I feel as though I've met a lot of women with endometriosis lately. Not sure if this is because of my age group or if the nature of my job makes people tell me about their illnesses. But it's kind of alarming.
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the uterine lining grows elsewhere in the body, usually in areas close to the uterus - fallopian tubes, ovaries, pelvic sidewall.
The most common symptom is pelvic pain that can be intense and debilitating. It's estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of sufferers are infertile.
While there is no cure, there are treatments. The cause? We don't know for sure, but we have some ideas.
What the experts say
"Environmental estrogens, called xenoestrogens, come from pesticides, plastic and petrochemicals. They react in our bodies like estrogens and feed conditions such as endometriosis. Nutrition is very important. Buying mostly organic is essential. A mostly vegetarian diet is helpful because the fats in meats and dairy products increase inflammation. Increase fibre and decrease sugar, caffeine, chocolate and alcohol because they interfere with the liver's ability to break down hormones. I also use acupuncture and homeopathy. Often women with severe endometriosis pain have difficult emotional histories. I'm not sure why."
SHAWNA DAROU, naturopath, Toronto
"The most important thing is fatty acids. This is hard for vegetarians because they need fish oil. The fatty acids you get from, say, hemp oil are starting molecules, but we don't have enough of a certain enzyme to make the whole product, and people will end up going into an inflammatory cycle. Also remove all dietary allergens and regulate blood sugar levels. Irregular blood sugar can cause ovarian cysts and exacerbate endometriosis. Use a low glycemic diet. Some herbs to consider are blue cohosh, shepherd's purse, chaste berry, wild yam, cleavers, blueberry leaf, blueberries and goat's rue."
JOHN REDDEN, herbalist, Toronto
"Some studies suggest endometriosis is more common and more severe and the age of onset earlier than in the past, though you won't find general agreement about this. There is increasing evidence of a link with exposure to dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs. Some evidence indicates that other estrogenic agents can cause it, so researchers are looking at chemicals and pesticides. If we eat lower on the food chain, fewer fatty meats and dairy products , we're going to ingest less of these chemicals. Also increase intake of omega-3 fatty acid. Radiation is worth mentioning [as a cause.] We are exposed through medical exams, flying in airplanes and nuclear plants."
TED SCHETTLER, science director, Science and Environmental Health Network, Ann Arbor, Michigan
"I view endometriosis as a benign cancer; it won't kill you, but it will cause problems until removed. Effective treatment includes surgical removal. The key is getting it all out. We use a proactive, integrative approach. Historically, most gynecologists would either treat endometriosis surgically or suppress a woman's hormones. (The latter) is ineffective. Endometriosis can produce its own estrogen, so the medications turn off production in the ovaries but do nothing for the estrogen production of the endometriosis. Diet is a large part of restoring health. We look at how the thyroid gland is working. Vitamin D levels in endometriosis patients are, on average, quite low."
ANDREW COOK, founder and medical director, Vital Health Institute, Los Gatos, California