March is a month when we pay special attention to women - from celebrations of Women’s History Month to events and demonstrations around the world on International Women’s Day. This month is also endometriosis awareness month, and that makes it good time to highlight this condition’s impact on women’s fertility and everyday lives. While many women have heard of endometriosis, there is still a lot of confusion around its symptoms and its most effective treatments, and even more so, whether there are any other ways women can help themselves to feel better by making empowered lifestyle decisions and embracing their health The short answer is yes, you can make choices that will help, and I’ve seen it make a lot of difference for my patients.
Endometriosis is often confusing because it has a wide spectrum of symptoms and presents differently in the many women it affects. Symptoms can be mild or severe depending on the patient, making this condition particularly difficult to diagnose. While some women have intense, debilitating pain, many women are unaware that they have it until they struggle to conceive. The range of treatments that can both ease the pain of endometriosis and reduce its impact on fertility is also wide and varied, many of them drawing on techniques from Eastern and Western traditions.
I’ve found that an integrative approach to healing, meaning an approach that combines lifestyle changes with modern medical treatments, can improve a patient's symptoms and fertility and help her to feel more in control of her condition. There are a self-care and lifestyle practices I urge my patients who are suffering from endometriosis to to consider as part of managing their pain and their chances of conception.
If you are struggling, know that you are able to help yourself, our bodies are miraculous at healing when given proper care. Treating and healing your body with self-care practices often starts with learning to listen. Some people do this through meditation or mindfulness, but for the purposes of learning to help the body heal your focus can be even simpler: notice what your body is telling you. Your body is designed to tell you what it needs to heal and repair itself. The beginning of learning to heal is paying regular attention to the messages your body is already sending. Learning when you have pain and when you do not, or when you feel well or not, will help you to feel empowered about managing your decisions of what to eat, and more.
As you develop this practice, pay attention to needs you may habitually ignore, like changing your diet or quality rest, that might be intensifying your symptoms of endometriosis. Eating healthful foods, giving your body ample time to sleep, exercising and staying hydrated are all general healthy lifestyle changes that can have an amazingly beneficial impact on those who suffer from this condition. While a typical visit to the OB/GYN might not emphasize changes to lifestyle, these changes can make a massive impact on a woman’s life, both when it comes to her monthly cycle and in her fertility.
At the same time, your body may also be asking you to avoid some of the things that you’re regularly exposed to every day. Modern life may have its conveniences, but a lot of new health hazards come along with them. Increased plastic usage and exposure, for instance, has been widely acknowledged as a source of excess estrogen in our water and food supply. Environmental overexposure to estrogen not only increases the level of foreign estrogen in the body, it can play havoc with your natural production of the hormone; both of these effects can have an impact on your fertility. Endometriosis is an estrogen-dominant condition, so the influence of this exposure can exacerbate your endometriosis symptoms.
If you are living with endometriosis, there are a number of options you can try to find relief from your symptoms. Options you can try with your doctor (and each of these are meant to complement any treatments) include medication, hormone therapy, and surgery. Changes to your lifestyle can also help you manage endometriosis by focusing giving your body what it needs. Some specific things that have helped patients of mine include:
- Acupuncture and herbal medicine therapy
- Removal of dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, and meats with hormones from your diet
- Avoid exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible
- Exercise regularly
- Practice good sleep hygiene
With endometriosis taking the spotlight this month, now is the time to recognize that women living with it are not alone and that there is no reason to try and bear it alone or in pain. In fact, is is something we should all be talking about so more women can seek help and learn more about treatments as well as lifestyle options. The more we talk about women’s health and fertility, the easier it becomes to help ourselves and one another get the treatment, care, and support we need. You are your own finest resource when it comes to nurturing and healing; especially when you are preparing to welcome a child into your life at any point in the future.