I'm not a Doctor, nor a Nutritionist, nor any type of medical professional. I am a woman who lives with mild endometriosis and I want to tell you why the media needs to give this disease more attention.
First, what is Endometriosis? "Endometriosis (from endo, "inside", and metra, "womb") is a debilitating gynecological medical condition in females in which endometrial-like cells appear and flourish in areas outside the uterine cavity, most commonly on the ovaries". (1) Typically, endometriosis occurs during a woman's reproductive years. Some women may have no symptoms, while others have such debilitating symptoms that they affect their lives dramatically. The most major symptom is pelvic pain. This can bring on different aspects of pain, such as dysmenorrhea - painful, sometimes disabling cramps during menses; pain may get worse over time (progressive pain), also lower back pains linked to the pelvis, chronic pelvic pain - typically accompanied by lower back pain or abdominal pain, dyspareunia - painful sex, dysuria - urinary urgency, frequency, and sometimes painful voiding. (2) There are also several other symptoms associated with endometriosis, anything from nausea and vomiting, to chronic fatigue, depression, and even anxiety.
Endometriosis affects close to 176 million women worldwide. (3) Particularly, 10-20% of American women suffer with it, that's approximately 1 in 20 or 13.6 million women. (4) I think what's even more important to note is the direct link that endometriosis has with infertility. The numbers are about 30-40% of women with endometriosis are infertile (5). That percentage is quite high and I wouldn't be surprised if it's even higher.
What causes or creates the condition is what I find most interesting. The number one cause that most medical professionals talk about is retrograde menstruation. This occurs when "during a woman's menstrual flow, some of the endometrial debris exits the uterus through the fallopian tubes and attaches itself to the peritoneal surface (the lining of the abdominal cavity) where it can proceed to invade the tissue as endometriosis". (6) Another cause is having too much estrogen in your system from food. One other cause is environment. There has been growing concern over the past few years about consuming liquids and food in plastic packaging, particularly cooking food in plastic containers in the microwave.
When it comes to treatment, it seems to be focused upon more medical relief, rather than nutritional. Everything from Progesterone pills, to laparoscopic surgery, to birth control pills, to Nsaids like Ibuprofen or Naproxen to control the pain are used for treatment of Endometriosis. For treating infertility, Doctors commonly do either IUI (Intrauterine Insemination along with fertility medication like Clomid), or IVF (In-vitro Fertilization).
With regards to nutrition, there are dozens of websites that talk about making changes to one's diet to help reduce the symptoms of endometriosis to even eliminating the condition. This is the part that I am most curious about. Most of the sites say to eliminate wheat, sugar, meat, and dairy. It seems that these food categories stimulate the condition. Sticking to a diet high in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, arugula, broccoli, and omega 3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flaxseed, salmon seems to help immensely. What I want to know is why and what else can we do with diet and supplements to help, rather than taking pills or having surgery?
With all this said, there are millions of women suffering with this condition everyday, or women that don't even know they have this disease, or finally women that are misdiagnosed with a different condition, but are still suffering years later. The media really needs to seriously give this disease more attention.
One person that is starting to get the word out is Padma Lakshmi. After years of suffering with debilitating periods, she was finally diagnosed in 2006, had laparoscopic surgery, and was blessed with her first child, which she gave birth to in February 2010. She and Dr. Tamer Seckin M.D. (who performed her surgery) started the Endometriosis Foundation of America. Padma hopes the organization will teach women and teen girls about the symptoms and empower them to push for an earlier diagnosis. (7)
What I would like to see is Oprah have a show devoted to Endometriosis and have Dr. Christine Northrup on the show with everyday women coming forward to share their experiences, or how about celebrities coming forward to talk about their experiences, or even have CNN do a special segment on it. All of this will help, but something needs to happen so endometriosis can stop being called the silent epidemic.
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