I jolted awake at 2am with two simultaneous thoughts. One was that my belly hurt SO badly that I didn’t want to move even one inch. And the second thought was that I *really* needed to pee.
I lay there for several minutes trying to figure out how I was going to get to the bathroom. It would only take 10 steps to get from my bed to the toilet, but at that moment it felt as daunting as climbing Mt Everest.
Over the next 20 minutes, I slowly crawled to the bathroom in excruciating pain. I peed, changed my pad and promptly slumped onto the floor where I spent the next several hours. Thankfully, my roommate found me there in the morning and took me to the ER, but all they had to offer was IV fluids and a painkiller that did absolutely nothing to relieve my pain.
Period Pain is NOT Normal
Now, over twenty years later, I can tell you that this is absolutely NOT normal! I’ve also finally learned that I don’t need to wait until things get THAT bad before doing something about it.
Like so many women I’ve met since that day, I had been dismissing all the warning signs and just ignoring the increasing pain each month. I was too busy (this was during my second year of naturopathic medical school!) and I figured that dealing with pain during my period was just something I had to push through.
What?!? How is it that our society and our medical system have taught us to just put up with feeling like this? If men experienced painful periods, I have no doubt that research dollars would get poured into figuring out why it happens and how to relieve it.
Endometriosis Relief is Possible
After imaging showed a huge mass on my ovary, I landed in emergency surgery and was diagnosed with stage IV (the most severe) endometriosis. This is a condition where tissue that is similar to the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. There are immune and hormonal imbalances that allow this to happen, and it results in painful bleeding in the pelvis every month as well as other issues that can happen throughout the rest of the body.
As I recovered, I had to adjust to the news that I will have to manage a chronic condition for the rest of my life. I was offered only a few treatment options (including one suggestion to get pregnant even though I wasn’t at all ready to raise a child!), all of which had pretty severe side effects.
It was at that point that I decided to dedicate my education, and my whole career, to helping women to better understand our bodies and to be able to find better answers for our women’s health issues.
Our Holistic Approach to Endometriosis
If you have pain with your periods, whether it is officially diagnosed as endometriosis or not, the holistic approach that I developed (and followed myself!) will guide you in taking the key steps to address the underlying issues.
It’s time to get back to being in control of your life again, instead of losing a week (or two or three) every month to dealing with your period pain!
Listed below are the 5 aspects of your health that must be addressed in order to successfully find lasting relief. Whether you are trying to reduce your pain, increase your fertility, treat naturally without surgery, prepare for a successful surgery, or prevent recurrence after a surgery, make sure you get help to evaluate and address all of these areas.
TIP: To help you remember the 5 steps of this approach, think of the fact that endometriosis often “H.I.D.E.S.” for an average of 5-10 years before being diagnosed. Because everything looks normal on the outside, and society has normalized period pain, endometriosis is one of many “hidden” diseases that can fly under the radar without being properly diagnosed or treated.
Here are the 5 keys of our H.I.D.E.S. approach to holistic endometriosis relief: Hormones, Immune system, Digestion, Environment, and Stress.
It is widely accepted that endometriosis is an estrogen driven disease, and we know that endo lesions can actually create their own estrogen locally. In our practice, we see that some patients may have normal levels of estrogen but if they don’t detox and excrete estrogens well, they can still experience problems.
Conventional hormonal treatments for endo aim to either lower estrogen (often by shutting down all of the sex hormones by inducing a menopausal state) or increase progesterone (most commonly with synthetic progestins). Alternatively, herbs such as Vitex (aka Chaste Tree Berry) can help to regulate hormone balance. Bioidentical progesterone can also be used either orally, topically or vaginally, usually during the luteal phase from ovulation to the next menses.
Estrogen dominance (e.g. during PMS or perimenopause) can worsen symptoms. We often use liver supporting herbs and DIM (a broccoli extract) to enhance the breakdown of estrogens.
