Digestion and endometriosis – what do these two processes have to do with each other? Well, actually they can influence each other quite a bit because of many physiological processes. While these processes are quite complex, there are simple ways that you can help you body out.
Let’s jump in.
Top 10 Ways to Improve Digestion and Endometriosis
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and the suggestions in this article are not medical health advice. Consult your physician for medical advice. Now that we’ve gotten that addressed, let’s dive in further!
Over the years, it’s been a journey in learning how to best support my digestive system. As someone who has dealt with her fare share of health symptoms over the years from endometriosis, this topic has been near and dear to my heart. For a long time now, but more recently in the last several years I’ve worked and worked to try to heal my gut.
Between the research and the body’s own response to certain factors, we have a lot of information at our fingertips to help us heal. Some of us may have an easier time and a shorter timeframe for this to occur, but I believe we can always do something for improvement.
The Digestive System: The Body’s Second Brain
First, a very short primer on the gut. What is digestion? They say that the digestive track is your body’s second brain.
Our second brain actually has a name: the enteric nervous system. “It’s two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal track.” (1) Much of the latest research is finding that the state of the GI system has a big impact on the central nervous system, including our emotional health. There seems to be back and forth connections between our thoughts from our central nervous system (our brain) and the enteric nervous system.
Gut health is important for our optimal functioning and is a pathway towards improved health. Need proof?
Endometriosis and Digestive Troubles Go Hand in Hand for most Sufferers
Research shows that over 90% of women diagnosed with endometriosis present with GI symptoms as their initial symptoms. Raise your hand if you experience bloating? Apparently bloating is reported by 83% of women with endo. (2)
Beyond bloating, other digestive distress may show up as constipation, diarrhea or loose bowels, cramping after eating, and acid reflux, to name some of the most prevalent. These are signs that something is not working well and we should pay attention. The association between digestive issues and endometriosis is so statistically significant that women reporting IBS symptoms should be screened for endometriosis. (3)
What is more, there is some evidence that endometriosis involves the immune system in some capacity. While endometriosis may not be considered an autoimmune disease, evidence does show that the blood stasis, and resulting inflammation may result in an immune system response. (6) And it isn’t a surprise to learn that those pesky endometrial cells being in the wrong place may also cause an immunological response. This typically leads to a cycle of inflammation that is hard to control.
So, if you are reading this article, chances are you either have an endometriosis diagnosis and are managing your condition, or have some suspicion based on symptoms and are trying to get a handle for what to do differently. A good place to start is to look at the process of digestion.
Qualities of a Good Digestive System
We all know what happens when we eat, right? Chemical digestion begins in the mouth, as digestive enzymes are released as we chew our food. From there, the stomach handles a portion of breaking down this material even further with hydrochloric acid (HCL) before heading into the small intestine, large intestine and out of the body through the elimination process.
Throughout the process, waste materials are sent through the body to be eliminated and absorbable nutrients are integrated into the body through a very complex series of processes. Ideally, we would eliminate via poop twice per day, usually during the first half of the day. While we sleep, the body performs many processes dealing with filtering, cleansing and moving waste through the body.
Baseline recommendations to eliminate digestive stress:
All in all, a healthy gut is a pretty vital part of flourishing health. So, how do you go about keeping or getting your gut into better health? A big part of an unhealthy gut is the inflammation that arises from cells that have gone rogue. Here are some ways that been recommended to help initially lessen the burden and serve as aids in digestion:
1. Reduce and then eliminate sugar.
Sugar is an endocrine disrupter, and sugar also disrupts the gut lining and nutrient absorption. Some would say that sugar has a direct impact on the ovaries, one of the areas we are wanting to heal. Most women these days suffer from imbalanced hormones, especially those with endometriosis, and anything we can do to stop them from being disrupted is worth looking into. Check out my post about the science behind sugar, inflammation and gut issues along with how to break up with sugar.
2. Reduce and then eliminate processed foods.
It’s no secret that those types of foods are full of synthetic creations that our bodies don’t really know how to process efficiently. You want your body to be able to process and incorporate what it is receiving easily, and foreign items will be taxing and make the digestive process sluggish and stressed. Processed foods are usually also high in added sugars.
3. Reduce your pesticide intake.
This might mean incorporating more organic produce into your diet and being careful to reduce fruits and vegetables that were sprayed. Pesticides are hormone distrupters and are also not natural to the body and hard to process, as well as toxic to the various systems. Also, it might mean taking extra care to source your animal products from a grass-fed, wild-caught, organic farm or producing company. As an aside, animal products can be very taxing on the digestive system, and many people with endometriosis have decided to eliminate or greatly reduce meat (especially red meat because of the arachidonic acid which can aggravate endometriosis pain). If you keep animal products such as red meat, try and find a good source.
4. Eliminate gluten.
Or at least, experiment with how gluten makes you feel. I personally am mostly GF, but not absolutely. I find that when I over-do it, my system will let me know with immediate bloating and discomfort. Many women with digestive issues have gluten intolerance and recommend completely eliminating it for good. If you are new to the endometriosis holistic approach to healing, it might be a good place to start.
5. Eliminate or experiment with dairy.
Most natural health practitioners I’ve researched recommend eliminating dairy for those suffering from endometriosis. For one, dairy can create dampness and mucus in the body, which can increase stagnation of the blood as well as slow down digestion. For another, it can be difficult to find a source that is easy to digest. In the past, I would drink A2 raw milk for the nutrients, which is an easier type of milk to digest without the casein and historically it’s what those of a European descent drank.
