Paleo and Endometriosis.

by 1866 · February 18, 2012 at 07:32 AM

There are a number of people who believe endometriosis an auto-immune disease that can be greatly addressed with a change of diet. Several women who "went paleo" claim that the symptoms linked to their endometriosis got better, though the medical community doesn't consider these claims "definitive." Basically, research into what causes endometriosis, and how to treat it best is relatively new. However, there is a growing body of evidence that links gluten and lack of exercise to worse endometrial symptoms.

In Robb Wolf's podcast (episode 66), he briefly addresses endometriosis and says that it's linked to insulin irregularity, but doesn't cite any references. Does anyone have further information on this, and how a paleo lifestyle may address endometriosis? It sounds perfectly reasonable that endometriosis is indeed an auto-immune disease brought on by a post-agricultural (and mostly modern/western) diet, and I'd love to see more supporting evidence of this.

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10 Replies

702 · February 24, 2011 at 08:06 PM

I had endometriosis. So bad that I had to resort to IVF to have a baby because scar tissue had ravaged my fallopian tubes. After the pregnancy, my periods resumed as per normal - excruciating pain, clots, back pain (I regularly had endometrial tissue make it's way to an area which caused severe back pain, and ensuing ultrasounds) and the heaviest flow ever. I started the Paleo/Primal diet around 5 months after delivery, and it took about 3 months for my periods to become regular again. I do not consider myself to have endometriosis anymore, as I have absolutely no symptoms. However, I am certain if I went back to the standard American diet, it would come back with a vengeance. For me, cutting gluten and wheat out of my diet improved things, but didn't solve the problem. Neither did exercise. It was the regulation of my insulin over a period of months that finally did the trick.

198 · February 24, 2011 at 08:21 PM

I was (finally) diagnosed with endometriosis in 2004 and went to see a nutritionalist in the hopes of dealing with it without recourse to hormone therapies which my specialist introduced with the comforting "well, we're not sure what will work ... it won't cure it ... we'll just keep trying you on different cocktails until we find something that makes you feel a bit better" Um? No, thanks!

The nutritionalist put me on a "healthy balanced diet" which excluded dairy and caffeine and sugar etc and it really did give me a big improvement. Then two or so summers ago I realised in late August that my endo symptoms had been hugely better over the summer and was trying to figure out what had made the difference - we'd had good weather and had been being "lazy" with cooking - meat and fish on the BBQ with just a salad to go with - no bread, no potatoes.

About the same time I started looking around to find out more about whether it was a good idea to stop all carbs I saw an article on De Vany which lead me to Cordain's book... which introduced me to the whole Paleo/Primal sphere.

My endo is almost now completely "in remission" I won't say cured because if I stray from the path it's back with a vengeance! I also tend to get about 2 "flare ups" or so a year. I will say, though, that - by and large - my periods are now the best they have ever been and I can go a couple of cycles without even popping one pain killer.. which is quite remarkable.

Since going Paleo another thing I have noticed is that along with an amelioration of endo symptoms, my cycle has shortened from around 28 days to 26 and now runs like clockwork. I have no idea what that's about!

883 · May 11, 2011 at 01:00 AM

my endometriosis hasent changed at all even after being on the paleo diet for 2 years and also having a moderate exercise routine. So I guess I am one of those cases where diet doesnt change the outcome of the disease. Its common for women in my family to have endometriosis, 80% of us do. my sister is the first out of 2 generations not to have endometriosis, so that to me is very troubling.

the only thing that has made the pain stop was hormone replacement, but my mental health suffers when I am on hormone replacement so I just opt to cope with the pain rather than being suicidal/depressed all the time (thats no way to live).

I am pregnant now so hopefully once baby is born the pain will stop, if it doesnt then I guess its something I will have to cope with for the rest of my days. (yes I realize this is very pessimistic of me, but its hard not to be when I haven't been able to have enjoyable sex for over 2 years)

1617 · February 24, 2011 at 06:37 PM

I am 98% sure I had endo prior to getting pregnant. Pregnancy is the "cure" and I haven't gotten my period back yet so I don't know if the pain will be making its appearance again. Paleo never made it better and I think made it worse. I couldn't even get pregnant until I relaxed my diet a lot. It's all speculation on my part, but I think maybe too much protein + not enough carbs or micronutrients for a long period of time unbalanced my hormones. I'm sure having so many cycles over my lifetime before getting pregnant didn't help anything either - I think modern women have a lot more cycles than we ever used to and the hormonal roller coaster isn't doing us any favors.

80 · February 18, 2012 at 07:32 AM

( I have extreme complications with bowel movements- constipation from hell and then severe diarrhea at the start of my period).

Yup, me too!

When my periods started I had awful period pain. Went on the pill early and spent my twenties with little pain, but lots of raging negative emotions and crying. I always seemed to catch colds along with my period, once a month like clockwork.

At thirty, I came off the pill.... And amazingly.... No symptoms other than one spot on my face once a month. Until...

I did a week long juice fast. I felt great doing it, but my period pain came back with vengeance. Back to the pain killers. I became a vegan, thought that might help symptoms... But they got so bad the already excrutiating pain was accompanied by vomiting, fever,and diarrhea.

At forty, I became a paleo diet follower, and symptoms again worsened.

The strange thing is, my period has always been regular, light and short.

I guess I just have to wait for menopause now and it will all end.

0 · October 17, 2011 at 04:31 PM

I guess it all greatly depends on the individual I read everyones experience and will include my own.

I started paleo/ primal blueprint four months ago and I will never look back. I have been diagnosed with Endometriosis. They wanted to do surgery and I refused- at the time the Dr's were sure the risks outweighed the benefits ( I have extreme complications with bowel movements- constipation from hell and then severe diarrhea at the start of my period) They are quite sure the endo tissue is in the bowel- surgery becomes "risky" anyway . I found the more I weigh the more it hurts. I have also found that if I do 80% primal with a few "treats" I am not unhappy with my diet and I feel ten times better than I did prior to going primal.

