Can diet cause endometriosis? This is an often-asked question when it comes to women’s reproductive health and dietetics. Endometriosis can be an extremely painful condition, and the exact cause is still unknown. It’s natural to want to know if there’s something in the environment, like diet, which might be within your control.
This month, we wanted to take a closer look at this often-debilitating condition in relation to nutrition. To do that, we decided to bring in an expert, Gynaecologist, Dr Peta Wright. Dr Wright specialises in paediatric and adolescent gynaecology and fertility. She has years of experience helping endometriosis sufferers manage this complicated and often perplexing condition. We asked Dr Wright her thoughts on the relationship between nutrition and endometriosis.
Can diet cause endometriosis?
By Dr Peta Wright, MBBS FRANZCOG
This is an interesting question, can diet cause endometriosis? At this stage, there is no evidence to suggest a single causal link between any particular diet and endometriosis. However, this is a growing research area. There has been some evidence to suggest that diet can potentially play a role in the presentation of symptoms, as well as have a hand in treatment.
In practice at Vera Women’s Wellness, we believe that food is medicine and can play a key role in chronic disease management. Some patients find that nutrition can make a difference to symptoms of endometriosis. Particularly in relation to reducing the burden of inflammation in the body.
What’s important to acknowledge about endometriosis, is that every woman’s body is different. What is true for one woman may be vastly different for another. It depends on her symptoms, choices, and history (or herstory, as it would have). Anecdotally, I have found that diet and nutritional support can be a valuable tool in the toolbox for managing endometriosis symptoms. Alongside lifestyle, natural therapies, surgery, and hormonal therapy.
So, what does the research say at this point in time about diet and endometriosis? Watch my video answering the question Can Diet Cause Endometriosis? and keep reading below to find out all about the condition and the role diet can play in symptom management.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a hormone-dependent chronic inflammatory disease. It is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside it. This produces an inflammatory reaction resulting in the development of painful scar tissue. Sufferers can experience pelvic pain ranging from mild to debilitating. Around one in every ten women have endometriosis. At this point in time, there is no cure. The disease is associated with:
- Endometrium growing outside the uterus
- Formation of scar tissue
- Pelvic pain from mild to severe during menstruation, ovulation, intercourse.
Nutrition’s role in symptoms
There is some evidence that diet can impact the severity of endometriosis symptoms. As well as making a difference in the quality of life for women suffering from endometriosis and pelvic pain. There is some evidence that women who have a diet very high in red meat have a higher severity of symptoms of endometriosis. This might be linked to the higher number of inflammatory oils like Omega 6’s often found in red meat and processed meats.
There’s also some evidence that when women undertake a gluten-free diet or sometimes a low-FODMAP diet, their symptoms can be improved. There’s also evidence that eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet can improve symptoms. This might be all to do with decreasing overall levels of inflammation in the body. It might also have to do with affecting the gut microbiome and the lining of the gut..
Gut health and endometriosis
Some evidence or some preliminary research has explored the effect of leaky gut on endometriosis. Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is a disruption in the very tight junction between cells that lie in the gut wall. These are usually held together very tightly with glue (adherens junctions). If those bits that stick the cells together are damaged, then that can create leaks. If compromised, toxins and bacterial particles can go through from the gut lumen, through the gut wall and interfere with the body’s immune system.
About 70 to 80% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut. So disruption of this lining can cause immune system dysfunction, and increased inflammation, and may be linked to conditions like endometriosis.
There is some evidence that diets that impact the microbiome can have an effect on the gut, and glue between the cells. Those diets that are low in fibre, higher in inflammatory foods, sometimes gluten and dairy and other processed foods. This can affect the type of bacteria in the gut, the diversity of the gut bacteria, and the mucous layer that helps protect that lining of the gut.
To wrap up
While this may not be true for everybody, there’s definitely some evidence that diet can affect endometriosis symptoms, overall inflammation, and immune system function in the body. So, it is definitely a huge part of what I talk to women about who have pelvic pain and endometriosis.
As mentioned, good treatment for this condition is about finding what works for you. Identifying all the possible contributing factors; offering all the possible treatment options and outlining all the risks. Then partnering with you to choose a course of action that feels right for you as an individual.
About Dr Peta Wright
Dr Peta Wright is a renowned gynaecologist, fertility specialist and obstetrician, who completed a fellowship in adolescent gynaecology in 2013. Dr Wright founded Vera Women’s Wellness in 2020 (where Desi happens to be the resident Dietitian). Vera Women’s Wellness is a holistic, multidisciplinary women’s health centre dedicated to supporting and empowering women to take charge of their health.
The Mediterranean diet for endometriosis
Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern has been shown in preliminary research to have positive benefits for some endometriosis sufferers. Certainly, in practice as dietitians, we have found it a wonderful tool for helping to reduce inflammation and support a healthy gut microbiome.
Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet are foods low in red meat, sugar and trans fats (which research is telling us can increase symptoms of endometriosis).
At the same time, the Mediterranean Diet naturally provides an abundance of fibre-rich, nutritious anti-inflammatory foods. Foods such as fresh vegetables, fruit, white meat, Omega 3-rich fish, soy products, whole grains, cold-pressed oils and foods rich in magnesium.
What is particularly interesting with the Mediterranean Diet, is the preliminary research around helping to reduce inflammation in the body, and particularly for endometrioisis. The types of oils found in the Mediterranean Diet have also been shown to help with pain management. Anecdotally, this is something we are also seeing in practice with our patients.
The content on this page is not intended as medical advice. It is also of a general nature and is not tailored to your individual circumstances. A 1:1 consultation with a women’s health specialist is always the best approach.