How do you get enough calcium you ask? Have your blood levels tested for calcium – you may be getting enough in your current diet already.
6. Meal spacing.
There are many different thoughts regarding meal spacing. I believe everybody is different and needs to find the balance that feels the best to them. Here are a few takes on meal spacing and how they might encourage a less-taxed digestion process:
- Wait 12-16 hours between the last food you eat in the evening and breaking that fast the next day.
- Start the day with lemon water (warm if desired) followed by a fruit and vegetable juice. When I do this, I usually wait 10 minutes in between the two liquid groups, and then another 30 after the juice. This gives the fluids time to move through your system without getting flooded, thereby taxing your digestive tract further.
- Don’t snack in-between meals. Or, if you prefer several smaller meals, don’t snack in between these meals and keep your meal smaller.
- Don’t over eat.
7. Choose a quality daily probiotic.
Many times, those of us with endometriosis and gut issues have an imbalance in the body. Perhaps we have a track record of consuming a highly processed diet, a history of being on antibiotics, or other infections or stresses which could all lead to trouble. Many times, you’ll want a probiotic to help restore the good gut bacteria, the kind with the bacteria strains such as lactobaccilus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus, saccharomyces boulardii, etc.
You may find it helpful working with a functional medical doctor to get to the root of your gut imbalance to rule out candida, SIBO, parasites, etc. Fermented foods are known to naturally build up the gut with good bacteria, though especially if you suspect candida, ferments may increase the issues.
Check out my blog post about how probiotics have been found in clinical studies to reduce pain and infertility in women with endometriosis.
8. Digestive enzyme support.
Considering that a weakened digestive tract and weakened accompanying organs will also create lag. Digestive juices and enzymes, produced by the body, are needed to digest your intake. The stomach acid, hydrochloric acid, or HCL) works with digestive enzymes to break down the food properly. Stomach acid also serves as a trap for pesky bacteria and whatnot that we ingest. But people in our society today are low in stomach acid. If your digestive system is already taxed and/or depleted, it may not have the digestive enzymes necessary in order to fully digest your meals.
Some foods naturally contain really good quality digestive enzymes, such as pineapple. Pineapple contains bromelain, a digestive enzyme. You can also find a quality supplement which includes these enzymes and use them before a meal.
Sometimes, your digestion does not have enough acid because you have low iron and low thyroid levels. If you aren’t sure if this is you, you may want to check out my post.
9. Supplement support.
As someone who has tried what feels like every (researched) supplemental suggestion, I have many thoughts and opinions about what seemed to work with my body. However, I will say that every body is different and some of the subtle causes of one person’s chronic pain and related symptoms may not respond in the same way as another person’s body. I will also say that the best form of vitamins and nutrients are from whole foods, but often some people need much larger therapeutic doses that an additional boost might be helpful. Or, if you are in a stressful time in life, some of the body’s nutrients become depleted more quickly and a boost could be really beneficial.
As one example, one supplement that I keep in my cupboard and kitchen is tumeric (curcumin). The supplement tumeric is really derived from the plant-based tumeric herb, known for being anti-inflammatory and hailed to help reduce pain. Tumeric is well known for being an anti-inflammatory (also a blood thinner, beware) and during the height of my pain, I was taking a good quality high dose turmeric supplement daily. Several animal studies have demonstrated that tumeric inhibits the growth of a variety of bacteria, parasites and pathogenic fungi. Much more can be added about the wonderful benefits for endometriosis sufferers from tumeric. You could also use the herb in cooking as many delicious Indian dishes frequently utilize this healing medicinal.
I cover more about some of my favorite vitamins and supplements in this post about vitamin c and e as a pain reducing powerhouse and here where I go into so of my favorite supplements as recommended from Chris Wark’s Square One holistic coaching program.
10. Nourish your gut with healing broth.
There are numerous benefits incorporating broth into your dietary routine and many live test cases where broth from vegetables and bone help healed many conditions. If you want to learn more about the healing power of broth for your digestion and if you are aiming to alleviate your endometriosis symptoms, check out the article I wrote about the healing benefits of bone both.
Each of these tips to improve your digestive system deserve much more in-depth research, though for now hopefully they are a good starting place or a good reminder for how simple daily choice can help or hinder your symptoms.
Have digestive tips of your own?
- The Brain Gut Connection. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
- Maroun P, Cooper MJW, Reid GD, Keirse MJNC. Relevance of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Endometriosis. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2009; 49: 411-414
- Viganò, D., Zara, F., & Usai, P. (2018). Irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis: New insights for old diseases. Digestive and Liver Disease, 50(3), 213–219.
- Stephansson, O., Falconer, H., & Ludvigsson, J. F. (2011). Risk of endometriosis in 11 000 women with celiac disease. Human Reproduction, 26(10), 2896–2901. doi:10.1093/humrep/der263
- Moore, J. S., Gibson, P. R., Perry, R. E., & Burgell, R. E. (2017). Endometriosis in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: Specific symptomatic and demographic profile, and response to the low FODMAP diet. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 57(2), 201–205. doi:10.1111/ajo.12594
- Heal Your Body, Clear Your Mind. Aggarwal, Ameet ND.