Conversely, the lower levels of estrogen during pregnancy or menopause can bring some relief. However, it’s important to understand that these are not a “cure” for endometriosis because hormones are only one part of the picture.
It is also fairly common for patients with endo to have adrenal and/or thyroid dysfunction as well, so getting all of your hormones tested, and addressing any imbalances, is an important step of your healing journey.
2. IMMUNE SYSTEM / INFLAMMATION
This is a huge missing piece in most treatment plans for endometriosis. In recent years, more and more research is finding that immune dysregulation is a key feature of endo. Between out of control inflammation, and misplaced cells that can evade normal immune clearance, the immune system is a critical key to finding lasting relief.
People with endo also have higher rates of auto-immune diseases, chronic infections and other inflammatory conditions (even heart disease!).
Consider including anti-inflammatory and immune regulating herbs and nutrients such as: fish oil, turmeric, quercetin, NAC, green tea, resveratrol, melatonin, and vitamin D.
Gut health is the foundation of almost any naturopathic protocol, and that is definitely true for treating endo. Because our intestines sit right in the pelvis where most endometriosis lesions grow, the experience of pain, inflammation and dysfunction in the GI system is common. Sometimes referred to as “endo belly” this is what drives many women to a gastroenterologist first because the pain presents as a digestive problem before they eventually find out that they have endometriosis.
The relationship between endo and gut health is a chicken and egg situation that really goes both ways. When endo is flared up the local inflammation in the pelvis can irritate the gut and cause symptoms ranging from bloating and gas, to diarrhea or constipation and, quite commonly, painful bowel movements. Endo can grow on the intestine and cause bleeding, or scar tissue can pull on the intestines as they contract to move things along.
Poor gut health also contributes to endometriosis. This is partly due to the role that gut health plays in regulating the immune system, partly due to the role of the gut in detox and elimination, and partly due to additional inflammation coming from leaky gut, dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora) and food sensitivities.
Optimizing your diet and addressing any gut health issues are important keys to finding endometriosis relief.
4. ENVIRONMENT / DETOX
We are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of synthetic chemicals every day. From personal care products to plastics, cleaning products to carpeting, fragrances to flame retardants, many of these impact the endocrine (hormonal) system and the immune system which are both key factors in endometriosis.
While it’s important to limit exposure where you can, I totally get that it’s unrealistic to live in a bubble. So in addition to eating organic and using safer products (check ewg.org for guidance) it’s also important to support liver function and make sure you are eliminating well (yep… you need to pee, poop, and sweat!).
And the last, but definitely not least, key to finding holistic endometriosis relief is addressing STRESS, both emotional and physical. This is absolutely the most common thread that I have heard from hundreds of women… that their endo started or got worse during a high stress time in their life!
Stress enhances a pro-inflammatory environment, increases our perception of pain, and reduces our ability to heal and return to balance. And, of course, being diagnosed with endometriosis and trying to learn about a taboo subject just adds even more stress to the situation. Your friends, employers, co-workers and loved ones probably don’t understand what you are going through and you may limit social activities because you don’t know how bad your next period will be.
If you are busy and overwhelmed, it is also more difficult to prioritize your own health and self care. That is exactly what happened to me. I’ve learned the hard way that my health absolutely MUST come first, or I can’t show up for anyone or anything else in my life.
Part of the path to healing is practicing boundaries, learning to say no, and being ok with “doing less”. Get outdoors, connect with nature and spend time with animals. Find ways to create relaxation routines such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, journaling, music, art, dance or any kind of movement.
When you commit to your health, and incorporate these 5 Keys into your healing plan, you can give your body the help it needs right now. You are worth it and you are not alone.
Looking for holistic relief for your endometriosis and painful periods? Book a complimentary Vitality Discovery Call today. We look forward to hearing your story and helping you find your next steps forward!
To learn more about endometriosis, also check out (and share with your friends!) these Top 10 Facts about endometriosis that I helped to compile while I was a board member for the Endometriosis Association.