Kat Keough is a leading fertility and prenatal nutritionist, she has been interviewed by publications such as Australians Women’s Health.
Kat Keough is a leading fertility and prenatal nutritionist, she has been interviewed by publications such as Australians Women’s Health. She has a true passion about helping people optimise their fertility, prepare for pregnancy and conceive a healthy baby. She provides tailored online fertility diet courses as well as one on one counselling.
If you suffer from this condition, you’re not alone. Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects over 10% of women at some point in their life. While some women may have this condition and be completely unaware, for others it can cause debilitating pain and infertility. So what is the best diet for endometriosis?
Endometriosis involves the abnormal growth of tissue from the lining (endometrium) of the uterine cavity outside the womb, and sometimes also inside the muscle wall of the uterus (Adenomyosis). It’s not known exactly what causes endometriosis, but it’s believed to include a combination of hormonal, genetic, immune, environmental and lifestyle factors.
Some of the common symptoms include:
It’s a shocking statistic, but according to research, between 30% and 50% of women with endometriosis are infertile. The primary cause of this infertility appears to be due to the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen stimulates endometriomas (cystic lesions) to grow, which can affect egg health and cause anatomical changes to reproductive tissues. These changes can lead to scarring, damage or blocked fallopian tubes and ovaries, which can ultimately prevent the journey of the egg along the tube, the sperm from reaching that egg and even preventing an embryo from implanting in the uterine lining.
I am often asked if food and specific nutrients help with Endometriosis?
Unfortunately there is no cure for endometriosis. Laparoscopic surgery may help to remove any endometriomas or adhesions – but the good news is, there is now a large amount of growing evidence showing nutrition (and even specific nutrients) can help reduce symptoms, manage the condition and even slow its progression.
How can altering your diet help? It seems certain foods and nutrients may be able to reduce inflammation, influence oestrogen levels, regulate the menstrual cycle and optimise fertility.
We’ve done a deep-dive into ALL the research (so you don’t have to), and put together a list of the best foods and nutrients to ease your symptoms and increase your chances of falling pregnant:
Not all fats are created equal. Some may cause inflammation which aggravates the symptoms of endometriosis, while others can actually reduce inflammation.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat which are associated with a decreased the risk of endometriosis and may even decrease endometrial cell survival. They’re well known for their anti-inflammatory effects and have been found to be important for our egg health too. Omega 3s can be found predominantly in oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as plant-based sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts. Taking a high quality omega 3 supplement might also be worth considering.
When it comes to fats to avoid, ‘trans-fats’ have been linked to increased inflammation and a greater risk of endometriosis. They are predominantly found in commercially produced pastries, biscuits and cakes, as well as fried foods, margarine and some vegetable oils. It’s best to limit these foods as much as possible.
Of course the other type of fat we need to discuss is ‘saturated’ fat. This is found mostly in red and processed meat and butter, and again heightens the inflammatory response in the body. Research has shown however, that by reducing your saturated fat intake by 50%, you can reduce oestrogen levels by 20%.
You’ve likely heard of antioxidants before, but do you know what they do? Antioxidants are substances that fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause chemical reactions in your body (oxidation). If these free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as ‘oxidative stress’ ensues. Oxidative stress leads to an increase in inflammation, and appears to be the cause of most gynaecological disorders, including polycystic ovarian syndrome, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and of course, endometriosis.
Antioxidants fight free radicals by reducing their numbers in the body. This reduces the amount of oxidative stress and therefore, reduces inflammation in those with endometriosis. Research is now showing antioxidant supplementation reduces inflammation and oxidative stress in women with endometriosis. And most importantly, it significantly reduces pain and results in a higher quality of life.
So, what should you be consuming to get the dose of antioxidants you need?
We know that having excess oestrogen in the body can worsen the effects of endometriosis by promoting inflammation and worsening pain symptoms. In addition to this, oestrogen has also been found to increase endometriosis cell growth and numbers.
One way to decrease the amount of this hormone in our body is by consuming fibre-rich foods. Fibre surrounds oestrogen and excretes it from the body before it can be absorbed. Fibre is found in a number of plant-based foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds. If consuming more of these foods is a struggle, try adding some psyllium husk to your smoothies or breakfast cereals.
We all know that consuming fruit and vegetables is great for your health, but did you know they’ve also been shown to reduce and even prevent endometriosis?! A high intake of vegetables (particularly green and brassica vegetables) has been associated with reduced oestrogen levels and a decreased risk of developing endometriosis. Of course there are many benefits to eating fruits and vegetables, but in terms of alleviating symptoms of endometriosis, it’s believed to be due to their high antioxidant and fibre content.
However, it’s important to note that exposure to pesticides and dioxins found on the outside of fruit and vegetables has been positively associated with endometriosis and its symptoms. This may be due to certain pesticides interfering with hormonal pathways and contributing to oxidative stress. If you can afford it, we recommend choosing ‘organic’ to reduce your pesticide load while still getting all the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.
So just to recap on the best diet for endometriosis, make sure you prioritise healthy fats, increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and other high fibre foods, AND make sure you’re taking a quality prenatal supplement. Remember, while endometriosis has been linked to an increased risk of infertility, these tips are simple things you can do to reduce your symptoms, regulate your cycle and improve your chances of falling pregnant!
Until next time,
The team at Ovitae xo
* This article is intended for general purposes only. Please see your doctor for individualised advice.
Ovitae is proud to be Australian Made and offically endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives.