Here is my 5 Step Plan for the herbs and supplements to add to your anti-inflammatory diet. These should not be taken during pregnancy, but can be taken up until conception – just discontinue when you try to get pregnant, and resume if you have not conceived, and they can be taken while you are breastfeeding.
1. REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Natural anti-inflammatories such as curcumin (from turmeric), bromelain (from pineapple), quercetin (from apples, onions, and other plant sources) ginger root, boswellia, and fish oil are all fabulous anti-inflammatories that I use to treat my patients who have endometriosis. I recommend a combination of these, and use products including Inflammatone from Designs for Health, InflammaResponse from Herb Pharm and Turmeric Supreme: Joint by Gaia Herbs, along with 1-2 tsp. daily of Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega for a high dose of fish oil (talk with your doctor before taking if you are on blood thinners, though the risks are very small according to medical literature).
Not only will inflammation be reduced, but these herbs also relieve pain over time.
2. PREVENT AND REPAIR DAMAGE WITH ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants help to prevent and reverse local tissue damage from inflammation. Some of our best antioxidants come from foods highest in vitamins E, A, and C, which you can also supplement by taking a daily multivitamin. Resveratrol from red grapes, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), pine bark, green tea, and curcumin are powerful antioxidants.
NAC is a powerful antioxidant with some impressive data behind it specifically for endometriosis. In a 2013 study of 92 women in Italy, 47 took NAC and 42 took a placebo. Of those who took 600 mg of NAC three times a day, three consecutive days each week for three months, 24 patients cancelled their scheduled laparoscopy due to a decrease or disappearance of endometriosis, improved pain reduction or because they had gotten pregnant! Fourteen of the women in the NAC group had decreased ovarian cysts, while 8 had a complete disappearance; 21 had pain reduction and 1 became pregnant. In the other group, only 1 patient cancelled surgery. A total of 8 women got pregnant in the NAC group, while 6 did in the placebo-only group.
In yet another study of an antioxidant herb, this time pycnogenol from pine bark, women taking 30 mg twice daily for 48 weeks showed a 33% reduction in pain, including severe pain, and while the pain reduction was not as strong as hormonal treatment, it actually persisted without relapse, unlike the medication group. Further, 5 women in the pycnogenol group became pregnant.
3. BALANCE YOUR HORMONES
When estrogen is running wild, it not only increases the size and number of the endometrial tissue, but certain forms of it also contributes to inflammation.
Getting enough dietary or supplemental fiber and having a daily bowel movement are essential for reducing inflammation, overall body toxin load, and eliminating excess estrogen from your system. I recommend taking 1-2 TBS of freshly ground flax seed daily in a smoothie, or mixed into food, and if constipation is a problem, natural treatments are available.
4. AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL TRIGGERS AND SUPPORT NATURAL DETOXIFICATION
Numerous environmental toxins in our food, food packaging, air, water, homes, and workplaces increase our hormone burden, cause inflammation, and also have the capacity to cause our immune cells to malfunction. Avoiding these chemicals whenever we can, such as in our foods, body products and cosmetics, household cleaners, and flame-retardant treated fabrics can reduce body burden.
Given how common these are, though, if you are suffering from endometriosis, avoiding toxins is not enough – your body can need some extra detoxification support.
Some of the supplements I’ve already mentioned, including NAC, curcumin, resveratrol, and quercetin all support natural detoxification, and so you’re already ahead of the game here! One additional supplement that I haven’t mentioned yet is Indole-3-Carbinol, which is excellent for supporting the detoxification and elimination of excess hormones. One product I love is called Xeno-Pro-Tex by Xymogen, which has many of the detox supplements in the blend, though you may want to add in additional NAC to meet the level I mentioned above. Endocrine Disruptor Relief by Vitanica is also an excellent product.
5. TREAT PAIN
Ginger root powder (or the equivalent in extract form) at a dose of 500 mg 2-4 times/day has been shown to reduce pain equal to the effects of ibuprofen. Other herbs that are excellent for pain relief include Jamaican dogwood, curcumin, cramp bark, and devil’s claw. I recommend Turmeric Supreme Pain by Gaia Herbs to my patients, along with ginger capsules or extract at the previously mentioned dose.
One study demonstrated that 10 mg of melatonin per day significantly reduces chronic pelvic pain due to endometriosis, pelvic pain during menses and during sex, pain during urination and associated with bowel movements, to the tune of an overall 80% reduction in the need for pain medication in women taking it. At this dose, melatonin supports the body’s natural detoxification processes. In animal studies, melatonin led to regression and shrinkage of endometriosis tissue. I recommend starting at 1-3 mg/day, and build up, and preferably take it in the evening, as it can make you feel tired. It is the natural substance that increases at night in our brains to tell us to get some sleep!
These can be taken with or in place of the herbs mentioned in the above section on inflammation – there will be some crossover, but that’s ok. Acupuncture in one study has been shown to possibly be helpful for endometriosis pain, and I also recommend using alternating hot and cold sitz baths if you can make this happen at home. It stimulates pelvic circulation, getting good blood and lymph flow moving to help wash out inflammation and toxins.