Before primal my periods were 28 days, 33 days, and so on my period also lasted 10 days. Since going primal I have a 28 day cycle and a 3 to 5 day period ( MUCH BETTER) I still have some pain but it is doable. I have also lost 14 pounds after becoming more active.The first two months I spent getting the diet down- experimenting with different food dishes and finding my happy medium ( the key- balance). So far I am extremely happy with the results and am glad I have cut out grains- but I was intolerant to wheat/ barley/ etc to begin with so paleo was just another step in ridding grains ( rice) I have found that my blood sugar stays quiet normal as well ( hypoglycemic) a good 90 range.

I also had borderline hypothyroid- my thyroid tests now: normal. I see the benefits in this diet and absolutely love it. I do not think it is for everyone of course. I say experiment with your diet- some people think counting calories or low fat/ low carb will help I say screw that and keep a mood food diary- how do you feel after eating, what are your energy levels, how do you feel before bed? How long did you sleep? and so on.

130 · May 10, 2011 at 09:23 AM

My endo pain was incredibly decreased for the first 6 months I was ketogenic. I went back on the normal american diet in december-january and my first period after the diet change was horrible and has been bad ever since... even after going back to ketogenic.

I researched this a year ago. I do not remember if the insulin acted estrogenically and thus caused worse endo... Or if it was the inflammatory effects of insulin that can make endo symptoms worse. But there are theories along these lines.

I searched pubmed yesterday and it seems high Omega 6s is shown to increase endo and calorie restriction seems to decrease it. Oddly enough, dairy was shown to decrease it in one study.

I think it is still anyone's guess at this point. I imagine research on the topic is difficult because so few people ever get diagnosed properly. I had it for 15 years and went to countless specialists. I wasn't diagnosed until finally someone said i had to have laproscopy to definitively be diagnosed. Why didnt my American doctors ever mention that?! In 2 years I get to choose a research topic in medical school, and I think this would be fascinating... but I doubt I would be able to find enough women with Endo diagnosis where I live to make the results significant. :0( Maybe I could do something with correlation between menstrual cramps and diet... or maybe even PCOS... we'll see. :)

558 · March 04, 2011 at 06:56 PM

I was never diagnosed with endometriosis but a few years ago I was diagnosed and treated for PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). There was no clear cause (such as an STD) and though the swelling and pain went away with antibiotics, I still had a high white blood cell count two weeks after treatment. I was concerned it could be sign of another infection but the docs said I was clean and that some women just create a lot of white blood cells (like that should make me feel better!)

Since being low-carb then paleo, my menstrual cycle arrives almost on-the-dot with almost no PMS symptoms.

2255 · February 24, 2011 at 08:18 PM

Going paleo didn't really help me. I was never diagnosed with endo but eventually the pelvic pain got really bad and I could feel a lump on the lower right side. Initially the doctor said it was appendicitis then an ultrasound scan said it was an ovarian cyst. Doctor decided that a complete hysterectomy was the answer and when the surgeon opened me she found horrendous endo - basically all my insides were covered in it and everything was stuck to everything else. I'd been paleo about 9 months by then and I think the fact that I still felt lousy was one of the reasons for going to the doctors. Hysterectomy sorted things for a bit then the pain started up again. Turned out because it was such a mess in there and my surgeon had had to peel one of my ovaries off my bowel a small piece had got stuck. This remnant decided to kick in oestrogen production and flared the bits of endo that were left up again. My surgeon was understandably reluctant to go back in as she felt she 'had got away' without damaging my bowel the first time so I had a series of injections which turned off the oestrogen production. This worked but the menopause symptoms kicked in with a vengeance - I thought I'd avoided this and put that down to paleo but obviously not! I'm now on Livial which apparently makes just enough oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone to fool the ovary remnant into thinking it doesn't have to do anything, keeps the hot flushes at bay and helps prevent osteoporosis. 9 months probably wasn't long enough to affect what was obviously long-standing endo but I'd been paleo for more then 2 years when it flared again and it had already been removed once! Oh and don't think pregnancy is a cure either - maybe for a short while but my youngest was 13 when I had my hysterectomy. Sorry this is a long post and not very positive but I thought I'd give you my experiences.

3576 · February 24, 2011 at 06:08 PM

I have never been diagnosed with endometriosis but it wouldn't surprise me. I had wicked heavy periods for about three years after my cycle returned following the birth of my daughter. They were so bad I had to stay home the first day, most months out of the year. This lasted three years because I had no health insurance and was terrified of what Planned Parenthood might find. One of the symptoms was this weird twingy cramping on my left side that would occur a day or two before the festivities began. I've had lower GI complaints on that same side from time to time so that's what makes me think "endo"--maybe there's some rogue lining there causing problems. I'm not infertile from it, I've had two children, but the symptoms aren't fun.

But here's the thing? Vitamin A really helped. I have a normal life again no matter what time of the month it is. I'm still not at a 28 day cycle, but 35 days is better than what it was. And I can tell when I haven't had enough A because the twingy cramping comes back. I get mine from CLO or in a "natural" form derived from fish liver oil. Haven't convinced my palate to try liver again yet, though I'd like to get to that point.

I suspect I have some autoimmune stuff going on, but it's intermittent and seems to respond to carb intake, especially gluten. It's tough to get this stuff diagnosed even by a good doctor, and mine seems kind of absent-minded and I'm not addicted enough to going to the doctor to want to do a lot of hopping around. Still, even if endo isn't an autoimmune thing, I bet it happens more often in women with autoimmune issues since that all ties in to poor health in general.

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