Roughly 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the United States suffer from endometriosis, a painful condition in which endometrial tissue, which should be contained in the uterus, is found in other parts of the body. And those numbers are conservative at best. The diagnosis is often missed in teenage girls – and up to 11 percent of women who suffer from endometriosis are asymptomatic and don’t know they have the condition. 

Those who do have symptoms often suffer greatly, experiencing debilitating period pain, pelvic pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, urinary problems, bowel problems, pain with sex, ovarian tumors, and infertility. This symptoms are life-altering. 

Because it is an inflammatory condition that is strongly affected by hormonal fluctuations, conventional medicine typically treats endometriosis with hormonal suppression (birth control to decrease estrogen or the Mirena IUD to slow the growth of uterine lesions) and surgery to remove the tissue.

These treatments can come with serious side effects, however, from bone loss to depression to the pain and trauma of surgery. In severe cases, the uterus is removed (hysterectomy), ending a woman’s chances at conceiving a child.

But there is an emerging awareness that endometriosis is caused or exacerbated (or both) by an autoimmune attack on the body – and that following an inflammation-lowering and immune-modulating protocol can help slow endometrial growths and ease symptoms.

“A change is coming for endometriosis treatment,” says naturopathic doctor Lara Briden. “Until now, the clinical approach has been surgery followed by hormonal suppression with the hormonal birth control or other drugs. Going forward, the approach will shift to anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating treatments. That’s because there is growing evidence that endometriosis is not primarily a hormonal condition. It is autoimmune.”

It’s unclear how endometrial tissue gets outside the uterus. Historically, researchers thought the tissue flowed backward through the fallopian tubes. Today, many suspect the tissue exists outside the uterus at birth, and what matters is how the immune system responds to it. 

“In a normal situation, the immune system stays calm, and does not react to the endometrial tissue,” says Briden. “In the case of endometriosis, something different happens. The immune system makes inflammatory cytokines and autoantibodies that inflame the lesions and promote their growth.”

This errant immune response triggers a painful – and damaging – cascade of symptoms. Dr. Aviva Romm explains:

“Like the lining of the uterus, the misplaced endometrial tissue is triggered by the same hormonal changes that trigger your period to come, causing this tissue to shed, or bleed, as well. When this shedding occurs, blood, which is trapped in the abdomen, is irritating to the nerves in the abdomen, causing much of the pain associated with endometriosis.

“Over time, this shedding leads to chronic inflammation and the formation of scar tissue. Additionally, the endometrial cells cause abnormal immune responses in that tissue, leading to further chronic inflammation and scarring.”

With a sustained, systematic, and individualized holistic approach, women can experience a reversal of cripplingly painful and life-altering symptoms. By addressing inflammation, hormone balance, and environmental hormonal exposure, they can reduce the number of endometrial lesions and ease symptoms.

One of the key words here is “systemic.” It can take between 6 and 12 months to see improvements. But “systemic” isn’t code for “difficult” or “unpleasant.” It simply means “sustained.” 

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