A healthy diet can help bring relief for sufferers of the debilitating condition affecting one in 10 Australian women.
About 700,000 Australian women suffer endometriosis, a painful disorder where tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows in other areas of the body.
Yet for years it has remained a mysterious and largely unspoken condition.
Endometriosis is finally getting the spotlight it deserves, after the federal government announced a national action plan to tackle the condition in July.
And this week, TV and radio personality Sophie Monk openly shared her battle with endometriosis.
Pain-relief medications, hormone therapy and surgery are among the treatment options for endometriosis. But a healthy diet could be a helpful first step to soothing the painful symptoms.
“Many of my clients with endometriosis have little knowledge of the lifestyle management of the condition and how eating well can improve symptoms,” says dietitian and nutritionist Marika Day.
“It may not remove them altogether, but any improvement for sufferers is a good thing.”
Here’s what Marika recommends.
First, reach for inflammation-reducing fats
Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease, so reducing inflammation in the body is key to finding relief, says Marika.
Load up on Omega-3 fats, found in oily fish such as salmon, as well as good fats including avocado, olive oil, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Eat the rainbow
A boost of vitamins and minerals from colourful fruit and vegetables will increase your antioxidant intake and again help to lower inflammation.
Adding foods such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, oranges, berries and beetroot to your diet will naturally boost your vitamin and mineral levels.
“Bulk up your omelettes or frittatas with pumpkin, spinach and cherry tomatoes, sneak some spinach into your smoothies and serve meals with a side salad or steamed vegetables,” Marika recommends.
Fuel on fibre
Ensuring you have an adequate fibre intake, including wholegrains and legumes, is essential for a healthy gut. And it can also relieve bowel symptoms associated with endometriosis.
“If endometriosis is affecting bowel habits or is associated with irritable bowel syndrome I’ll also work with my clients on trialling a low-FODMAP diet,” says Marika, explaining that this restricts certain foods that trigger digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas and stomach pain.
Limit highly processed, low-fibre foods
These are foods that can undo your hard work and instead contribute to inflammation.
“Having one unhealthy meal isn’t likely to worsen your endometriosis but there are foods we want to limit,” Marika says.
“Think highly-refined pastries, breads, cereals, sweets and lollies, deep-fried foods and take-away foods.”
Keep a food diary to record any triggering foods or symptoms along the way.
Personalise your plan
Seeking the advice of a professional can help you tailor your intake so it becomes a lifestyle rather than an elimination diet.
“It’s important to understand that while nutrition may relieve symptoms, cutting out or introducing foods isn’t going to stop your endometriosis altogether,” Marika says.
“Working with a professional with experience in endometriosis is important so you don’t exclude foods you don’t necessarily need to.”