Diet, Inflammation, and the Prevention of Endometriosis
Inflammation is the source of almost every major disease we know.
Under normal circumstances, inflammation is a part of your body’s immune response. When the body detects an invader, something that doesn't belong or could cause harm, inflammation is the result.
Acute inflammation occurs in response to an injury or illness. A wound to the skin, a case of appendicitis, or an ingrown toenail all are examples of the sudden pain and swelling brought on by acute inflammation. Without this response, your body would not heal.
Chronic inflammation is not an adaptive response, but an indication that something is wrong. Perhaps the body failed to eliminate whatever was causing the acute inflammation. More often, though, chronic inflammation is a sign of an autoimmune disease.
In an autoimmune disease, the body literally fights itself. It attacks normal, healthy tissue, mistaking it for an invading pathogen that can cause disease. The chronic inflammation of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Crohn’s disease are due to an autoimmune response in the body.
Is endometriosis an autoimmune disease?
While there is no definitive answer to this question, a lot of evidence points to “yes.” And if this is the case, then controlling inflammation could be the key to preventing endometriosis, or at least slowing its progress.
So far, it seems to be a “chicken-and-egg” scenario. For some women, the inflammation of endometriosis seems to be caused by auto-antibodies, or antibodies that mount an attack on the body. It’s unclear, though, whether those antibodies are there in response to endometrial tissue, or whether the antibodies caused the process of endometriosis to begin in the first place.
However, we do know that endometriosis shares some distinctive similarities with autoimmune disease. This includes the presence of cytokines, proteins that put the body on “high alert” and promote oxidation.
This produces an excess of free radical molecules in the body, which increase inflammation. And the best way to balance out free radicals and prevent chronic inflammation is with proper nutrition and lifestyle adjustments.
Eating to prevent inflammation and endometriosis
If all of this is true, doesn't it make sense to turn to nutrition as a way to prevent and control endometriosis?
Like so much about this condition, the research is not definitive and results from different studies often contradict each other. But certain trends are emerging that can guide you in making some good food choices.
Let’s look at just a few of the food groups that are being looked at for their possible connection to endometriosis.
Dairy foods. Some research seems to be leaning toward consumption of dairy foods as a way to decrease the risk of endometriosis. However, the Arthritis Foundation and others state clearly that A1 casein, a protein in dairy foods, is a huge cause of inflammation.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There seems to be a lot more agreement here, for several reasons.
First, a high fiber diet is linked to lower estrogen levels, which lower the risk of endometriosis.
Fruits and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, which combat the oxidative stress we spoke of earlier.
Although there is some research to the contrary, the majority of evidence suggests that a diet high in vegetables, fruits and fiber-rich foods is a good strategy.
Red meat. The growing body of research findings on red meat and endometriosis makes a very strong case for cutting back, especially on processed meat.
Numerous studies have found a connection between a diet high in red meats and the risk of endometriosis. There are a few ways to explain this.
Much of the meat we buy comes from animals that have been treated with estrogen, which seems to play a part in endometriosis.
Commercially raised cows, pigs, and even chickens are given feed that has estrogen in it.
The grass that beef cows eat has often been treated with pesticides containing estrogen.
And of course, red meat causes inflammation in the body. Eating too much of it will only set off the cascade of inflammation and autoimmune reactions in your body.
If you are a heavy meat-eater, we suggest you start cutting back, one meal at a time. And when you do buy beef, select the organic, grass-fed kind. Organic farmers are not permitted to use hormones of any kind in their meat, or in their feed.
The Mediterranean diet is a good place to start if you’re looking to change your eating habits in order to lower your risk of endometriosis.
Fruits and green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish, herbs and spices and olive oil are the mainstays of this diet. Poultry, eggs and cheese are eaten in moderation, and processed foods and sugar are eliminated.
Moving toward this diet plan will lower your risk of endometriosis and help prevent obesity.