What Estrogen Does – and Doesn’t – Have To Do with endometriosis
Many women, along with their doctors, are under the misconception that estrogen is the cause of endometriosis.
A lot of research you’ll see talks about a condition known as “estrogen dominance,” and states that this is even a cause of endometriosis. This, too, is a fallacy.
Let’s clear things up by talking about what we do know about the possible causes of endometriosis, and about where estrogen fits into the picture.
Estrogen is NOT the cause
We need to talk about “possible” causes because the fact is that the true cause of endometriosis has yet to be pinned down. However, research is ongoing, and is focused on several theories about possible triggers.
One theory is that endometriosis is actually present at birth. According to this theory, a female embryo has endometrial tissue that, for some unknown reason, developed outside of the uterus when it should have developed in the uterus.
This, and the discovery that certain genes actually predispose a woman to endometriosis, could partially explain the fact that the condition often runs in families. It could also account for those girls who experience severe pelvic pain from endometriosis just as soon as they begin their period.
Another possibility is that endometriosis is an autoimmune disorder.
Endometriosis lesions have high concentrations of cytokines, inflammatory compounds which are also present in autoimmune diseases. This could be a response to the “foreign” presence of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
Where does estrogen fit into the picture?
If you notice, none of the theories regarding the cause of endometriosis involves estrogen.
Estrogen does not cause endometrial growth outside the uterus. It can, however, worsen the pain and inflammation already present with endometriosis.
Aromatase is a protein that is responsible for the production of estrogen. High levels of aromatase are found in endometrial lesions.
Research has shown that a class of drug known as aromatase inhibitors can suppress the growth of endometriosis, reducing pelvic inflammation and pain.
The chemical that disrupts estrogen
Many chemicals we use daily are known endocrine disruptors. They interrupt and change the body’s natural production and use of hormones, including estrogen.
Dioxin is probably the most toxic chemical of all. It is actually a component of the notoriously deadly Agent Orange.
Dioxin is found in our food, especially in meat and dairy foods, since it is fat-soluble (dissolves in fat) rather than water-soluble (dissolves in water).
As a powerful endocrine disruptor, dioxin disrupts the body’s use of estrogen and damages the immune system, which can lead to endometriosis.
What you can do to avoid the effects of dioxin
You can support your body’s immune and reproductive systems, both of which are targeted by estrogen disruptors like dioxin.
While you may have heard that dairy foods are soothing to endometriosis symptoms, it’s also true that they are among the foods highest in dioxin.
Red meat is a big culprit. Animals are raised with chemically-laced feed, and dioxin is among them. If you do eat meat, know that broiling is the cooking method that will eliminate the most toxins.
Fruits and vegetables, although they have no fat content, are not safe from dioxin. You should consider eating organically grown produce in order to avoid residues from pesticides and herbicides.
Avoid cleaning with or using chlorine bleach. It forms dioxins after contact with organic compounds like olive oil, rubbing alcohol or sucrose (table sugar).
In addition, avoid bleached paper products like napkins, tissues and paper towels.
Avoid products with the antibacterial agent triclosan, which degrades into dioxin. Triclosan is found in shampoos, anti-bacterial soaps and deodorants, so read your labels carefully.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that “animal studies have shown that Triclosan alters hormone regulation.”