Lifestyle Works

Endometriosis Helped with Diet

Endometriosis is a major cause of disability and compromised quality of life in women and teenage girls. It is a chronic disease which is under-diagnosed, under-reported and under-researched... and for patients it can be a nightmare of misinformation, myths, taboos, lack of diagnosis, and problematic hit-and-miss treatments overlaid by a painful, chronic, stubborn disease.

Pain is what best characterizes the disease: pain, painful intercourse, heavy irregular periods, and infertility. About one in a dozen young women suffer from endometriosis, and it accounts for about half the cases of pelvic pain and infertility. It’s caused by what is called, ‘retrograde menstruation’ - blood, instead of going down, goes up into the abdominal cavity, where tissue of the uterine lining can implant onto other organs. The lesions can be removed surgically, but the recurrence rate within five years is as high as 50 percent.

Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, so might the anti-estrogenic effects of the phytoestrogens in flaxseeds and soy foods help, as they appear to do in breast cancer? I couldn’t find studies on flax and endometriosis, but soy food consumption may indeed reduce the risk of the disease. What about treating endometriosis with soy? While I couldn’t find any studies on that, there is another food associated with decreased breast cancer risk: seaweed.

Seaweeds have special types of fiber and phytonutrients not found in land plants, so in order to get these unique components, we would need to incorporate sea vegetables into our diet. Seaweeds may have anti-cancer properties, including anti-estrogen effects. Japanese women have among the lowest rates of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers, as well as longer menstrual cycles and lower estrogen levels circulating in their blood, which may help account for their low risk of estrogen-dependent cancers. We assumed this was due to their soy-rich diets but their high intake of seaweed might also be helping.

When seaweed broth was dipped on human ovary cells that make estrogen, estrogen levels dropped. Why? It either inhibits production or facilitates breakdown of estrogen. It may even block estrogen receptors, lowering the activity of the estrogen that is produced. This is in a petri dish though. Does it happen in women too? Yes.

Researchers estimated that an effective estrogen-lowering dose of seaweed for an average American woman might be around five grams a day and this experiment has been tried on endometriosis.

Three women with abnormal menstrual cycles, including two with endometriosis, volunteered to add a tiny amount of dried, powdered bladderwrack, a common seaweed, to their daily diets. This effectively lengthened their cycles and reduced the duration of their periods - and not just by a little. Subject one had a 30 year history of irregular periods, averaging every 16 days. Taking just a quarter-teaspoon of this seaweed powder a day, added 10 days on to her cycle, up to 26 days and adding a daily half-teaspoon increased her cycle to 31 days. Furthermore, all three women experienced marked reductions in blood flow and a decreased duration of menstruation. The two women suffering endometriosis reported ‘substantial alleviation’ of their pain. How did it happen? There was a 75 percent drop in estrogen levels after just a quarter-teaspoon of seaweed powder a day and an 85 percent drop after a half-teaspoon.

That study was published more than a decade ago and not a single such study has been published since. Millions of women are suffering with these conditions. Does the research world just not care about women? Well, less than a teaspoon of seaweed costs less than five cents, so without any down-sides, I suggest endometriosis sufferers give it a try.

  Michael Greger MD, FACLM, April 2,2020

Recipe of the Month

Melty Savoury Yeast Cheese

1 cup nutritional yeast seasoning        1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder (opt)                     2 tsp powdered kelp
2 cups water                                     1/3 cup whole wheat flour
½-1 cup cold pressed olive oil

Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan. Gradually add water, stirring with a whisk or beater, making a smooth paste and then thinning with the remaining water; Place on heat and stir constantly until it thickens and bubbles. Let it bubble for about 30 seconds and remove from heat. Whip in the oil, stirring well until oil is mixed in enough.
The sauce may get thick if it sits for a while. If so, heat up again and whip in a small amount of water.

—Based on recipe by  Val  Parker, Harmonious Living, 1980.