Dairy products made from cows’ milk – consider consuming two serves of dairy per week and use calcium-rich substitutes such as unsweetened almond, coconut, rice milk
- Soy products such as soy milk, soybeans or tofu
- Gluten-rich foods such as, muesli, cereals, bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, pies or pizza
- Processed food has a lot of additives, preservatives and other chemicals that can stimulate growth of pain inducing and inflammatory prostaglandins – this includes fried foods such as French fries and donuts
- Margarine and cookies are high in trans fatty acids or bad fat – focus on food and oils that contains omega-3 fatty acids instead
- Refined sugar can create an acidic environment in your body where bacteria and viruses thrive, so opt for natural sweeteners such as stevia or agave syrup
- Caffeine increases oestrogen and can interfere with the production of progesterone in your body – reduce your caffeine intake and remember coffee is not the only source of caffeine (cola drinks, chocolate or even energy drinks contain caffeine)
[i] Mills, D.S. & Vernon, M. Endometriosis: A Key to Healing and Fertility through Nutrition 1st ed. Thorsons; 2002