Endometriosis: How foods can help or hurt

Quincy AdamEndometriosis Learn

If you have endometriosis, you know the pain, bloating, fatigue and heavy bleeding it can cause. But what you may not know is the connection between food and your risk of getting this painful condition.

Experts have been studying the effects of various food groups on endometriosis risk and symptom severity. And while the science is somewhat conflicting, there are some clear answers.

What they agree on

Not all fats are equal. Studies show that healthy fats – those rich in omega-3 fatty acids — actually lower the risk of endometriosis.1  Common sources of omega-3 acids include salmon, mackerel and oysters; walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds; select cheeses such as Fontina; and beans and leafy greens — all healthy foods that are known to be good for your heart, as well.

What to avoid? Foods made with artificial fat, known as “trans-unsaturated fats,” are associated with an increased risk of endometriosis. 1 These include heavily processed store-bought goods such as doughnuts, cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, stick margarines and other spreads.

Trans-unsaturated fats are known to contribute to a range of health problems, including high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, so it’s best to avoid them in general 2

What’s still being debated

Which foods boost the risk of endometriosis is a question still being debated in scientific studies, with conflicting results.

In one large study, red meat was a clear culprit: women who ate at least 7 servings of red meat per week had twice the risk of endometriosis as those who ate fewer than 3 servings weekly.

In the same study, vegetables were protective: women who consumed 14+ servings a week of green vegetables had a 70 percent lower risk of endometriosis compared with those ate fewer than 6 servings per week. 3

In contrast, a more recent study found that foods high in fat, such as butter, cheese, cream, beef, pork and lamb, did not raise the risk of endometriosis, while fruit consumption was associated with a higher risk.4

Which is true?

The answer may lie somewhere in between. Scientists have definitively linked certain pesticides commonly used in agriculture and other industries to a higher risk of endometriosis. Specifically, a group of pesticides known as organochlorines bind to estrogen receptors and mimic hormones that can affect endocrine pathways and alter hormonal function.5

Consumers are exposed to these pesticides when they eat fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides and meat from animals that have grazed on land or been fed grains laden with pesticides. There is no way to determine the level of pesticide exposure our produce and meats have undergone, unless the consumer always chooses organic foods or those from local farms where they know the growing methods used.

Bottom line

Although certain diets are touted as beneficial to women with endometriosis, there’s no single regimen or food group that’s been proven to lower risk or reduce symptoms. Experimenting on your own may provide you with symptom relief, and there’s no harm in trying different ways of eating, as long as you stick to a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains and omega-3 fatty acids – can only benefit your health and vitality in the long run.

Links:

Omega-3 foods: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-omega-3-rich-foods#section3; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-plant-sources-of-omega-3s

Does cheese get a break? http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/for-a-healthy-heart-you-may-have-to-eat-more-cheese/

The Truth about Fats: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good